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Experiential Learning
Genetic Heritage Group


By Arya Gautam, NYUAD 2023

In the winter of 2021, I went on a field trip to rural Nepal– Korak and Parsa– for academic research with Aashish Jha, Assistant Professor of Biology at NYU Abu Dhabi in the Genetic Heritage Group. We sought to collect fecal, blood and serum samples from community and free ranging dogs for my research which aims to characterize the gut microbiome composition and diversity in dogs. Through this research, we want to understand whether dogs will serve as good models to study the variation in human microbiome in the context of its relevance to health and disease. While doing so, I also had the opportunity to engage with and learn from the ground, lived realities of these places and its people. I conversed with high school girls from Shree Nepal Rastriya Madhyamik Bidhyalaya in Parsa about their post-graduation hopes and aspirations, systemic barriers that they face in attaining higher education, and how we can create structures of support that extend them the resources and mentorship to pursue their academic and professional goals. I interacted with female healthcare community workers in Korak who shared their stories about inaccessibility to maternal healthcare, which compels pregnant women to deliver at home in non-sterile conditions and leads to highly increased risks of adverse outcomes such as infections, neonatal seizures or serious neonatal dysfunction. I listened to community members talk about these layered, complex issues surrounding education, healthcare, mobility, access to water and sanitation, which build into and affect one another. Through these exchanges, I was able to complicate my understanding of change, development and sustainability. I reflected on questions like: How do we create long lasting, meaningful changes in these communities? Who must these initiatives and interventions be led by? How can academic research occur in these regions in ways that are not extractive and exploitative but just and uplifting? As a young scientist who wishes to continue her research in Nepal, I will always carry and center these questions in my work. 


By Sophiya Paudel, NYUAD 2023

Copy of IMG_2255.HEIC

I was born, bred and raised in Kathmandu. I had a fairly decent education in a fairly decent
educational institution in Kathmandu itself. I had never been outside of Kathmandu other than
the annual Dashain in Chitwan, my home-town (but not exactly because my ancestors migrated
to Chitwan from the hills). I was so distant from life outside of Gitanagar, again a fairly
developed city in Chitwan. I was so distant from the struggles and achievements of the residents
in the hilly parts of Chitwan. I was in a closed box until one day, Aashish Jha and Yoshina
Gautam, our team leader and program manager decided to take me along in their journey to
Korak to record the stories of its residents. Korak, a place of wonders where stories were born
but never really transported to the places it deserved.

I was going to write, “We went to Korak via an extremely bumpy and the only road to it with our
heads banging almost every ten seconds. It was a tough and long journey but when we reached,
we were greeted with kind hospitality from the residents of Korak. We had a lot of fun trying to
meddle with the locals. It opened my eyes when I, a fairly privileged girl from Kathmandu learnt
that struggles still exist in parts of the world. It was also very honorable to receive a hands-on
education about dealing with the children there and learning about the social problems listed in
my Grade 10 Social Studies book.” I was going to write all of those stories of my enlightenment,
but I will not. It is not about me. It is not about any of us reading this: if we have the access to
this page, to this particular writing we are fairly privileged enough at today’s date.

The thing I have learnt from my Korak trip is, when we think of Experiential Learning, it almost
always ends with us trying to tell stories of other people with our voices, with our words, in our
understanding. If you are reading this, I want you to sit back, take a moment and count all your
privileges. Count your privileges and seek people who are in need of the skills you acquired as a
result of both your hard-work and privileges. If you are in University, contribute in the way you
can. Contact Aashish or Yoshina to help you network with the kids in Korak and help them get
into a university like yours. If you are a sports-person know that there is almost no representation
from the indigenous community to national and international sports. Seek the connection and
bring them to the mainstream. If you are in politics, take a break from calculating the zeros in
your net worth and actually establish hospitals in accessible places. The health center in Korak is
in a fairly unreachable distance by foot guessed it, it is heavily short-staffed. If you
are a Civil Servant, establish policies whereby every member of the indigenous communities are
entitled to a citizenship without demean and hassle in the District Offices. If you are on this page,
reading this, know your privileges and contribute to your best potential because Aashish/Yoshina
and their team can only do so much in such less time. Step in, acknowledge your privileges and
treat the indigenous community with the dignity they deserve.

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