IVS Alumni Spotlight: Sam Hruban

IVS Alumni
Traveling abroad with IVS is often a stepping stone for students interested in developing international careers. IVS alumni have gone on to work in a variety of fields such as international education, human rights, and sustainable development. Many of our students also have chosen to focus their efforts in their local communities. We take great pleasure in being part of each student’s development in becoming responsible global citizen and are excited to showcase what our amazing alumni are doing.

Sam Hruban is an IVS Alumni who has travelled extensively with the Institute For Village Studies to Thailand, India, and Burma.

IVS Alumni

When did you study abroad with the Institute For Village Studies and which trip did you go on?

I went on the Himalayan Cultures and Ecology Program my freshman summer in 2013. I returned my last year at WWU for Global Health in the Himalayas in the fall and Northern Thailand and Burma in the winter.

What influenced you to choose this type of study abroad experience?

I was very interested in IVS’s unique trips because students got the opportunity to interact face to face with the local community instead of the typical classroom learning. IVS gave me the opportunity to learn about the problems communities face and how they are overcoming their problems. I was also drawn to the beauty of the locations, getting the opportunity to travel to remote places like Ladakh, India. 

You went on quite a lot of trips with IVS. What kept you coming back?

There were many reasons why I decided to go on my first IVS trip to India: travel, new experiences, traditional food, but the reasons why I returned for a 2nd and 3rd trip were: long lasting friendships, global service, community connection, and exploration.

How did traveling abroad influence your academic or professional goals?

I became very passionate about community development, cultural exchange, and travel during my IVS trips. My experiences during my study abroad trips have stuck with me to this day. I continue to learn about other cultures and look for opportunities to volunteer.

What are you doing now?

After graduating from WWU, I became a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia.  I am currently working towards my Master’s degree in Archaeological Material Sciences in Portugal, Greece, and Italy.  

What advice would you give to a student to make the most of their experience abroad?

My first piece of advice would be to leave all expectations at the door. By starting your trip with and open mind and observing eyes you’ll be able to learn more than you ever thought! My second piece of advice is to go back! My returning trips allowed me to gain even more insight into the challenges communities face and the role community development can play. 

What does being a global citizen mean to you?

To me, being a global citizen means, seeking out opportunities to learn about others. It is through these opportunities that we learn how to engage meaningfully, create compassion, and foster change in this crazy world we share. 

What was a highlight(s) from your study abroad experience? 

There are many highlights from each trip. An incredible dance party at Jhamtse Gatsal with all the kids, listening to a teaching by the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, and my amazing homestay in Thailand where I learned meditation, traditional cooking, and explored caves!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

To anyone reading this, I hope you all take a quarter away from rainy Bellingham and sign up for an IVS trip!

If you are an IVS Alumni and would like to be featured, let know in the comments!

Climate Change in Zanskar

Our time in Stongdey Village has been an incredibly powerful experience. Our group has been living with families in the village, learning about their daily lives, their culture, and the environmental challenges they face. We have been incredibly humbled by their hospitality, kindness, and friendship. Even though we do not share a common culture or language, they have treated us like we were family.

In the alpine desert of Zanskar, water is literally life here and the communities have developed elaborate systems on how to manage this scarce resource. Intricate canals and irrigation ditches crisscross the landscape, and with the help of manure, turn the barren dirt into productive fields of barley, wheat, and peas. Even in this harsh landscape, they have been able to obtain yields similar to those in the United States and Europe.

Unfortunately, climate change is now impacting their way of life and their future in the valley. Temperatures have increased twice as fast in the Himalayas as the global average and are beginning to cause rapid melting of glaciers. For communities that rely solely on glacial melt to irrigate their crops, this is a devastating development.

Yesterday, we visited Kumik, a village almost one thousand years old and on the front lines of climate change. We had the honor of speaking with Meme Palden, Kumik’s oldest living inhabitant, who spent the morning telling us about the changes he has seen. When he was a young child, he told us the glaciers covered the entire mountains and came down almost to the edges of the village. Now, there are a few slivers left on the upper ridges and the glacier does not have many years left before it completely vanishes. Recently, the village came the difficult realization that their water was quickly drying up and could not sustain the community. We asked Meme Palden what they would do. He said the younger families will leave and try to rebuild their lives closer to the Zanskar River. He, however, plans to stay and die in the village.

