Grad has sights on expanding care to her native Nepal

graduate in cap and gown stands behind railing next to brick building
Melina Dhakal in her cap and gown from her undergraduate graduation ceremony in 2021.

Dec. 14, 2023 – DENTON – The concept of 'seva,' the Nepali term for selfless service, resonates deeply within Melina Dhakal. 

So much so, she has spent the last seven years living and going to school in the United States. Her aspirations are to finish her education, gain experience as a speech-language practitioner and return to her home country of Nepal to help those who are most in need. 

“The spirit of community and shared responsibility ingrained in Nepali culture motivates me to give back,” Dhakal said. “I want to embody this principle of service by actively participating in initiatives that uplift the lives of individuals and communities in Nepal.”

Dhakal will graduate in December 2023 from Texas Woman’s University with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2021 in communication sciences. Dhakal says her journey has been fulfilling, but not without its challenges. 

Dhakal has been back home to see her family just three times since she arrived in the United States in 2016. She is married and her husband lives in Nepal, nearly 8,000 miles away. They have lived together for just three months in six years of marriage. 

graduate in cap and gown stands in front of TWU fountain

Despite the hardships, Dhakal was determined to earn her degree so she can make a difference in her home country.

“Beyond personal ties, I am inspired by the ongoing development challenges that Nepal faces,” Dhakal said. “While the country is endowed with immense beauty, there are also pressing issues, such as economic disparities, educational gaps and the need for sustainable development. Witnessing these challenges fuels my desire to go back and contribute in a meaningful way.”

Dhakal originally came to the United States to study dental hygiene but realized she was duplicating a degree she already had from Nepal. She began researching majors at TWU and was intrigued by speech-language pathology. After doing some research, she found there was a lack of SLP professionals in Nepal. 

SLPs assess and treat people who have speech, language, voice and fluency disorders. They also treat clients who have problems swallowing. 

“We don’t have many SLP professionals in Nepal so this is a high-need profession,” Dhakal said. “We also don’t have much awareness on this subject or curriculum for this major that matches what we have here. We might have a handful of professionals, but they are more focused on audiology rather than speech. When I learned about this major, I thought about people like stroke patients and children with autism. They need that help. Back home, we have just one autism center in the whole nation. I thought I could help to do something more.”

graduate in cap and gown stands in front of Texas Woman's University sign

Dhakal also has a personal story in choosing her degree. Her mother was diagnosed with a  brain tumor shortly after Dhakal came to the United States. 

“I was just starting my major and my dad struggled to help her with everyday living,” Dhakal said. “She had difficulty swallowing. Maybe if I had more knowledge at the time, I could have helped. It makes a difference when a professional helps you. I have more knowledge now, and I wish I could have helped her. It would have made her days easier.” 

Sadly, her mother passed away, and because of the pandemic, Dhakal wasn’t able to fly home to see her mother in her final days. It was in those dark moments when she leaned on her husband, Suraj. He has been her biggest supporter. Between the pandemic, his work commitments and visa issues, arranging in-person visits between the two have been difficult. 

“My husband keeps me going,” Dhakal said. “There were some moments where I completely thought I cannot go any longer. I wanted to give up. He kept pushing me. He would say, ‘you came so far, just a little more. A little bit more.’ “

Dhakal is waiting for that moment when she can see her family and her husband. For now, it is still too uncertain. 

Dhakal is proud of her academic accomplishment but knows the work is not over. Her to-do list includes getting certified, finding a job and gaining knowledge before she returns home. 

“I believe that by leveraging my skills, experiences and education, I can actively participate in initiatives that contribute to the well-being of the Nepal community,” Dhakal said.

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Amy Ruggini
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Page last updated 11:37 AM, May 30, 2024