A CMHC MA Student’s Service Learning in Nepal

Daley Ruthven first selected Antioch University Seattle when looking for an MA program that would give her the chance to make a difference as a mental health clinician.

Although she explored a variety of other schools, she selected Antioch, saying, “Honestly, what drew me to the school was the mission and the social justice piece… This is where I want to be… And I just liked the idea of smaller classrooms, more personable relationships with instructors, it just, it fit me.” She adds, “It was also nice that it allowed me to work at the same time… Something that’s impossible to do in other programs.” As an Antioch student, she’s found the flexibility, community, and social justice focus that she was looking for.

By opting to travel to Nepal over September 10-29, 2017 as part of her trauma and disaster training, as well as part of her MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling pre-internship practicum training, she was able to live Antiochian social justice values in vivid ways.

For the first half of this educational travel experience, Ruthven and her classmates stayed in Sri Aurobindo Yoga Mandir, a large, bountiful, self-sufficient ashram (a Hindu place of spiritual residence, similar to a monastery, and home of Swami Ram Chandra) in Nepal that offers safe haven for over 129 children and adults, including young earthquake survivors who lost their families. As part of her trauma response training, Ruthven – alongside fellow Antioch students – provided creative, therapeutic activities to these Nepalese children and other trauma survivors. These workshops used therapeutic tools provided by First Aid Arts, an organization dedicated to “bringing effective arts-based healing resources to trauma survivors and those who care for them.”

While using First Aid Arts techniques with different groups of trauma survivors, Ruthven marveled at humanity’s ability to heal. Ruthven says that the experience deepened her trust that “people have the strength within them” to recover from trauma. She was especially impressed with the resiliency and prosocial behavior of the children living in the ashram, who woke early, performed chores, attended school lessons, participated in daily meditation, and worked together as members of a close-knit community.

Ruthven’s stay in the ashram was structured similarly to the daily schedule that the ashram residents observe, with early morning yoga each day before breakfast. After breakfast, Ruthven would work with trauma survivors, attend graduate school lectures, and participate in ashram activities such as touring the farm. Lunch was served midday, during daytime activities. Dinner was served after daytime work ended, and before evening activities with the whole ashram community. Activities such as viewing the weekly movie on the ashram television, spiritual chanting, and meditation. All meals in the ashram are free, vegetarian, primarily dal bhat (a type of seasoned lentil soup), and crafted using ingredients grown on-site, including the milk used for yogurt and paneer cheese.

On Ruthven’s last night in the ashram, the children of the ashram performed a traditional dance recital for the Antioch students. In describing the experience, Ruthven explained “It’s unbelievable, the talent that these kids have! A lot of them sing, they’re all artists.”

The second half of the 2017 Nepal educational trip that Ruthven and other Antioch students participated in was spent volunteering for Conscious Impact, an organization that focuses on sustainably rebuilding structures and supporting agriculture in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake. Ruthven explained that when volunteering with Conscious Impact, Antioch students’ service-learning was primarily focused on helping the organization set up shop following monsoon season. Ruthven reports that much of the labor was physical, and sometimes exhausting, but always rewarding.

Interestingly, Ruthven reports that while she experienced a positive kind of culture shock when traveling in Nepal, getting to know the Nepalese communities she lived in expanded her worldview so significantly that she is still feeling something like culture shock now that she’s back in the United States, looking at US culture through a new lens. For example, getting to know people who live full, rich lives with considerably fewer personal possessions than a typical American is likely to have has cast US shopping culture in a new light. “I’m still – we’re a month later – and I’m still trying to adjust being back in the states. It was just definitely, and I’m not sure exactly why that is, but it’s definitely been hard.”

All in all, Ruthven describes her participation in this year’s trip to Nepal as an international learning experience that provided her with exactly the kind of social justice education that drew her to Antioch.

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Since our founding 1852, Antioch University has remained on the forefront of social justice, inclusion, and equality – regardless of ethnicity, gender, creed, orientation, focus of study, or ability.

Antiochians actively reflect these shared values to inspire positive change in the world. Common Thread is where we document the stories that showcase our communities actions, so the change we work for can be shared widely.  

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