Shaken to the Core: A Journey Across National, Cultural, and Climatic Borders
A multimedia story by: Grace Chin, Rubén García and Tapendra Chand
Tapendra Chand: “Nepal, my homeland, is being hit hard by climate change. It is a recurring and immediate threat.”
TAPENDRA CHAND, 30, is a renewable energy expert based in Kathmandu, Nepal. From 2011 to 2015, he lived in Jülich, Germany, where he completed his master’s degree in Energy Systems and wrote his thesis on an application of ceramic candle filters to biomass gasifcation power plants. As a Daayitwa Summer Fellow, Mr. Chand researched alternative sources of energy, as well as effective methods for assessing damages to the environment, under the supervision of Former Honorable Minister of Energy Gokarna Bista. Chand has participated in a leadership training program created in collaboration with Harvard University professors and held under the mentorship of Dr. Pukar Malla, and he has worked on a project to create a productive dialogue about the intersection of gender inclusivity and enterprise development. He currently works as Project Officer at the nonprofit organization People, Energy & Environment Development Association and today, he reflects on experiences that shaped his career path and world views.
What sparked your interest in climate change and renewable energy?
Nepal, my homeland, is being hit hard by climate change. It is a recurring and immediate threat. We have been experiencing erratic rainfall, drought, glacier melt, and flooding, which have jeopardized the prosperity of our national economy and the socio-economic status of our people. While Nepal itself is not an industrialized country, it is located between China and India, which are two of the most industrialized countries in the world and do not follow greenhouse gas emission rules and regulations strictly. Nepal is being neglected, and the people of this country have to face the devastating effects of climate change because of its neighboring countries. So I, as a citizen of Nepal, felt the responsibility to address the issue of climate change so that my voice could be heard among those who are also at stake.
The Nepalese people have faced blackouts and load shedding on a daily basis for hours at a time over the past ten years. This gets even worse during the winter, because the majority of our power supply comes from run-of-the-river hydropower, which provides little to no capacity for energy storage. During the winter, only about half as much power gets generated as in the rainy season. Thus, we have an urgent need for alternative sources of clean energy. Because of the currently insignificant contribution of clean energy to the National Grid, we must focus on promoting the renewable energy sector, which will allow us to achieve long-term sustainability and reliable power production and to address issues related to climate change mitigation. Energy is the backbone of a nation’s economy, and a lack of energy constitutes a major obstacle to industrialization, therefore reducing economic growth.
Why did you decide to study in Germany? What experiences and connections did you gain there that have been beneficial to your professional and personal development?
After completing my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering at the Thapathali Campus Institute of Engineering in 2010 in Kathmandu, I considered pursuing a master’s degree in the same field at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand or in Business Administration at Arkansas State University in the United States, because of a generous scholarship opportunity that I had received. Ultimately, my passion for clean energy motivated me to pursue my master’s degree in that topic, and I was drawn to Germany’s leadership in the global renewable energy revolution. Germany produces large amounts of power from wind, solar, and biogas and is on track to phase out the sale of internal combustion engines powered by gasoline and diesel by 2030. Also, Germany is doing a lot of great research on alternative sources of energy that have yet to be commercialized, such as nuclear fusion and fuel cells. I specifically chose the Aachen University of Applied Sciences, as its master’s program Energy Systems closely aligned with my interests.
“Love for one’s own country coupled with faith in the power of the people can lead to powerful transformations and swift, positive change.”
The education I received at the Jülich campus from 2011 to 2014 changed the course of my life. In my classes, I got the opportunity to interact and collaborate with friends from all corners of the world and to hone career-relevant skills and techniques. While working on my master’s thesis, which I wrote on an application of ceramic candle filters to biomass gasification power plants, my mentor taught me the ins and outs of researching a topic, writing a scientific paper, and presenting and discussing the results. On the side, I worked as a research assistant for nine months at the Jülich Research Centre, which enabled me to cover my accommodation and food expenses. In doing so, I learned the value of money and experienced for myself that constant hard work is necessary for achieving dreams. It has been almost one-and-a-half years since then, and my mentality has not changed in that regard.
The biggest takeaway I got from my stay in Germany is that love for one’s own country coupled with faith in the power of the people can lead to powerful transformations and swift, positive change. Many aspects of Germany, such as its robust education system, eficient and convenient public transportation system, universal health care system, and overall propensity for punctuality, accountability, solid structure, and organization, are aspects that I strive for in my own country. To achieve these goals, we Nepalese people must stay dedicated to our values, which will grow our country from the middle out.
“How could Mother Nature be so cruel to my country and my people?”
How did the earthquakes affect you and your community when you returned to Nepal in 2015? What challenges emerged specifically?
On April 25, 2015, while I was still living in Germany, I was woken up by an early morning phone call from a friend. I was told that Nepal had just been struck by a massive earthquake and that many aftershocks were still happening. At first, I could not believe it, but after seeing it on the news, the bitter truth sunk in. How could Mother Nature be so cruel to my country and my people? After several failed attempts to reach out to my family and friends back at home, I was finally able to connect with them and hear their voices. The voices I heard were quivering, traumatized voices – voices full of pain and fear.
