By LORETTA JACKSON:
Merrimack’s Priya Knudsen, 24, is undertaking volunteer duty in Nepal, a landlocked, sovereign-state country in the Himalayas that is bounded by China in the east and India in the west.
Nepal is the home of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak.
The graduate of Merrimack High School’s Class of 2007 left for Nepal on Sept. 6, to work as a food security volunteer for the Peace Corps.
Knudsen will work in an agricultural community. She will help farmers learn techniques for preventing soil erosion, reducing the use of harmful pesticides and replenishing the soil.
She will also help educate farmers about methods for growing more productive vegetable gardens and for better managing. Another of her concerns – food security – relates to having enough food of a nutritious nature to ensure a healthy life.
“Nepal has actually been closed for eight years due to political instability,” Knudsen said in an interview before she left. “We’re the second group to go back after the first returned last year.”
Knudsen, the daughter of Thomas and Marguerite Knudsen, attended American University in Cairo, Egypt, where last year she earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science. She also has worked with AmeriCorps in an underserved area of New York City.
Her first tasks in Nepal will include learning about the culture of the country. She will live with a host family for three months to learn the country’s traditions and to learn Nepali, the most common language. Then, she and others will be assigned to a village that will be their headquarters.
The people living in Nepal are descended from a multitude of nationalities. The Nepali language, derived from the ancient Sanskrit, is spoken along with some 20 more languages colored by local dialects. Kathmandu, the capital of the country, little resembles any of the farming communities Knudsen will see, for Kathmandu is a bustling metropolitan city of some 700,000 people.
“I’m really excited,” Knudsen said. “I’m mentally prepared. I’m used to living in different countries. My parents are also excited for me. It’s a good experience to live in another country.”
Her tenure of service is 27 months. She said that her experience with living in Egypt and her travels to other places in the world gives her a sense of confidence.
“We’ll be wearing local dress, sort of like a long dress that has pants underneath it,” Knudsen said. “They have them in all different colors. It’s more conservative than in the United States.”
President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps organization in March 1961. Thus far, some 210,000 Americans have served in 139 countries. Currently, more than 8,000 volunteers are living and working in 76 countries.
Nepal has been the recipient of Peace Corps ministrations since 1962. Between 1962 and 2004, some 3,650 volunteers spent time there, according to a press release from the Peace Corps. The first to arrive in Nepal since 2004 were welcomed last year.
Twenty volunteers, skilled in the Nepali language, are currently based in Nepal and are working as agriculture and nutrition volunteers.
“I hope to learn more about food security and to become fluent in Nepali,” Knudsen said. “I hope that this experience will also facilitate my decision to apply to medical school.”
Knudsen joins the 74 New Hampshire residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 1,628 New Hampshire residents have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.
Knudsen said she is looking forward to the joys as well as the challenges of working with the people of Nepal. She said she wanted to join the Peace Corps because it presented a great opportunity to combine her passion for helping others with her love of traveling and languages. She completed an internship at CARE International in Egypt during her college years and also interned with the World Health Organization.
“I’m planning to be very respectful of the culture,” Knudsen said. “That’s part of the fun of going places. You learn about culture and about the ways people live.”
:: Priya Knudsen, 24, of Merrimack, newly accepted into the Peace Corps, departed for Nepal on Friday, Sept. 6, to begin working as a food security volunteer. She is a graduate of Merrimack High School and attended College in Egypt. Her post will enable her to introduce local farmers to methods for increased productivity in gardening, livestock management and other areas that impact the security of a steady food supply. For more information about volunteering with the Peace Corps, visit www.peacecorps.gov.
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