Human Rights, Education, and Nepal

Thursday, Apr. 10, 2014 5:06 pm

Rosenfield Program Alum-In-Residence Dorje Gurung ’94, an activist and educator, will speak on “Human Rights and Education of Marginalized People of Nepal” at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101. The talk is free and open to the public.

While on campus, Gurung will also meet with students to discuss his education-related non-profit work and careers in international education.

Dorje GurungA widely traveled, Tibetan-Buddhist science educator, Gurung is education program director at Community Members Interested (COMMITTED-Nepal). Last year, while teaching in Qatar, he made national and international headlines after he was imprisoned on charges of insulting Islam.

Gurung had been nearing the end of his two-year stint teaching chemistry at Qatar Academy in Doha when he had a conversation with some 12-year-old students on the dangers of racial and ethnic stereotyping.

One of the student’s parents later complained, and the incident quickly spiraled out of control, until Gurung was perceived to have insulted Islam, and he was arrested and detained.

A global coalition of Grinnell alumni and other friends banded together to help free Gurung, quickly putting together an impressive Internet campaign, reaching out to key allies in the United States and abroad. Within 12 days, public pressure led to Gurung’s safe return to Nepal.

After his release, Gurung ran a successful fundraising campaign—Education is Freedom-Nepal—to improve the quality of and access to education in the Nepalese village of Thangpalkot. Gurung now works as the education program director at COMMITTED (Community Members Interested), a joint American and Nepalese organization dedicated to ensuring free and quality education for all Nepalese children.

“All we seek to do is help these children so that they do not suffer the same way their parents did because of a lack of education,” Gurung said. “These kids are our future, and that’s something we need to protect as best we can.”

As a child, Gurung was brought by his father from his family’s small village to Kathmandu in pursuit of a better education. His high test scores earned him a place in a Jesuit school. Gurung says that his experience in Qatar has only strengthened his belief in education as the ultimate means to social improvement. During his time in jail, he met many other Nepali inmates — mostly migrant laborers, imprisoned on similarly unfounded charges.

“Had I been one of the hundreds of thousands of uneducated Nepalese migrant laborers, I would still be in that holding cell,” said Gurung. “What made the difference was my education… Education won me my freedom twice: freedom from the shackles of birth in a low socio-economic background at home, and freedom from potential seven-year jail sentence in Qatar.”

Gurung’s April 23 talk is sponsored by the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations and Human Rights.

Gurung also will receive an honorary degree at Grinnell College’s Commencement ceremony on Monday, May 19.