Junior Tavia Vitkauskas spent five weeks interning with Adhunik Agri­cul­tural Coop­er­ative Ltd. in Nepal. Tavia Vitkauskas | Courtesy

Where junior Tavia Vitkauskas worked over the summer, local kids would call her “the white one.” For some, she was the first white person they had ever seen.

Vitkauskas interned in the South Asian country of Nepal for five weeks. She worked with a company called Adhunik Agri­cul­tural Coop­er­ative Ltd., which assists small local farms.

When Vitkauskas started her internship, she could say “hello,” “thank you,” and “My name is Tavia,” in Nepali. To com­plicate com­mu­ni­cation further, the only English-speaking employee was not there for the week.

After much con­fusion, Vitkauskas figured out that she was sup­posed to write a profile for the company in English. She fin­ished it in a couple of days and turned it in.

“They were so sur­prised,” Vitkauskas said. “They had thought it would take me the whole five weeks… Now the question was, what else was there for me to do?”

Vitkauskas took ini­tiative and pro­posed research as to how the member farmers were ben­e­fiting from the coop­er­ative. Her project was approved, and Vitkauskas toured farms with a trans­lator to give surveys to the farmers.

“The culture is so dif­ferent,” Vitkauskas said. “The people are Hindus, and they worship animals. My host family owned a cow, which is the most holy animal. It had its own shed… I wasn’t allowed to touch the cow because I’m not Hindu.”

Vitkauskas added that the family she lived with also wor­shipped crows.

“No one was allowed to eat till the crows ate,” she said.

Vitkauskas found the internship through the inter­na­tional vol­unteer orga­ni­zation Cross Con­ti­nental while searching the internet for oppor­tu­nities.

“I am addicted to trav­eling, so I knew I wanted to be abroad for the summer,” Vitkauskas said. Though she ini­tially wavered between Nepal and South America, she decided to come to Nepal because she knew next to nothing about the country and its culture.

While Vitkauskas’ parents John and Mar­jorie said they were a little shocked when their daughter said she was going to Nepal, they were also proud of her.

“I thought it was a great oppor­tunity for her to see some of the parts of the world she’d had no exposure to,” John Vitkauskas said.

Vitkauskas’ parents agreed that trav­eling overseas to intern in Nepal was an idea very much in keeping with their daughter’s char­acter.

“She’s very self-reliant, very inter­ested in doing dif­ferent things,” John Vitkauskas said.

Tavia Vitkauskas focused on micro­fi­nance, “an approach to alle­vi­ating extreme poverty by pro­viding small loans or other financial ser­vices to indi­viduals,” according to asso­ciate pro­fessor of eco­nomics Michael Clark.

Such loans are important to the rural farmers in Nepal.

“For a poor farmer, $100 can be the dif­ference between you pulling the plow or a donkey pulling the plow,” Vitkauskas said.

The coop­er­ative also offers other ben­efits to members, Vitkauskas explained. Members can buy and sell directly, rather than through a mid­dleman, allowing farmers to sell at higher prices and buyers to pur­chase at lower prices.

After her survey, Vitkauskas wrote up an eight-page report on the company, with two main sug­ges­tions for improvement.

Vitkauskas’ first sug­gestion was to host edu­ca­tional sem­inars for the farmers who were members of the coop­er­ative. She said a lot of problems could be fixed if farmers could work more effi­ciently, such as by growing dif­ferent types of crops instead of just one.

Vitkauskas’ second sug­gestion was investing in a truck and door-to-door service. “I would travel some­times two hours to see a farmer,” Vitkauskas said. “It was incon­ve­nient.”

Both of Vitkauskas’ sug­ges­tions were seri­ously con­sidered. Vitkauskas said that the company has already started having edu­ca­tional sem­inars, and they are saving up money to invest in a truck.

“It’s amazing that I, a 20-year-old college girl, could do this for the company,” Vitkauskas said.

Despite dif­fer­ences, Vitkauskas said the Nepali people were wel­coming and helpful. But one thing she does not miss about Nepal is the food.

“Every day they had dal bhat, which is rice, curry, and potatoes,” Vitkauskas said. “We ate it all the time. It was good…but hard for three meals a day!”