Fellow aims to expand job opportunities in Nepal’s transgender community

Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Publication Location: BRATTLEBORO, Vermont
Contact: Kate Casa  |  [email protected]

SIT Nepal alum Amit Gerstein has been named Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow.

BRATTLEBORO, Vermont—Amit Gerstein, a 2018 alum of SIT Nepal: Development and Social Change*, has been named the first Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow of 2022. For his project, Gerstein plans to work with local activists to improve employment opportunities for Nepal’s vulnerable transgender community, in which isolation and discrimination contribute to high rates of depression and suicide.

Working with transgender activist Nilam Poudel, Amit aims to help alleviate the crisis with a job training program in the fields of design, tailoring, and professional makeup.

"I am so honored to receive the Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship," Gerstein says. "Nilam Poudel took the initiative to begin these trainings during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I am excited to use the fellowship to maximize the impact and reach of this program by bringing it to cities and communities throughout Nepal."

Gerstein is a 2020 graduate of George Washington University, where he majored in international development. “I am passionate about working with sexual and gender minorities across the globe, and I want to continue in the field of international LGBTQ+ advocacy and human rights work,” he states in his fellowship application.

By enabling them to enter a sector that is more queer-friendly with useful and needed skills, this project can drastically change a person’s quality of life.

Amit Gerstein

“Since LGBTQ+ individuals are often disowned by their parents, not accepted by their friends, and face danger for being publicly queer, many feel isolated and alone,” Gerstein observes. Because most employers are unwilling to hire them, many transgender women have little choice other than sex work.

Training in the fields of design, tailoring, and professional makeup will enable sexual and gender minorities (SGM) to find work in the highly visible media industry, where their presence can impact social perceptions, Gerstein writes. “By enabling them to enter a sector that is more queer-friendly with useful and needed skills, this project can drastically change a person’s quality of life.”

The Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship was established in 2009 by the family of an SIT Nicaragua alumna as a tribute to her desire to bridge cultures and help others, and the role that SIT Study Abroad played in her life. A 2007 graduate of Amherst College, Alice was killed while riding her bicycle to work in 2008.

Globally, LGBTQ+ people have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.

Amit Gerstein

Fellowships are awarded twice annually to SIT Study Abroad alumni seeking to pursue locally led human rights projects in the countries where they studied abroad. Gerstein, who speaks Nepali, says he formed strong relationships with members of Nepal’s LGBTQ+ community while working on his Independent Study Project in 2018.

"Amit is a wonderful student, and his commitment for learning about and helping the queer community is heartwarming," says SIT Nepal Academic Director Suman Pant. "He has found a great mentor and partner in Nilam ji. I’m really looking forward to seeing this project pan out and expand in Nepal."

Through a “training the trainers” approach, Gerstein seeks to expand job training through the reach of two LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, Blue Diamond Society and Mitini Nepal, which currently serve more than 2,000 SGM in Nepal.

“Globally, LGBTQ+ people have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19,” writes Gerstein in his application. “In Nepal, the situation is particularly acute, with LGBTQ+ people facing high rates of abuse, unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, and discrimination.”

According to a 2021 survey conducted by Blue Diamond Society, 29.7 percent of respondents faced violence during the pandemic, 13.4 percent suffered from depression, and 12.2 percent attempted suicide.

*The name of the SIT Study Abroad program is now Nepal: Development, Gender, and Social Change in the Himalaya