Oberlin News Center

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Oberlin News Center

Bikalpa Baniya, winner of the Davis Projects for Peace award.  
Photo By Jennifer Manna

Bikalpa Baniya will spend his summer working on a venture to help sustain an innovative grade school in Nepal as the recipient of the Davis Projects for Peace award.

Baniya, a second-year economics major from Kathmandu, Nepal, is building on his previous service work at Maya Universe Academy, a cost-free private school in Nepal’s Tanahun District.

The Davis Projects for Peace program is open to undergraduates at colleges and universities in the United States. Its purpose is to encourage and support today's motivated youth to create and try out their own ideas for building peace. The award funds grassroots projects judged to be the most promising and feasible at $10,000 each.

This summer, Baniya will work with partners at Maya Universe Academy to expand the school’s free-range chicken business—an important source of income that will provide more financial security for the families of students enrolled there.

Maya Universe Academy was founded on the premise of providing quality education for families in exchange for their time rather than tuition dollars. By working in Maya’s fields for two days a month, parents are able to provide for their children’s education. Now in its seventh year, the school has 250 students, the oldest of whom are in seventh grade.

However, Baniya explains that as the students come of age, they are more enticed by the prospects of going to work rather than coming to school. “It is also getting increasingly difficult for Maya to sustain themselves financially because they do not get enough income from the work parents do in the school to support the increased enrollment.”

Baniya teaches a class at Maya Universe Academy. 

He sees a solution to both of these problems in expanding the school’s free-range chicken venture. The school raises chickens in its farms and sells about 100 chickens per week to two high-end restaurants in Kathmandu. Since the chickens are not from broiler farms and have been raised using local resources, they get a higher market value. This started out as a small business venture to provide additional support for the school, but now Maya is trying to expand the program to the villagers.

With the expanded business plan, families will tend to the chickens on their land as a substitute for working in the school twice a month. Using the school’s business network, they will sell the chickens to the restaurants in Kathmandu and provide a part of their profits to Maya. This will also allow the families to get a higher value than they would get locally because they are being provided with direct market access. With the split profit, families in the community will have financial security and more incentive to invest in entrepreneurial agro ventures in the village, thereby keeping their kids in school instead of having them migrate for work.

Baniya has been working with Maya for a little over a year. Just before he came to Oberlin, a massive earthquake hit Nepal. Most of the destruction was seen in the remote villages where there is very little access to education. Since he’s been at Oberlin, Baniya has been working on efforts to improve the lives of those most affected by the earthquake.

Leading up to his winter term 2017 project, Baniya raised more than $7,000 from the Oberlin community to fund construction of additional classrooms, as well as donations from Oberlin’s computer store to provide new Macbooks. He also recruited first-years Kristen Mayhew and Charles Cui to spend the month of January volunteering on Maya’s classrooms and fields.

On campus, Baniya has founded Students United for Nepal, an organization initiating dialogue on the country’s disadvantaged youth and the barriers to getting quality education.

Baniya has also been selected as a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact. The Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes and supports student leaders who demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities. The program is a one-year experience providing in-person and virtual learning opportunities, mentoring, and networking events.

“Maya in Nepali means love. The school's name is Maya Universe Academy because their philosophy is that if we act with good intention and smart action, the universe will give back,” says Baniya. “The work that I am doing for Maya is proof that I want to continue working with good intention and smart action.”