Stongdey, similar to Kumik, is one of the most water-scarce villages in the valley. They have a much larger glacier left than Kumik, but as it has receded further up the mountain, the water now sometimes arrives too late for the initial irrigation. This has led to their seeds drying out and widespread crop failure.

A local engineer named Tsewang Norphel has recently invented the idea of artificial glaciers in hopes of mitigating this problem and providing a more reliable source of water. Artificial glaciers are essentially large ice reservoirs, created by diverting near-freezing stream water behind rock walls. They are built at lower altitudes than natural glaciers so as the weather warms during the spring months, they melt sooner and provide crucial water for irrigation during the planting season.

We have been working with Stongdey Village for the past four years on building artificial glaciers in the stream valley above the village. This year our group has been conducting a process evaluation of the project to determine what has been working well, what could be changed, and lessons for other villages that would want to start a similar project.

The resiliency and ingenuity of the communities here have been incredibly inspiring. Faced with monumental challenges, they continue to strive for new solutions and fight to maintain their way of life.

IVS Nepal Earthquake Relief Efforts

Dear Friends,

As you know, the earthquake in Nepal last month killed more than 8,000 people, while destroying the homes and livelihood of countless others.

The Institute has very strong ties to villages in the Rasuwa and Langtang regions of northern Nepal. These remote areas were devastated by the earthquake, and because of their remoteness, are getting little, if any, help from large agencies.

Many homes were destroyed and people are sleeping in rudimentary shelters in the open fields. It is the main farming season and they are facing the difficult choice between planting their crops or trying to salvage temporary shelters out of their demolished houses. If they do not plant their crops now they will not have food supplies and income for next year, but if they do not fix their homes, they will be exposed to the heavy monsoon rains and the diseases they bring. The early rains have already begun and the situation will dramatically worsen by the end of June.

We are working with the Rural Tourism and Environmental Education Society (RTEES), a local nonprofit based in Rasuwa that has worked in the region for many years. Our immediate efforts have focused on providing food, clothes, and medicine. The next urgent need is to raise funds for sturdy tents and waterproof sleeping pads to make it through the monsoon season. We have also made a commitment to support the long-term rebuilding process in Rasuwa, once the initial needs have been met.

We have started collecting donations with an initial goal of $15,000, and so far, have raised $11,868.00.  100% of each dollar we receive goes directly to communities affected by the earthquake. We do not deduct administrative or organizational fees. We are also a 501(c)3 organization and your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

These communities have had a huge impact on our lives and have humbled us with their kindness and compassion. As is often the case, those will the least amount of resources, show the greatest amount of generosity.

Thank you for your support, we greatly appreciate it.
Frank, Kelly, Charlie and the IVS community

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Artificial Glaciers in Zanskar

Greetings from Zanskar,

We have arrived in the spectacular Zanskar valley, where we will be spending the majority of our remaining three weeks in India. Zanskar is surrounded on three sides by glacial peaks, with a silt-stained river flowing gently through valley floor.

Many of the families here are subsistence farmers, relying on the harvest from the short summer season to provide enough food for the bitterly cold winter months. Glacial melt is the primary source of irrigation for their crops, and in recent years is being affected by climate change. One village, Kuming, is being forced to relocate because its water sources are drying up.

One of the purposes of our trip was to work with the community in Stongdey to help address the issue of their changing climate. We have met with the village leaders and will be supporting their efforts to build artificial glaciers. Artificial glaciers are essentiall ice reservoirs built at lower altitudes than natural glaciers. The hope is that these will provide an additional source of irrigation water and act as an insurance in particularly poor water years. We will update you more about this project in the next email.

The students are staying with local families in the villages of Stongdey and Zangla. They are all doing well and adjusting to being immersed in remote village life in the Himalayas. We are continually amazed by the kindness of the families here, warmly welcoming us into their homes and communities. The pride they take in being hosts is something many of us hope we can emulate in our own lives back in the US.

Charlie and James