By Bruce Stambaugh
Someone had to be first.
Amrit Rajbanshi is the first person from Nepal to serve in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) program dubbed IVEP, short for International Volunteer Exchange Program. Of all the places in the United States he could have gone, Millersburg gets to be the recipient of his services.
Rajbanshi is serving as a volunteer at the Save and Serve Thrift Store on South Washington Street in Millersburg through next July. The 18-year-old is a first year college student majoring in business.
He arrived in the U.S from Nepal on August 11, and spent his first week participating in an orientation in Akron, Pennsylvania. He is one of 48 IVEP’ers from around the world who are serving in the U.S. through MCC this year.
“I feel blessed to have been chosen to be the first from Nepal to serve in the IVEP program,” Rajbanshi said. He said he chose to volunteer in a thrift shop to learn hands on business skills.
“I have already had several practical experiences,” he said, “compared to simply studying the theory of business in school.”
At Save and Serve, Rajbanshi has been assigned to work at several different stations, including repairing electronics, arranging clothing, serving as cashier, and handling the store’s online used book sales.
Rajbanshi starts each day at 8 a.m. sweeping in the store. He admitted that at first he thought that task was a bit menial for him. But he soon understood that it was an essential part of the IVEP process.
“I realized that if I don’t do the work, then who will do it?” Rajbanshi said, revealing wisdom beyond his years. “This is not only for me. It’s for MCC and all those who come after me.”
Rajbanshi is staying with Stan and Marilyn Kamp of Millersburg. His expenses are covered through MCC and Save and Serve and he receives an $80 monthly stipend for personal needs.
“I feel very welcome here,” he said. “I’m adjusting to the culture.”
Rajbanshi said his hometown in Nepal has a population of 100,000. But he is also used to the country since his father, Meghnath, is a pastor at a rural Brethren in Christ church in Nepal.
Family is very important to Rajbanshi, and he did acknowledge being a little big homesick. Besides spending time with his family, he said he enjoys soccer, chess and working on the computer.
Rajbanshi has two sisters, Urmila, who is a high school teacher and is studying for her master’s degree, and Punam, a high school student. His mother, Chandrabati, is a homemaker.
“I respect my father very much,” Rajbanshi said, “because unlike most others in our culture he treats woman equal to men.”
“IVEP is a very good program and opportunity,” Rajbanshi said. “It is nice to be introduced to the new culture.”
Rajbanshi said he is still learning English, although he speaks English very well. According to Helen Glick, co-manager at Save and Serve, knowing English is a requirement in order to be considered for IVEP.
Rajbanshi said he views being an IVEP’er as a form of peace building.
“I get to know and learn new people and a new culture,” he explained, “and when I go home I can tell my people what it’s really like here.”
Rajbanshi expressed a concern that neither his people nor those of other Asian nations really know what America is like and vice versa. Fortunately, he won’t have to do all the sharing on his own.
“MCC has lots of programs in Nepal in conjunction with the Brethren in Christ Church,” Rajbanshi said. In Nepal, MCC mainly supports efforts to equip grassroots community workers to build peace in their own context. They support education in settings from Nepal’s capital, Katmandu, to a remote mountain stone quarry where children work along side their parents.
Rajbanshi said Nepal is a country in political transition, moving from a Hindu state to a secular republic. He said the government has another year to complete that change.
“By the end of my year here,” Rajbanshi said, “I will use my experience in my schooling.” But true to his nature, Rajbanshi’s goal doesn’t stop there.
“I will try to inspire others to participate in the IVEP program,” he said. IVEP is aimed at young adults, 18-30.
This story appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.