When Sahara Pradhan ’15 left her home in Nepal and enrolled at Vassar four years ago, she had no specific plans for what she wanted to study. A trip to Haiti during Spring Break of her freshman year changed everything. “That first trip spurred me to become more involved in looking at issues of global inequality,” Pradhan says.
She’s been active ever since in Vassar’s Haiti Project, which helps sustain a school and medical clinic and supports Haitian artists and craftsmen and women. She says her participation in the Haiti Project led her to decide to major in political science and education.
This summer, Pradhan will be applying what she’s learned at Vassar by addressing an urgent need back home: youth unemployment. She was awarded a grant from the Davis United World College Scholars 100 Projects for Peace to run an eight-week job skills workshop for high school graduates in Nepal.
Pradhan says she’s hoping to save these young men and women from becoming part of an alarming statistic. “More than 2,000 young people leave Nepal every day to become migrant workers in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world,” she says. “Many of these workers are horribly exploited, and some are even killed.”
With help from an existing not-for-profit agency in Nepal, the Socio-Economic Welfare Center for Energetic Women, Pradhan is planning to run an eight-week job skills program for 15 recent high school graduates. It will include workshops on basic computer skills, how to write resumes and cover letters and develop networking skills, and discussions with local business leaders, educators and other professionals. In addition, Pradhan and local leaders will talk to the students about the importance of becoming socially responsible. “I believe the social justice component is especially important in developing future leaders,” she says.
Pradhan credits Andrew Meade, Vassar’s assistant dean for campus life and international services, with starting her on the path that led to her winning the Projects for Peace fellowship. In addition to his duties as assistant dean, Meade spearheads the Vassar Haiti Project.
“Shortly after I applied to Vassar, Andrew reached out to me, and he was so warm and welcoming, he was the main reason I decided to enroll,” she says. “When I got here, he encouraged me to get involved in the Haiti Project, and that experience has provided me with some models on how to help people. It’s broadened my thinking about how to be creative in ways that make a difference in people’s lives.”
Pradhan says her short-term goal is to see that all 15 of the students enrolled in the job skills workshops find jobs in Nepal. But ultimately, she hopes her pilot project can be used as a model for larger ones throughout the country.
“After being away for four years, it will be nice to go back and become re-immersed in my community,” she says. “It’s my hope that the students in this program will become empowered to find work. The barriers to employment for young people in Nepal aren’t just social and economic; they’re also psychological. I want to help create a climate that will change that.”
Photo by Karl Rabe