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Caldwell, N.J., Aug. 8, 2019 – Anamika Sharma Paudel knows what it is like when a country is hit by a natural disaster. The Caldwell University international student from Nepal experienced the devastating earthquake that pounded her nation in 2015. It changed her life and she emerged knowing she wanted to pay back the people who had reached out to help her beloved Nepal.

Paudel had the chance to “pay it forward” this summer when she joined other young adults and two Dominican Sisters for a 7-day mission to help the people of Puerto Rico, who are still reeling from category-four Hurricane Maria, which slammed the country in 2017.

Paudel, along with Sister Pat Stringer, O.P., a Sister of St. Dominic of Caldwell, and the other travelers, helped repair and rebuild homes and planted crops. They learned about farming and afforestation, the process of planting trees to create a forest. And they stood with the people of Puerto Rico during the protests against government corruption. Along the way, they met special people who opened their hearts and homes and shared their culture and their struggles. “We heard their stories, prayed together, ate together like a family,” said Paudel, a senior majoring in health care administration and minoring in communication and media studies.

Paudel recalled meeting a man who joyfully told of his love for the environment and his coffee farms and taught them how to plant coffee samplings. A silver lining from the hurricane was that the ground became more fertile and new plants have arisen where they had never grown before. “I saw such content on this man’s face that it was clear to me how one would feel when he found his purpose in life,” said Paudel.

They learned more about planting from a 16-year-old boy who had turned an abandoned school into an agricultural research center with funding from the United States. Paudel was impressed with his skills, purpose and humility. “At such a young age, he has done so much for his community.” His family hosted the group for lunch; “we sang together and blessed each other,” Paudel said. The encounter taught her “how beautiful a simple life is and that it had purpose.”

Paudel was thankful for the friendships she forged with the young adults from other Dominican institutions. “We all came from different walks of life; we were in different phases of our lives, but we shared the common values of community, service, integrity, compassion and friendship.”

Stringer, promoter of Dominican life and charism for the Caldwell Dominicans, was also grateful to be a part of this “special group of young people” on an adventure during which they received far more than what they gave. “I believe that each of us was changed for the better by this experience and came away appreciating all that we have been given.”

Paudel, vice president of the Student Government Association, says she  has come back “rejuvenated,” knowing “the value of true contentment found in service,” and she hopes other Caldwell students are inspired to take community service opportunities “which will change their lives for better, forever.”