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Tassels and Tiny Hands

Senior to work in Nepal after graduation

Austin Munn spent last summer interning with Tiny Hands and traveled alongside a summer Vision Team.

Austin Munn spent last summer interning with Tiny Hands and traveled alongside a summer Vision Team.

By Katherine Yeager | Echo

As seniors scramble through the final weeks leading up to graduation, they look to life beyond Upland. Some pursue graduate programs, others pursue job opportunities in the U.S. and all fill out seemingly limitless paperwork. Austin Munn, a senior computer science major, packs up his passport and prepares to move overseas.

Munn will move to Nepal shortly after graduation this May. He accepted a position with Tiny Hands International in Kathmandu as the Dream Suite program director.

Tiny Hands is a Christian nonprofit organization that seeks to empower the church in the developing world by helping the poor to overcome poverty and share Christ with the world. They seek justice by intercepting girls in the process of being trafficked and running family-structured children’s homes for orphaned, abandoned or abused children.

Munn became involved with Tiny Hands last summer after hearing of the organization through his academic advisor, Tom Nurkkala.

After returning from a Lighthouse trip in Paraguay, Munn met with Nurkkala, a professor in the computer science department and head of the Center for Missions Computing at Taylor. Munn wanted to use his field of study for missions. Nurkkala gave him several options for internships in missions computing, one of which was with Tiny Hands.

“I checked Tiny Hands out,” Munn said. “There is a concentration software studio track  within computer science that has been working on that project (Dream Suite) during 2014 and again this year.”

The project began in 2014 and is in its fourth semester. According to Nurkkala, 17 students are currently enrolled in the course project with the help of two additional seniors, comprising a full team of 19.

The primary role of Dream Suite, developed by Taylor graduates David Colgan (’11) and Andrew Fennig (’02), is to track statistics about the traffickers and victims. The information shows where the traffickers came from and which routes they travel frequently.

Munn spent 11 weeks during the summer serving with Tiny Hands in Kathmandu. Half of his time was spent in software development and the other half visiting border stations, seeing Tiny Hands programs and talking with local pastors guiding the stations.

“Being able to get down there and see what happens on the border, in children’s homes and in schools made such a difference,” Munn said.

At times, he felt helpless, seeing hoards of traffic and few protective measures to stop and check vehicles crossing the border.

“There were lines of these big trucks. Literally there’s lines and lines of cars,” Munn said. “There is just so much chaos and somehow in the midst of that they try to pick out what could be someone’s life trying to be taken away.”

Because of the open border between India and Nepal, human trafficking is prevalent.

According to Munn, around 14,000 girls are trafficked each year in Nepal. Tiny Hands staff members seek God’s guidance while approaching girls to intercept, focusing on the individual rather than the statistic.

Munn rolls up his sleeve, revealing a brown bracelet with a single bead.

“These bracelets are called One Girl bracelets,” he said. “The idea is that even if the work done is for only one girl, it’s worth it for Tiny Hands. This past month they were able to intercept their ten thousandth girl.”

While interning in Nepal, Munn met people working on the software which he and his classmates developed months before. He remembers walking into the Tiny Hands International office to find a man working on data entry on the interface he helped create. This time, the data came alive.

“When you’re not interacting with a website and putting real data into it, it kind of removes you from the situation,” Munn said. “Being able to see him working and see others use it on a daily basis really personalized it a lot more and made it hit home.”

Munn prepares to serve as a project manager alongside Tiny Hands International’s investigators, analysts, legal team and others to stop the process of trafficking across the open border from India to Nepal.

While Munn manages the software development for Tiny Hands, a legal team will seek to build cases against traffickers as investigators gain more information on suspects.

Munn will carry the vision for the functionality of the project, working with developers to ensure that features are implemented in a way that meets the needs of Tiny Hands.

“We’re really excited that he’s going,” Nurkkala said. “As director for the Center for Missions Computing, one of my goals is that students from other disciplines would get excited the way Austin is in other needs. This is just one example of how this discipline can do missions. I’m excited to see what God is doing through him.”

Tiny Hands is growing, having recently launched programs in South Africa and Bangladesh. Its partnership with Taylor is also expanding.

Taylor’s Lighthouse program continues to develop a partnership with Tiny Hands, organizing trips and increasing awareness regarding the extent of human trafficking in Nepal and around the world.

Director of Lighthouse Programs Katie Rousopoulos said, “I’d love to have students join Lighthouse teams in years to come even after the ‘buzzword’ idea of sex-trafficking passes, because that will always be a need.”

As Munn prepares to turn the tassel and travel to Nepal, the Tiny Hands team begins to consider the next steps in software development and stopping trafficking transit in Nepal.

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