I spoke with Ryan Brinkerhoff, a co-founder of Thrive Project, a Syracuse-based sustainability organization that is currently working on several projects in Nepal.
Part II of II
When you need things in a strange place, is it hard? How many people speak English in Nepal?
If you go to the more remote areas, it’s not gonna be very common, but in Katmandu at least, and even suburbs on the outskirts, it’s pretty common, especially among youths, they all speak English or at least if you speak to them, they generally understand. So if I need to go buy something or if I’m ordering out at a restaurant, usually it’s not a problem for me to tell them, “I need two glasses of water’” or whatever it might be. They usually get it pretty well and actually the kids out here, especially college age students, speak very good English. We usually, even outside of our classes, we try to spend time with the kids who we’re teaching and we have perfect conversations in English. They’re all quite good at it, all very smart.
Speaking of school, what is it that you study?
I’m an Economics and Policy Studies major.
What do you see yourself doing in the future, and how has this influenced it?
This is actually very similar to what I always planned on doing. My plan was originally to join the Peace Corps straight out of college and so doing development work in a Third World country is still very similar. Just now, being someone who runs the organization, I can do it on my terms. I can take the approach that I think works best, I can engage directly with the community, make my own friends and contacts in the community and do things my way, which has kind of been a nice feeling, to be able to go about it and learn firsthand and then adapt a strategy firsthand. So hopefully if this keeps growing at the pace it has been, this is what I’ll be doing with my life. But if now, Peace Corps is probably still my second choice.
How many people are currently involved in Thrive Project? How large is it?
There are three co-founders. We do a large portion of the work. Located in Kathmandu right now there are two of us here. We also have an in-country team of two additional people, and then back in Syracuse our team for this coming semester is currently about 15 interns. Last semester we were closer to 25, so now it’s just, when we get back we’ll be recruiting more for the beginning of the semester. So between in-country team and our team in Syracuse, it’s about 20 to 25 people right now.
Financially, how is Thrive Projects supported? Where does it get funding?
Thrive is a non-profit incorporated in New York State. We’re currently working on a 501C-3 for tax-exempt status, but we started with donations from crowd-funding. We were on GoFundMe for a while. We raised about $5,000, which actually financed almost the entirety of the pilot program. And then we won a grant. We entered the New York Business Plan Competition and won the regional round for energy and sustainability, where we won a grant of $10,000.
Of the places that you’ve traveled so far, what was your most interesting travel experience in Nepal?
Huh. Actually, it’s kind of a simple thing, but the interesting thing here is everyone here travels basically by scooter or motorbike. And so Kathmandu traffic, I can’t even describe. But you kind of have bikes or scooters just swerving in between everyone and it seems like the scariest thing in the world. My friend actually took me out on a bike one day and we filmed the entire thing by GoPro, and it looks like you’re going to get hit by cars non-stop. It was one of the scariest but the coolest was to see everything in Kathmandu. To be able to see the city by motorbike right up close, front and center, that was probably the coolest, in a literal sense traveling, the coolest thing that could have happened.
Have you traveled to any other countries in Asia?
I studied abroad in Hong Kong and while I was out there I was around China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, so I’ve been to a good amount of places. Actually, all of my travel has been exclusively throughout Asia.
What languages do you speak?
Actually I really only speak English. I learned a little bit of Cantonese when I was in Hong Kong. I’ve been trying to learn a little bit of Nepali or the local dialect of Newari while I’m here, but even basic things are still a challenge, so it’s an interesting experience traveling as a primarily English speaker.
What is it like to live in Kathmandu?
So it’s pretty interesting, actually, we stay specifically around Boudha Stupa, which is one of the most historic sites in Nepal, and so one of the really cool things here is just that sense of culture and sense of identity of the community around here. It has a very strong Buddhist influence I would say, so every morning and every night the coolest thing that you’ll see is hundreds of people walking around the Stupa in just this massive community gathering that I’ve never seen in like, New Jersey, where I come from. Every day, twice a day, you will just see a mass of people just walking around the Stupa, and they light butter lamps and everything. There’s a very strong sense of community that I haven’t gotten any other places.
Part II of this interview will be published separately. I’ll ask Ryan about a few of his travel experiences. To find out more about Thrive Project, visit http://thriveproject.org/