By Nanda Olney
Imagine you’ve just spent a long day painting a school in Pokhara and pause to feel the sweat trickling down your neck as you gaze at the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. Or picture yourself tasting Nepali momos for the first time while locals share stories in a tranquil teahouse. Each summer, these are experiences a dozen or so local students may enjoy while touring and performing service in Nepal, thanks to a homegrown Bainbridge Island organization.
BI-K Nepal has deep roots promoting international service and engagement for teens in our community. When it was founded in 1991 by Bainbridge resident Janie Eckberg, the nonprofit focused on building cross-cultural relationships in Russia and sponsoring student service to aid children in need. (The ‘K’ in BI-K refers to Kitezh, a town in Russia that was a previous site for student service.) Today, the organization continues to provide a diverse cultural experience in a way that’s safe, fun and personally challenging while also giving students an opportunity to contribute to communities locally and abroad.
The program is open to high school sophomores and juniors who live or attend school on Bainbridge. Each fall, eight to 12 applicants are selected as ambassadors based on their desire to participate and their willingness to travel and experience a different culture. The board members of BI-K Nepal, who all share a love of world travel and a passion for teaching, emphasize that no students are barred for financial considerations. Part of the group’s preparation includes fundraising.
The organization offers a unique nine-month training and orientation period for participants and their families. Students meet regularly to engage in team building and to learn what to expect physically, mentally and culturally of their time in Nepal. Health and safety are of utmost concern to members and chaperones, so this preparation phase is key to the program’s success. It also sets BI-K students apart in Nepal. Ambassadors of the program routinely present as a bonded, capable group willing to rise to any challenge.
Part of the mission of BI-K Nepal is giving back to our local community as well. Students engage in service projects in Seattle and Bainbridge as part of their commitment to the program. “This helps to break kids out of the bubble. It encourages them to begin to approach the world in a new way, through compassion,” said chaperone and international educator Christina Hinman.
BI-K Nepal is one of the few organized travel opportunities available to BI teens that emphasizes service. The group’s partner organization in Nepal, Global Vision International, is an international organization fostering global citizenship. They ensure that the service projects students engage in meet UN Sustainable Development Goals and local objectives. Kids are challenged on the trip in a way that builds confidence and empowers them, and they walk away from the experience endowed with a sense of accomplishment, having seen the fruits of their efforts in a tangible way.
The current president of BI-K Nepal is BHS teacher Michael Holloway. “Travel can be enriching, both in the classroom and in life,” he said. “It pushes you out of your comfort zone and helps you realize that life is not about the destination but the journey. It’s not about the temple in Pokhara, it’s about the bus driver who tells you his life story as he drives you there. It’s about the children you meet in the village along the way. Travel is an open, tremendous book waiting to be read.”
Anyone interested in donating to or participating in the international service opportunity can learn more at bi-k.org. Past ambassadors have shared firsthand experiences and photos from recent excursions on the site’s blog. Interested parties should visit bi-k.org in late August 2020 to fill out an application, and follow BI-K Nepal on Facebook and Instagram for updates and notifications for when the application period opens.