Seven somber days later, on May 1, 2015, I returned to my hometown and the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, with a heavy heart, in order to be with my loved ones and to try to minimize their suffiering in any way I could. In contrast to the first time I ever returned to my home country, which was back in December 2013, the country was in crisis. It pained me to see the demolished houses, the children desperately searching for their parents, the government struggling to organize rescue operations, and the people crying in agony amidst the havoc wreaked by the earthquake.
Not even two weeks had gone by when on May 12, 2015, another earthquake struck. The second earthquake had a magnitude of 7.3, making me realize how intense the first earthquake truly was with its 7.8 magnitude. Most Kathmanduities, my family and myself included, had to take shelter outside of our homes. For several days and nights, we lived in terror, experiencing hundreds of aftershocks of different intensities. We were fearful of theft, rape, and snake bites, and we were deprived of food and other life necessities. The earthquake caused many premature births and miscarriages, and my elder sister, who was pregnant at the time, had to undergo a surgical birth, since the aftershocks had caused her baby’s umbilical cord to be bent into his neck.
Video statements from team members
What did this inspire you to do? What are you doing to take action on climate change in your work?
Climate change destroys communities, it destroys cities, and it even destroys entire nations. And most importantly, it destroys lives. Having to experience that for myself completely invigorated me, and I felt more inspired than ever to serve my country through the Daayitwa Fellowship, a three-month program that I had already applied to before the earthquakes occurred. Starting on June 1, 2015, I joined sixteen other internationally active fellows, and I, under the guidance of Gokarna Bista, the former Honorable Minister of Energy of Nepal, researched renewable sources of energy, as well as effective methods for assessing damages to the environment. Furthermore, I participated in a leadership training designed by Harvard University professors, worked on a project to create a productive dialogue about the intersection of gender inclusivity and enterprise development, and found my own voice by sharing my personal narrative. Additionally, I participated in social gatherings and in fundraisers like Run for Nepal, in order to help raise money for earthquake relief funds. The fellowship drove me to an introspection of sorts, taught me to dream big, and to achieve those goals using a collective approach.
“Climate change destroys communities, it destroys cities, and it even destroys entire nations. And most importantly, it destroys lives.”
In September 2015, just after completing my fellowship, I began to work for the People, Energy and Environment Development Association, an NGO dedicated to empowering the rural communities of Nepal through effective implementation of various forms of renewable energy, like solar, wind, hydro, and biogas. At first, I worked as a research consultant for a biofuel project. My current role in the organization is Project Officer, and I am responsible for writing technical proposals about renewable energy projects. At the moment, I am working on conducting a feasibility study on expandable, reconfigurable, and integrated renewable energy in remote, off-the-grid communities. My projects aim to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for the destruction of our planet and thus, to mitigate the effects of climate change. Plus, I regularly contribute to our organization’s annual magazine and informational pamphlets in order to help raise awareness, and I have gotten the opportunity to travel to remote villages in Nepal and interact with the people who live there.
Talk about the logistics of coming back to home from Germany. What was challenging, and which institutions or networks helped you out with the process?
Coming back home, my main concern was undoubtedly the well-being of my family and friends, whom I was desperate to see and embrace again. I did not have any problems booking the fight, because I had already purchased my ticket before the earthquake happened. However, up until the last moments before the fight, there was uncertainty as to whether or not the fight would even take place. My Turkish Airlines plane was the first passenger plane to land at the Tribhuvan International Airport in the aftermath of the earthquake. We were extremely fortunate that it, as Nepal’s only international airport, had survived the earthquake, as damages would have presented difficulties in terms of rescue operations.
In February 2016, I was able to communicate with the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM), the Frankfurt-am-Main-based global labor mobility center of the German government which I had previously encountered at a seminar in Bonn, which then covered the cost of my plane ticket and began to provide me financial support in the form of salary topping-up payments. CIM runs various programs, including the Returning Experts Programme, where they provide training to people who come from developing countries, have worked or completed courses in Germany, and want to transition to careers in their home countries.
If you could plan your stay in Germany and come back home once again, what would you do differently? Any recommendations for those to follow your path?
I would work on more side projects and spend my free time differently, focusing more on my specialization in solar and wind energy and taking advantage of more opportunities as they arise. I would use the knowledge, skills, and experience gained through these projects to better prepare myself for the work that I am currently doing in my own community and country.
Those who are interested in studying in Germany should be highly motivated to achieve their goals, and they should consider how strenuous a workload they want to and can take on. Should it not be possible to receive a scholarship or other financial support, one will have to work part-time, as I did. The advantage? Using German in as many contexts as possible is a great way to learn and practice the language! The disadvantage, of course, is that it can be difficult to balance one’s work, study, and social life.
What can young folks do to step up to climate change?
I am very glad to share my journey from Nepal to Germany and back to Nepal, and I am hopeful that readers will feel motivated to engage in their own projects in order to understand and address the needs of their communities. Youth are tasked with advocating for positive change, as it is our future that is at stake. We can achieve this by speaking with our peers, with our elected officials, and at rallies and other events and by engaging in sustainability initiatives aimed to lessen humanity’s impact on the health of the environment, animal life, and especially marginalized groups whose voices often are not heard.
“My goals are that the energy crisis in Nepal will be solved by 2020, thus accelerating economic growth, and that these initiatives can be replicated around the world.”
I have dedicated my life to the development of renewable energy and to combating climate change. My goals are that the energy crisis in Nepal will be solved by 2020, thus accelerating economic growth, and that these initiatives can be replicated around the world.