Student Success

Nepal experience affirms U of L student's desire to do international development work

International development work can get in your blood and stay there — just ask Brandon McNally.

Political science student Brandon McNally, pictured here with local residents, conducted an independent research project on the Navadurga religious traditions in Tantric Hinduism.

Currently in his fourth year of political science studies at the University of Lethbridge, he got his first taste of development work when he was 16. Living in Grande Prairie at the time, he was one member of a group that travelled to Mexico to build a house and do youth outreach. Then, at age 17, he went to China, this time with a group of Americans, to spend the summer helping deaf and disabled people learn marketable skills.

“That gave me the drive to keep doing more. I went to Nepal the following year,” he says.

He volunteered with a Nepalese non-government organization called Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness (ECCA), mostly doing fieldwork with students at schools.

Those experiences solidified his desire for international work and he decided to pursue education that would allow him to earn a living doing development work.

To round out the experience he gained in the field, McNally wanted to learn the business side of running an NGO like ECCA. He applied for and received a President’s Grant for International Community Engagement and spent this past summer working in ECCA’s head office in Kathmandu and conducting an independent research project on the Navadurga religious traditions in Tantric Hinduism.

The President’s Grant for International Community Engagement awards were first distributed this year. They were established by an anonymous donor to encourage and support U of L students who want to participate in international development work. The grant will provide up to $5,000 for students to spend an extended period of time working in a paid or volunteer role in a developing country. Three grants will be awarded annually. Applications must be submitted by 4 p.m. Jan. 30, 2015 to the Office of Research and Innovation Services located in B610 of University Hall.

ECCA, established in 1987, operates through donations from its founders and funds its projects largely through international aid.

“I did a lot of research on different funding opportunities available for the organization. That really fit into my political science degree because a lot of international aid comes from other governments around the world,” says McNally.

Securing funding for projects can take a long time, so organizations like ECCA plan a year in advance. One of the funding proposals he developed was to turn an open space being used as a dumping site into a public park.

“There are not a lot of public spaces in Nepal because of the effect of globalization on developing countries. They’re so much more concerned about building living space and work space that they don’t actually incorporate proper pedestrian walkways, parks or public spaces for people to use,” says McNally.

The public park ECCA plans to build includes a running track, playground, badminton courts, gardens and trees. The funding proposal required estimating costs, risks of the project, how long the work would take to be completed and a list of potential subcontractors who could do the work. McNally won’t know for some time whether his proposal was successful in obtaining funding.

McNally also helped design and deliver life skills programs to students in Grades 5 to 10 during his time in Nepal. The ECCA program was designed to teach youth about leadership, communication and co-operation in an interactive way. McNally delivered the program at private schools, where the language of instruction is English, and with the assistance of a volunteer translator at public schools, where Nepalese is spoken.

“It was really fun to go and see these programs executed because in Nepal they don’t have a lot of publicly funded programs and the teachers don’t use these types of methods,” he says.

In addition to working in the office, McNally also spent time in the field establishing a homestay program in villages located close to the site of a planned rural training facility. His independent research project on the Navadurga, or nine goddesses, tradition in Tantric Hinduism allowed him to establish another network of contacts.

McNally says the experience was fun, challenging, frustrating and liberating in equal measure.

“It was a phenomenal experience and I’m very grateful,” he says. “I have ambitions to do international work and I’m glad that opportunities have been open to me before graduating.”

His advice to other students considering an opportunity to do international work is simple — “Grab it.”