Ben Herzel: Helping in the Himalayas

Ben Herzel, a junior international rescue and relief major, spent four weeks last summer volunteering with Tiny Hands International in Nepal.

The mountains seemed to roll into the hand-painted sky. The tiny clinic almost clashed with the inescapable rural beauty. Yanking the door open, Ben Herzel had to let his eyes adjust to the dim lights inside. It pained him to think this was the only clinic in the area. In time, the junior international rescue and relief major hopes to change that.

“I was surprised to see the conditions and how understaffed it is and how so many people are in need of health care,” said Herzel.

Just a year earlier he never would have guessed his involvement with a non-profit organization in Lincoln would land him in the rural landscape of Nepal. But when a Tiny Hands International representative spoke at Union College about their efforts to improve the lives of Nepalis, Herzel’s own life was forever changed.

Tiny Hands International is a Lincoln-based aid organization endeavoring to stop sex trafficking and provide homes for orphans in Nepal. They specialize in intercepting enslaved women and girls at the border and helping them overcome the trauma of rape and abuse. The organization also operates a dozen children’s homes in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

“I was drawn to Tiny Hands because it is local, grassroots, and God-centered,” said Herzel. “So I applied to be on a vision team and traveled with six people for eight weeks in Nepal.”  

When they first arrived, the group traveled the country visiting Tiny Hands restoration homes for rescued girls and gaining an understanding of the culture. When the orientation was complete, each group member was challenged to develop a vision for a Tiny Hands project and see it accomplished.

“I took on a medical mission project,” explained Herzel. “Tiny Hands already had a long-term goal to establish a medical work, so I wanted to help see that dream realized.”

For Herzel’s last four weeks in Nepal, he traveled alone, interviewing hospital administrators and missionaries, studying the feasibility of a medical facility. Many previous medical outreach programs had failed in Nepal, but Herzel “wanted to help build a strong base and figure out a solution that will be sustainable.”  

While his passion for making a change took him more than 7,000 miles away, Herzel made it clear that sex trafficking, child neglect and homelessness are also pressing issues back home.

“Although Tiny Hands isn’t set up yet to fight those injustices in America, we should all be aware of it and get involved to stop it,” said Herzel.

Much of Herzel's success came from the unique training he received in the international rescue and relief degree program at Union College. A Bachelor of Science degree for students who want to serve humanity through disaster and humanitarian relief, IRR is designed to equip graduates with specialized service skills. The trip to Nepal continues to fuel Herzel's desire to help the orphan children and victims of sex trafficking.  

Back in Lincoln, he is working to raise money for Amnesty International and Tiny Hands. He helped coordinate the third annual Tiny Hands, Big HeARTs art and craft sale which raised nearly $4,000 for the charity.  Herzel also launched a DecemBEARD campaign encouraging Union's male student population to get sponsors and grow their beards for the month. Several Union students, including Herzel, are doing internships for Tiny Hands and often work to raise money on campus. 

“So much success is based on prayer and community,” said Herzel. “A major portion of what we did was talk about spiritual issues. It’s important to build community around spirituality. It’s a Christian movement more than a humanitarian movement.”  

To learn more, check out the Tiny Hands International website or Facebook fan page. You can also contact Chris Blake, faculty sponsor for Union College's chapter of Amnesty International/Tiny Hands International.