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It takes a village

Jenish Amatya ’17 wins Resolution Fellowship to build community fish farming program in Nepal

It has been almost two years since Jenish Amatya ’17 and his sister, Kenchan, visited their mother’s small village in rural Nepal and, after seeing how villagers struggled with poverty and unemployment, asked, “What can we do?”

It has been one year since their first application for funding to build a sustainable fish farming program in Baseri almost but not quite won a grant through The Resolution Project’s Social Venture Challenge. It has been about one week since their second run at the money succeeded.

And now the real work begins.

Thanks to the $7,500 Resolution Fellowship, the Amatya siblings and friend Abhinav Khanal will be returning to Baseri this summer to build the village’s first community-managed fish pond and begin training residents, mostly wives and mothers, on how to operate the business to provide food, money and community development. (Kenchan Amatya is a sophomore at University of Oklahoma, and Khanal is a sophomore at Earlham College.)

“It’s really happening,” said Amatya, who is studying computer science at Wheaton. “We had this amazing idea in our head and now we’ll be going back to Nepal to put our ideas into action.”

Inspired to act

The idea sparked after the Amatyas, who live in Kathmandu about 120 miles away, discovered that the only source of food and income for most of the people in Baseri was rice farming, which had been heavily affected by inconsistent rainfall. With limited resources, many of the village men had left to find work, leaving the women at home to provide for their families.

While taking a tour of the village, Jenish and his sister noticed several ponds lying idle. From the Village Development Committee they learned these ponds were on public land, and the idea of creating a sustainable fish farm began to take shape.

“We wanted to provide a set of skills to these women who are back in the village, to give them financial literacy so they can start generating revenue and also to provide a nutritional resource to their families,” Amatya said.

All graduates of United World College schools, the Amatya siblings and Khanal were familiar with Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), a nonprofit organization started by President Bill Clinton that annually brings active youths, experts and celebrities together to develop innovative solutions to major global challenges. CGI U, along with partner The Resolution Project, provides funding for exactly the type of project the group had in mind.

In 2013, their plan made it to the Social Venture Challenge semi-finals but didn’t receive funding. So they worked harder on the project, tweaked their presentation, and entered it again this year.

Finally funded

At the seventh meeting of CGI U, held March 21-23, 2014 at Arizona State University, the team presented their project twice more, finally receiving word on Saturday, March 22 that they had won the Resolution Fellowship.

“Finally getting this funding means so much for me. It means so much for the people back at home. It means so much for the partners who are very excited to start this project,” Amatya said.

Knowing how important it is to make the project sustainable over time, Amatya and his team have partnered with organizations in Nepal such as Aquaculture Without Frontiers and the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science. They also will receive mentoring support through The Resolution Project.

Once the system is up and running, the plan is to return 50 percent of the profits to the women working on the fish farm. The remaining 50 percent will be split, with 15 percent covering the long-term operational costs of the pond and 35 percent going toward community development, for projects such as starting a primary school library and opening a health clinic.

Making connections

Jenish and his sister also are hoping to launch a nonprofit, tentatively called United World for Women and Girls, with chapters at their respective colleges, including Wheaton, and at United World College secondary schools. The organization will work to empower women around the world.

The topic of gender inequality was just one of many important issues discussed at the 2014 CGI U event at Arizona State. In one session, moderated by President Clinton, speakers included Sen. John McCain, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, women’s rights activist Manal Al-Sharif and Google Global Science Fair winner Shree Bose. As a recipient of the Resolution Project fellowship, Amatya was invited backstage for a photo op with Bill and Hillary Clinton, daughter Chelsea and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, an Arizona State alumnus.

“It was just amazing to be among them, to be in the same room as them,” Amatya said.

Though he has a busy summer ahead of him, the Wheaton freshman is already thinking about his next project.

“I think what I can do, what we’ve been able to do, is motivate other people to start up their own thing, because there are so many things one can do. When I talk about my project to people, they say, ‘Wow, you’ve done such a big thing,’ but it was not that much work. It was emotional, that you need to do something for the community you were raised in, and if people start realizing that, I think change is possible.”

Amatya also has realized how much support is available for college-age students looking to make a difference.

“People up there [in leadership positions] really want our generation to do something, and they’re there to support us,” he said. “I feel like, after this project, I have hundreds of other projects in my head.”

Amatya is a Davis United World College Scholar and recipient of the Barbara Coleman Donnelley Wheaton Fund Scholarship.