Note: This article is over a year old and information contained in it may no longer be accurate. Please use the contact information in the lower-left corner to verify any information in this article.
Bringing the lessons of the Holocaust to Nepal
September 20, 2011
When Sudip Bhandari '14 read a BBC article last year about how groups of youth in India are idolizing Hitler as a patriotic and nationalist leader, his thoughts turned to his native Nepal.
High school textbooks in many regions of the country only vaguely mention World War II, and any reference to the Holocaust or figures such as Anne Frank are left out completely. "Many youths in Nepal are frustrated with old leadership and are looking for a stern leader — someone like Adolf Hitler," Bhandari says. "I thought it was necessary to teach them about the Holocaust and the lessons that can be drawn from it."
So Bhandari set about making his vision a reality.
With the support of an Entrepreneurial Grant from the St. Olaf Center for Experiential Learning and donations of books and other reading materials from the Anne Frank Center in New York, Bhandari spent the last four and a half weeks of his summer vacation traveling throughout Nepal and educating local youth about the Holocaust.
The program he developed was created with the goal of educating and inspiring students living in a country dealing with changing social and political norms.
|Sudip Bhandari '14 discusses the life of Anne Frank and the lessons of World War II with students in his native Nepal.|
Yet there were some obstacles Bhandari had to face. Nepal is in the process of forming a new constitution after the overthrow of its autocratic king in 2006. A number of rebel groups, including Maoists, have emerged into the political mainstream and clashed violently with radical youth groups who disagree with their ideologies. This violence weighed heavily on the mind of Bhandari and affected how he shaped his program.
"Originally, I had thought of addressing this issue by teaching youths about the horrors of extremism and prejudice in any form, but my faculty advisor [Professor of Political Science Kris Thalhammer] and I discussed the risks that would be involved in something like this," says Bhandari. "We decided to change the tone of the project to a more hopeful and positive one, and totally dropped the idea of addressing anything politically directly."
Bhandari decided to stay on the safe side and discuss the broad themes of tolerance, human rights, and mutual respect. Whenever he was questioned about the program, he always made sure to mention that it was purely an educational project to raise awareness, not a political undertaking.
He decided to teach about events of the Holocaust that are overlooked in Nepal, with an emphasis on positive leaders like Anne Frank. Four college students studying in the U.S. — including fellow St. Olaf student Stuti Thapa '15 — as well as St. Olaf alumnus Subhash Ghimire '10 and one doctor accompanied Bhandari to six schools in three Nepalese cities, reaching out to more than 2,300 students. Bhandari had known all of the volunteers prior to the program, and asked them to help him achieve his goal. Ghimire served as Bhandari's site supervisor. The team visited each school for a day to present the project, which was divided into three different sections.
|Sudip Bhandari '14 (far right) introduces his presentation to students in Nepal. "I hoped to inspire in them values of mutual respect and tolerance," he says.|
"The first section was reaching out to students in a school assembly where everyone was present," says Bhandari. "And by everyone, I mean students from elementary level to 12th grade." This section was meant to introduce the project, its framework, and how it would be organized.
Next, the volunteers delivered a short PowerPoint presentation geared toward the high school students, followed by a documentary video detailing the life of Anne Frank. Finally, the third section of the project a discussion with students. "We discussed with the students about how they felt after learning about the topics we covered and what lessons we could draw from these events and people," says Bhandari.
Bhandari's decision to provide only a selective amount of material to the younger children was an effort to provide them with an introduction to the topic — in the hopes that it would spur further inquiry — without subjecting them to information beyond their maturity level.
"This was an awareness project, an educational one where students would learn about something they should know about — that I feel each and every citizen of this world should know about," says Bhandari. "I hoped they would at least have an idea about the Holocaust, Anne Frank, Hitler, and the Second World War. I hoped to inspire in them values of mutual respect and tolerance."