SALT LAKE CITY — The unassuming man appeared from out of nowhere, no entourage in tow. He had a red backpack strapped to his back, which he said contained books. He was dressed casually and was quick to smile. He spoke in soft, humble tones about the impact of his work in the far corners of the globe. All he wanted to do was help others.
Such is the personable nature of Bishnu Adhikari, recently honored at a fancy gala by Choice Humanitarian as its 2010 Humanitarian of the Year.
"Bishnu has been an inspiration and visionary of how choice can take what we think is a strong model for ending poverty and grow it to make an impact at a national level," said Chris Johnson, director of field operations of Choice Humanitarian.
"It's our way of both recognizing him personally and showing our community what amazing resources we have close at hand to change the world."
Founded in Salt Lake City in 1982, Choice Humanitarian is a nonprofit organization that has worked in 15 countries and helped hundreds of thousands of villagers help themselves out of poverty with self-sustaining programs and projects. Currently Choice maintains full-time in-country directors in Nepal, Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya and Bolivia.
Before returning home to Nepal, Adhikari consented to an interview with local media. The conversation took place at the edge of the Temple Square reflecting pool.
More than 16 years ago, Adhikari earned a civil engineering degree from a Russian university. Later, he earned another degree in environmental policy from the Monterey Institute for International Studies in California. He is fluent in six languages.
As a young man, Adhikari considered himself very religious. He was taught to worship idols. At one point, however, he began to question certain traditional practices that didn't make sense to him.
While in Russia, the 29-year-old met LDS missionaries and started investigating the church. Within two months he was baptized.
Adhikari, his wife and three children were eventually sealed in the Hong Kong LDS Temple. Being one of 133 members of the LDS Church in Nepal has helped him to focus less on material things and more on helping others. "It has been a driving force in my life," he said.
While in Salt Lake City this past weekend, he said attending general conference was the "ultimate experience of a lifetime."
Adhikari said his calling in life came to him after he returned home to Nepal from Russia in 1989. He recalled watching his then 60-year-old mother spend 30 minutes carrying water from a well back to her home. It was time to change some things.
"When I came back having experienced all the amenities of life, I have to come back and help these people to ease their lives," he said.
With the help of some LDS missionaries, he laid out plans for installing a pipe from the well to the village, saving valuable time and allowing people to do all their chores involving water in the village. His mother bragged about her son to the neighbors.
"It made my parents so happy that I came back and contributed," said Adhikari, who added the same village finally received electricity six months ago. "(Helping others) keeps me going. It's about the people and the energy, willingness, desire and enthusiasm it brings to their lives. That is what is important. It helps them go to the next level, to think bigger. That is what I like about my work."
Since then, Adhikari has worked on developmental projects for the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and USAID. He joined the Choice Humanitarian team in 2001. He has overseen the work of 21 water projects, 33 schools and 900 bio gas digesters in an effort to lift Nepal from poverty and teach villagers how to be self-sustaining.
His goal is to be out of a job someday.
"I would like to empower the people through projects. The present need for eradicating poverty in the developing countries is to help them generate revenue through their resources," he said. "We want to take them to the level where they understand the basics."
How did he feel about being named the Humanitarian of the Year?
"I am not qualified for that, but I am humbled because my friends have decided I am," he said. "It gives me courage and strength to keep on going."
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