Christmas will be upon us in no time and January 2017 is getting closer and closer - an important month for us here at THISWORLDEXISTS.
We will be welcoming 14 eager adventurers from around the world to our ongoing school build in Sorung Chhabise, eastern Nepal. The project has been officially running for several months now and has progressed well, with the first two classrooms almost complete. As we progress through the build of six classrooms, a hall, a long terrace, and a hygiene and sanitation area; we are constantly vigilant of the community’s needs and involvement.
Community Comes First
Before we engage with a community and begin to draw up the plans for a new THISWORLDEXISTS Education Project, we ensure that the local community is behind the project 100%, and if there are any issues among community members or school stakeholders; that these are addressed well in advance of the project commencing. We were very fortunate to know someone who was born and raised in Sorung Chhabise, and having gone to Kathmandu to run a successful business and raise a family, is well respected in the village. This man is Anish Sharma and he has been an essential part of the development of THISWORLDEXISTS’ presence in Nepal.
If it weren’t for his constant enthusiasm, logistical genius, and incomparable in-depth knowledge of all things Nepal, our going here would be far tougher. Anish acted as an intermediary between us and the senior community members who are directly involved with the new school in Sorung Chhabise. The volunteer principal of the existing, underdeveloped school, Prem Khatiwoda, was understandably enthusiastic at the premise of a large, NGO-funded school with a modern curriculum for children of the village who could not afford or reach the nearby public school. Community enthusiasm and emotional investment was confirmed when a local man selflessly donated a package of land to us to extend the school grounds. This generous act was a humbling moment for us and made us realise just how important ‘education for all’ is to this community. With the local people behind us, it was time to get building.
Local Labour, Local Materials
Our volunteers love to get their hands dirty and work directly on the build phases of our education projects - but at the end of the day, at least 90% of the work is done by local labourers. This is an important part of our ethical obligation to local communities.
By employing and paying skilled local labourers we not only stimulate the village economy, but we keep those skills localised. In many developing countries there is a notable ‘brain drain’ where many intellectual and manual workers are leaving their villages, or even the country entirely to search for better opportunities abroad. This negatively affects the economy in rural areas, and separates families as many married couples may not see each other for years at a time, or, tragically, never again. By creating lucrative work opportunities where labourers can continue to live in their own homes with their families and use their skills to benefit their own community, we believe we are doing the right thing. We have heard of several NGOs who mostly utilise paying foreign volunteers to do the majority of the work, thus robbing local people and economies of job opportunities and money. We don’t want to make the same mistake, and usually the local labourers are so skilled in working with the landscape and materials, that they can work far more efficiently.
We also invest in local materials, sustainably sourcing construction essentials from the immediate area to where the school is located. Before the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, concrete was becoming king in Nepal. Reinforced concrete is an unsustainable construction method in earthquake prone areas, as many tragically discovered, and now people are being urged to use traditional materials such as masoned stone and bamboo to reconstruct their homes and other buildings. Authorities are also urging locals to utilise earthquake resistant designs such as braced corners, single storey construction, and roundhouses to minimise the impact of future earthquakes. Of course, concrete still needs to be used for mixing mortar, reinforcing bamboo joins, and swelling foundations; but the dependence on it is understandably diminishing. This also enables us to source more materials locally, thus driving down the overall cost of the school and further stimulating the local economy.
Luckily for us, our first two volunteers and project pioneers, Mavi and Simon; are sustainable design experts. Trained architects from Italy and Germany, they have a passion for utilising local materials and labour, which fit with our ethos perfectly.
The design they developed is earthquake resistant, with very deep foundations (shallow foundations are an issue with many buildings in Nepal) and a structure predominantly comprised of bamboo. Using bamboo keeps the structure light, so that less heavy detritus can come down on people’s heads in the event of an earthquake.
It also ensures structural flexibility, meaning that the building can flex in the event of a tremor, giving it a far better chance of standing than a heavier, more brittle structure. Add these attributes to the fact that we had an abundance of strong, local bamboo available to us - and we had a design we, and the community; were very happy with.
Bringing the Design to Life
With the community behind us, local labourers itching to work, and a sustainable, earthquake resistant design finalised, we were ready to commence construction. Simon, Mavi, and Suman (Anish’s brother) oversaw the the initial phases of construction, as the first building comprised of two classrooms began to take shape.
They worked tirelessly, not only managing the build but also labouring hard with the locals to bring our dream to life. By the time our first group of 8 THISWORLDEXISTS Adventurers arrived, the foundations, lower walls, and many of the structural pillars were already in place. In addition, the land had been levelled to make way for the additional buildings, and the adjacent field had been flattened by an excavator - a process that had been in the making for 50 years! The local community had been wanting a larger piece of flat land to be developed for so long but due to the always difficult Nepali bureaucratic process, a lack of funds, and disagreements within the community; it was delayed for decades. To celebrate, the locals even hosted an inter-village football tournament the week after the land had been levelled.
Our volunteers found themselves in a wide variety of roles during their time in Sorung Chhabise, and worked very hard during their time there, despite the blistering heat and notable culture shock. Digging new foundations, beginning work on the 28 metre long terrace, reinforcing bamboo joins with concrete, collecting stones from the riverside quarry, and moving heavy bamboo pillars into place are some examples of the work tasks that our volunteers engaged in. Always under the watchful eye of our architects and of course our skilled team of local labourers, our volunteers attacked the rewarding work with gusto, and really enjoyed themselves. The feedback from the work component of our September THISWORLDEXISTS Adventure was overwhelmingly positive and just shows how hard work for a good cause can produce immeasurable joy in those who participate.
The Next Phase
Due to the large size of the project in Sorung Chhabise, the build will continue under local management and labour, with intermittent visits from THISWORLDEXISTS volunteers; for at least several months. In addition, our January THISWORLDEXISTS Adventure will introduce 14 volunteers to the project, who will have the same fantastic work opportunities and roles as the group in September. Following their visit, construction will continue locally until complete, upon when we enter into Phase 2 of our education project.
At THISWORLDEXISTS we don’t just want to build schools, we want to support the community over many years by developing outwards from the new school itself. Developing and modernising the school curriculum, improving teaching and learning outcomes by ‘teaching the teachers’ and encouraging a progressive approach to learning, and constantly upgrading and maintaining school facilities and materials are just a few of our Phase 2 deliverables. Once the school is thriving, and children who previously had no access to education are receiving a world-class learning experience; we move into Phase 3 where we focus on wider community development. Using education as the crux of our approach, we will engage in improving adult education, hygiene and sanitation facilities and practices, sustainable road and electric infrastructure, food security, and more - cementing our relationship with the local community and delivering benefits for years to come.
Join us in Nepal
Our January group is itching to get to Nepal and be an active part of our education projects there, and we have many more dates in 2017 where you have the chance to come to Nepal for the adventure of a lifetime, and of course to make a positive impact on our projects.
Upcoming dates are:
April 1 - April 16
Sept 23 - Oct 8
Dec 30 - Jan 20 2018
If you’re travelling to Nepal independently and want to get involved with the volunteer-only component (construction work, teaching and learning support) in Sorung Chhabise, let us know! We have a variety of transport, accommodation, and donation packages to suit you; all managed through our safe and reliable logistics managers based in Nepal.