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At the Base of a Mountain, Instilling Hope

Nimesh Ghimire ’16 on technology, and better farming practices, in rural Nepal

Growing up in Nepal, Nimesh Ghimire ’16 attended the Budhanilkantha School boarding school. For the most part, he was largely removed from the reality of poverty in much of the surrounding country. But as high school graduation neared, things changed: He became more aware that with Nepal’s emergence from civil war, many people in rural areas were not engaged in the peace process or in post-conflict resolution, so instilling hope in the younger population became his goal. 

At Swarthmore, Ghimire took a course that helped define his vision: Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies, led by Jennifer Magee, associate director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. 

“I came up with this idea for a Peace Innovation Lab in Lamjung,” says Ghimire, an economics major. “I knew I could contribute with whatever skills I have, but also learn tremendously from the villagers in the process.” 

He received a Davis Projects for Peace Award his sophomore year, and his efforts at Nepal’s Shree Gyanodaya Higher Secondary School resulted in the village’s first Innovation Lab. 

Ghimire knew that peace-building is intertwined with creating economic opportunity and that the nearby Chepe River—considered sacred to many Nepalese people—should play a role. 

“We wanted to have the locals buy in,” says Ghimire—and  most of the locals were farmers who wanted better access to the water and to high-performance technology. So the Innovation Lab created a low-cost irrigation system to bring water from the Chepe to the base of the mountain to help irrigate surrounding farming fields.

The lab ultimately broadened its focus and is now a Rural Innovation Lab, collaborating with community members to get additional support, Nepal Wireless to introduce internet to the village, and MIT’s D-Lab to find low-cost solutions to technological challenges. 

“Another goal of the community was to become digitally literate, so we collaborated with Microsoft to bring 25 new computers to the lab,” as well as two full-time staffers, Ghimire says. 

Perhaps most remarkably, these Nepalese projects happened while he was a student coordinating them from Swarthmore.

“I learned how to navigate from afar,” says Ghimire, who’s now based in Washington, D.C., with the nonprofit Ashoka, helping more than 30 colleges and universities worldwide to embed social innovation in their institutions. 

“The community that Swarthmore fosters is so critical,” says Ghimire. “At the Lang Center, they recognize the spark and give it room to grow. The staff support and resources were fundamental, and the courses I took tied directly to what I was doing with the Innovation Lab . It taught me how the community matters in regards to scholarship, leadership, and citizenship.”

In addition to his work in Nepal, Ghimire also helped create a civic engagement map for The Lang Center, “I have been working with Denise Crossan to create a centralized web portal for all projects and initiatives happening on campus,” says Ghimire. “The goal is to use the platform as a way to make Swarthmore’s civic engagement activity easily visible for all members of the community and help foster synergic collaborations between and among faculty, staff, students and members of the nearby communities.”  

Explore Civic Engagement Map: an initiative to help connect the campus, community and curriculum.