Making a Real-World Difference

Colby’s two Davis Projects for Peace winners will use their $10,000 grant to improve internet access and help farmers in Nepal

Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri ’25, left, and Joe Grassi ’25, have been awarded a prestigious $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant for a project this summer in Nepal.
By Abigail Curtis Photography by Ashley L. Conti and contributed
June 4, 2024

Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri ’25 and Joe Grassi ’25, fast friends since they met on their first day at Colby, have been awarded a prestigious $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant to improve internet access in rural Nepal communities and help farmers better use technology to market their goods and connect with customers. 

“This is our chance to make an impact in a real-world community while at college,” said Chhetri, a computer science and science, technology, and society double major. “We just wanted to go out there, explore what’s out there, and do what we can to help.” 

Projects for Peace emerged from the vision of philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis and was launched on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007. The initiative, open to all undergraduates at the partner schools of the Davis UWC Scholars Program, challenges students to initiate summer projects that tackle causes of conflict and contribute to creating lasting peace. 

Since its founding, the grants have supported more than 2,000 projects in 150 countries. Including Chhetri and Grassi, more than 40 Colby students have used the grants to do things like implement waste-management projects in Vietnam, cultivate communication skills for use with senior adults, build playgrounds in Zimbabwe, improve drinking water access in Kenya, and help destitute mothers in Afghanistan find new ways to earn a living. 

Joining forces for good

On the surface, Chhetri and Grassi, a government major, might not seem to have a lot in common. Chhetri is from Kathmandu, Nepal, a city of more than 1.5 million people, and Grassi grew up in tiny Freedom, Maine, at Villageside Farm, owned and run by his dad, Prentice Grassi ’94, and his mom, Polly Shyka. At Colby, the friends have found a plethora of shared experiences and interests, including farming, food sovereignty, and problem-solving. 

Joe Grassi ’25 is from a Maine farming family. (Contributed photo)

“We’re always talking about important stuff in our lives,” Grassi said. “I come from a farming family, and Bibatshu comes from a family out in a more rural part of Nepal. So it’s farming, and an understanding of the importance of agriculture, that really has always been a connector.”

They’ve also learned that Nepal and Maine are both largely rural places where tourism and outdoor recreation are important, and where young people historically have left to seek work elsewhere. 

“The parallels that exist in both our lives are so striking,” Chhetri said. “I feel like that’s sort of the core of our project.” 

Their plans combine their interests in food systems and improving the internet infrastructure. According to Chhetri, although many people in Nepal have a smartphone, internet networks aren’t available everywhere and connections often are frustratingly slow. Efforts to ameliorate these problems have been thwarted by roadblocks such as the country’s mountainous topography and difficulties financing large-scale infrastructure improvements. 

“There’s definitely a lot of challenges,” Chhetri said. 

The power of telling a story 

Initially, Grassi and Chhetri hoped to set up their base in a remote, rural community that is Chhetri’s ancestral homeland. 

“But a lot of the details were really tricky in terms of getting ourselves there, being able to move around, and being able to connect with the different resources and connections that we have in Nepal, and that was pretty intimidating,” Grassi said. 

So they regrouped, consulted with Chhetri’s dad, who lives in Nepal, and pivoted to do their work in a community located closer to the capital city, Kathmandu. “We can still have a broad impact, but be in a place where we can network with a lot of people,” Grassi said. 

Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri ’25 is excited to do meaningful work in his home country. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

After arriving in Kathmandu, they’ll get to work on their multi-faceted project by setting up routers so that nearly every house in the rural community can have some degree of internet connection. They will also focus on digital storytelling. 

“Which means we’re trying to train farmers on how to use social media, how to use Facebook Marketplace, how to use Instagram,” Chhetri said. “And then go to the urban area and show their social media [pages] to places like restaurants and schools, and show them the wonderful things the farmers are producing.” 

Reinvigorating interest in agriculture

They believe that doing this will help educate people about the importance of sourcing food locally, something that matters in a country that increasingly relies on imported foods. That, in turn, may encourage subsistence farmers to expand their production and grow their farms as a business. 

Internet access is critical. 

“Without the internet, you really can’t have any of this digital storytelling. You can’t have any of this sharing, and this kind of exploration of food sovereignty,” Grassi said. “Our thought is that we can help build up that floor so that more and more people have access to create their own profile online and know how to make a website. That’s a skill, absolutely.” 

Grassi and Chhetri are thinking about their summer in Nepal as a pilot project rather than a one-off, something that will allow them to continue the work they start this summer. 

“We’d like to make our project sustainable, and not just have this short-term impact while we’re there,” Grassi said.