Japanese, Nepalese students turn environmental advocates

by

Kyodo

At first glance, there are few visible connections between the gleaming technological oasis that is the Yokohama campus of Musashi Institute of Technology and a government-run elementary school in the city of Patan, which is part of Katmandu.

But dotted seemingly everywhere at the Yokohama campus are recycling bins, greenery — and such touches as lights that turn on only when someone is in a corridor, toilets that conserve water and other efforts to minimize the adverse impact on the environment.

And, if all goes well, many of these innovations will be a continuing part of that elementary school and others in Nepal — as will environment-education modules, collaborative projects and continuing exchanges between MI-Tech and Nepalese students from elementary schools to universities.

For the last three years, students and staff from MI-Tech have been traveling to Nepal to seek ways to combat global warming and environmental degradation, and to impart a spirit of cooperation and connection among students, teachers and professors from both countries.

The Japanese students visit schools and colleges in Nepal, interact, share ideas and views with their Nepalese counterparts, and participate in environment-related activities.

“I think I have a better understanding of global environmental issues, learned a great deal about Nepal and have made friends here,” said Yumi Kurishima, a MI-Tech student from Tokyo.

Students from Nepal’s National College say the program gives them opportunities for hands-on experience, development of new skills and techniques, and even a chance to learn a little about Japanese culture.

“It also allows opportunities for partnerships,” student Manoj Shrestha said. “Students from MI-Tech and the Nepalese college have already developed a plan for future collaboration.”

Brenda Bushell, a MI-Tech associate professor who led the Japanese students to Nepal for the third time this year, said, “The program is designed to cater to the needs of students in Japan who lately look for something deeper from their education than just what they get in classrooms.

“The aim is to bridge the gap in education of environmental studies and management,” Bushell said. “Although students can graduate from universities in Japan with a solid understanding of the subject, they are seldom introduced to the issues as they relate to the rest of Asia.”

The Nepal field study also offers benefits for Japanese graduates who are looking for careers that interact with other parts of Asia.

After a year of initial research and two years of individually funded programs in Nepal, the education ministry officially recognized the goals of the MI-Tech program in 2005 with a grant through 2007 that is being used to provide a study and research-based program aimed at furthering environmental aims in Nepal.

Bushell said they received a “substantial” grant this year for what she called the first grassroots program for students in Nepal and Japan.

“We will build a learning model, gaining from the experience of the past three years, and hopefully receive more support in the future,” she added.

MI-Tech, which has high-tech digital video recording equipment and a top-flight shooting and editing studio in Yokohama, uses video footage and still photographs gathered during the Nepal trips to produce interactive CD and DVD education modules.

This “cyber-campus” is used to pass along the benefits of the field trips to students in both countries who cannot attend in person.

Professors from Japan and Nepal, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, make digital lectures that are already available to individual schools and colleges in Nepal and are planned for use in Japanese educational institutions.

The MI-Tech students are working to produce a “destination-Nepal cyber” environmental-education unit for a class of Japanese elementary school students at a school near their campus.

Nepalese collaborator Jasmine Shakya said she would love to be able to participate in field studies at Japanese schools, but for the time being a lack of travel funds limits the physical part of the program to Nepal.

Still, the Nepalese students are attracted by the opportunity provided to share their skills and experiences with their Japanese counterparts.

This summer, students and staff from MI-Tech and their Nepalese colleagues started an environmental management program that includes working with a women’s organization in Katmandu on a community compost program as well as running an environment-education program for 90 sixth-graders at a government-run school in Patan.

Under the leadership of the MI-Tech and National University students, the elementary school children researched environmental problems in their school community, planted saplings, dug dirt pits and “greened” the Patan school grounds.

When the Japanese students revisited the school a week later, they found the children had already picked up from where they had left off.

“They had completed greening of the school compound themselves, and to me this was most satisfying,” Kurishima said.

Daisuke Matsumoto noted he had benefited from the field trip in a different way as well.

“I have had something more, some useful insights into the Nepalese economy” that he said will help in his graduate research into the possibility of a euro-style single currency for Asia.