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Wayne State College in Ethiopia and Nepal

Published Monday, July 13th, 2015

USEF Nepal
Dr. Barbara Engebretsen (second from left) and Dr. Leah Keino (second from right) were in Nepal just two months before an earthquake struck the region.

Dr. Barbara Engebretsen and Dr. Leah Keino had been in Nepal just two months before the April earthquakes to explore strengthening the college’s connections in the region.

The devastating April earthquakes in Nepal struck a personal chord with Wayne State. The college has a number of alumni from Nepal, and Dr. Barbara Engebretsen, professor of exercise science, and Multicultural Center Director Dr. Leah Keino had been in Nepal just two months earlier to explore strengthening the college’s connections to the region. 

Engebretsen and Keino visited Ethiopia and Nepal from Jan. 22 to Feb. 18 to explore opportunities for international service-learning exchanges for WSC students, faculty, and staff. While the college has numerous outstanding faculty-led international study abroad programs in Greece, Taiwan, and Costa Rica, there are none in Africa, an under-studied continent by most Americans. Ethiopia, a land-locked country in the Horn of Africa, was selected because it has a rich historical and cultural heritage, occupies a unique place in global politics as the home of the African Union, has a mild climate, and has maintained political stability and security in recent years. 

Nepal was initially selected because it is the home of the Himalayas, beckoning Engebretsen, an altitude physiologist by training. But more importantly it was identified because of many personal connections with students from Nepal, and because of its unique location sandwiched between China and India, integrating Asian and Indian cultures. 

After meeting with university officials in three public universities and visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bahir Dar, Gondar, Lalibela, Dessie and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, WSC has been invited to partner with Bahir Dar University, located in northwestern Ethiopia by Lake Tana, hence the school motto “Wisdom at the Source of the Blue Nile”. This is a comprehensive university with various undergraduate programs that will allow for development of long-term engagement with disciplines in each of the WSC schools.

Engebretsen and Keino visited educational institutions in Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal, being invited to partner with health professionals and academics at Children’s Hospital for Eyes, ENT and Rehabilitative Services (CHEERS) in Kathmandu. CHEERS has various outreach clinics and a unique extension model. It also has a collaborative partnership with Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, one of the country’s well-established public universities. Engebretsen also is working closely with the Kathmandu Research Center for the Association of Nepal and Himalayan Studies, which has a long history of coordinating international exchanges.

It is their friendship with CHEERS that has allowed WSC alumni brothers from Nepal, Dipendra Pokhrel ‘11 and Bipul Pokhrel ‘14, to coordinate relief activities in partnership with Rotary of Wayne, Providence Medical Hospital in Wayne, and Orphan Grain Train in Norfolk to ship a container of medical and humanitarian supplies to Nepal in response to the April-May earthquakes. 

Engebretsen is preparing proposals for Fulbright fellowships to fund short-term returns to Ethiopia and Nepal, as she will continue to formulate logistics and plans with host partners to launch the first WSC International Service-Learning exchange for WSC students in May or June 2017. 

One final note of interest: While in Ethiopia, Engebretsen and Keino gave WSC Track and Field gifts to Olympic Champion Haile Gebrselassie, a retired Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete who won two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 metres and four World Championship titles in the event. The trip was unforgettable and laid the ground work to provide a unique and enriching service-learning opportunity in a developing country for WSC students, faculty and staff. Learn more about their trip to Ethiopia and Nepal by viewing their Facebook page, “Wayne State College in Ethiopia and Nepal”: https://www.facebook.com/WayneStateCollegeISL?fref=ts