Mr. Aziz talks: India, Nepal and his charity
I met Riaz Aziz at his office in Barry Hall (located downtown) and was immediately greeted with warmth. Upon shaking his hand he exclaimed, “Your hands are so cold! Where did you walk from, the main campus?” After a good laugh, we then sat down to talk more in-depth about the classes he teaches at NDSU, what it means for students to visit India and Nepal (both faculty-led trips are organized/led by him), his involvement in the community of Fargo-Moorhead and his personal involvement abroad.
To start off the interview, I asked Mr. Aziz about what classes he teaches at NDSU. He responded with that he teaches a number of classes, some of them being, “Macroeconomics, microeconomics, agribusiness, money and banking, and study abroad classes one for Nepal and one for India.”
He then went on to say that the trip to India is held over winter break whilst the trip to Nepal is held over spring break. One thing I took away from the interview is that he stresses that the program is, “culturally immersive.” His goal is to not just show students the highlights of the country (a tourist visit) but, have the students really experience the culture.
The idea for the faculty-led program is to educate the student on all different aspects of the culture, that being “the history, social system, geography, economic system, what drives the various cultures religiously speaking.”
Giving an example, “India, nearly 70% of the population lives below the Indian poverty level but, since it’s a country of 1.2 billion people you still have a considerable amount, 30 percent who do very well for themselves and have a lot of wealth.”
The word poor is defined differently in various cultures. For example, “In western culture it may be defined as a person who doesn’t have a car to use but, you don’t talk about people who don’t have running water, eat once a day or don’t have indoor plumbing.”
“You find the other side of the coin where my students are asking me, how are these people (who live in slums) so happy, because the sense is that if you’re poor; you’re often miserable, unhappy, or dysfunctional. But instead, students are greeted with love, affection and eagerness when you’re visiting them. That is an experience that students often rank at the top of their trip.”
On the faculty-led trip to India, students spend an entire day with elephants, meeting elementary to college-level students, visiting the Taj Mahal, shopping in the markets and ” the last trip my students took they met young-women who currently run many restaurants that are acid-attack survivors. They had to rise up from horrible circumstances.” This is all done for Mr. Aziz’s primary focus so that it is culturally immersive.
Home to the majestic Himalayas (think Mt. Everest), Nepal is extremely mountainous. Because of it being so mountainous and having extreme landscapes, it was left “mostly untouched from colonization.” India not having the same fate has only gotten its independence from the United Kingdom 71 years ago.”
Students on the trip to Nepal will get to spend a night in a nature preserve. During the day you will spend time with tigers and elephants. Other things the students will do is canoe through the jungle, view waterfalls, visit villages and go on a private plane ride to view the top of Mt. Everest.
With the faculty abroad trips aside, I asked Riaz Aziz on a personal note if he has any other involvement in the F-M area or abroad.
I could tell that he didn’t walk to talk about himself too much and he modestly states, “On a personal side, my family and I run a charity in India called The Bengunahi Foundation, which is designed to pluck from the bowels of the poorest parts of India. Women, who show that sparkle. They often have so many obstacles in the way of obtaining an education accompanied by a lack of information. That they find themselves not being able to do it.”
“So, that’s when my foundation steps in, plucks them out of there and takes care of all there needs. These needs can be anywhere from being economic needs, social needs, hygiene, nutritional needs and education. We take care of all of it and this enables them to graduate. Most times they are the first in their family or generation to graduate from university.”
“The condition of my foundation is that the women once they graduate, have to go back to where they came from and help a woman with similar circumstances that they once had.”
Two examples being, one women is now, an accountant at a bank and is helping contribute to a portion of another women’s schooling. The other example being another woman, “who also works in the banking industry, seeks out women for mentorships to help them.”
I concluded the interview with Mr. Aziz asking about Indian restaurants around Fargo and where to go if looking to get a yummy dish of tikka masala, coconut curry or Naan bread. His answer? All of them.