On Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Center for Research in Science (CRIS) hosted Alexander Zahnd as the primary speaker for the lecture “Breaking the Vicious Circle of Poverty in Nepal’s Himalayas,” held in the Los Angeles Pacific College Board Room on East Campus. This is just one of many lectures from the research department’s Science, Faith and Culture series.

As part of the series, APU invites experts from a variety of departments and areas of study who highlight current important issues. Diverse in nature, the discussed topics range from cosmological and biological elements to environmental preservation and bioethics.

Alexander Zahnd has helped create a better quality of life in Nepal’s poor mountain communities through a holistic community development approach. As one of the world’s poorest countries, Nepal has a low literacy rate and high unemployment rate. Nearly 70 percent of the population, who live mainly in rural and difficult to access mountain areas, have no access to electricity.

In his lecture, Zahnd outlined seven elements to help break the vicious circle of poverty: preventive health care, highly contextualized solutions, close community involvement, renewable energy resources and technologies, seeds for ongoing development, long-term project partnerships and sharing of best practices. Each of these elements included detailed methods and solutions that will aid in the villages’ overall improvement and development of quality of life.

There are currently no APU study-abroad programs to serve Nepal, but Zahnd believes that APU students still have a call to action and ought to push for an accredited academic and practical service application program to emerge.

“One of my dreams is that [a 10-week intensive course held in Nepal] can be integrated and piggyback on a university with a curriculum, but [I would] love to include new modules related to sustainable community development, applied renewable energy technologies and climate change which students can choose,” Zahnd said. “We have had great feedback; most of the students that I’m still in touch with said, ‘It changed my life.'”

Some of Zahnd’s scientific methods have made a significant impact on the mountain communities. Zahnd stressed in his lecture that improved access to basic energy services is crucial for improved living conditions. By identifying and tapping into contextualized renewable energy resources by utilizing technologies, Zahnd and his team have been able to create high-altitude greenhouses and high-altitude solar water heaters.

Through close community involvement, meetings took place during the whole project phase to discuss progress, needs and tasks. The long-term partnerships with Nepalese village communities Zahnd has paired with include Symphysis and RIDS, the latter co-founded by Zahnd in 2002. Symphysis, an external donor partner from Sweden, has funded the solar-powered wind turbine hybrid prototype Remote Area Power Supply (RAPS) system and performance recording project, as well as village drinking-water systems.

“I’ve been discouraged by a lot of unhealthy systems implemented to aid poverty, and this system that [Zahnd] has developed of coming together and living and working with people in the community is so important,” senior biblical studies major Jennifer Maidrand said.

More information on Zahnd’s research and methods are found in his thesis, “The Role of Renewable Energy Technology in Holistic Community Development.” This dissertation has been nominated by Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia as an outstanding Ph.D. The thesis includes almost 20 years of research on the development and implementation of a new approach to holistic community development in the isolated villages of Nepal.

“He’s such a great example of how one person can make a positive difference in the world,” CRIS Director Leslie Wickman said. “If he can inspire students of APU to do similar sorts of things, or even jump on board with what he’s doing—what a tremendous impact that would make.”

To learn more or find out how you can support Zahnd’s projects, visit these websites: rids-nepal.org pvnepal.supsi.chi, and rids-switzerland.org.