Every day I wake up in a tent, yawn my way out of the thin mattresses and sleeping bags I call my bed and wander towards the common area to make tea and put some jam on bread. On a good day – and here good means absolutely breath-taking – the Himalayas are there to greet me. On a very good day I allow myself some Nutella for my bread. No, but the mountains are glorious; a vast span of white-topped epicness that simply makes you stop and stare. Photos do not do it justice, but I’ll try anyway.
Our base in Thulo Pakhar, Nepal, is made up of three buildings and a whole load of tents, all facing that view. There are currently 110 volunteers and 12 staff but that jumped up recently and I’m embarrassed to say that I’d be hard pressed to name three quarters of the volunteers. There are four showers* and minimal squat toilets. Finding a free toilet when you really really need one is always an anxious moment. Luckily my bowels thus far have been fairly free of drama, but that isn’t to say they’ve been wonderful. No one here escapes.
*cubicles with a bucket and a scooper inside constitutes a shower here. . .
Our home town of Thulo Pakhar
The foundations before and after the first concrete pour of Building 2
I came here over 6 weeks ago and, as it always does on All Hands Projects, time has flown by. This is the second time I’ve been on a project in Nepal and we’re still responding to the earthquakes of 2015. Although the initial response phase has ended, All Hands is into the recovery phase; in this case, building schools. Thousands of schools were destroyed or made unsafe by the earthquakes so this work will enable thousands of children to get a better education. When I first arrived I was told that of the two schools being built, Chamuna had the most beautiful surroundings and, being away from the main town, was much more peaceful. Since that first day I’ve been on that site every day bar two. Not because the other site isn’t as good – although obviously my bias says that it isn’t – but because on Day 1 the project coordinator realised I was a long-term volunteer and roped me into Team Leading.
At that stage the “school” we were building was nothing but a hole in the earth, a lot of sweaty volunteers, a corrugated iron tool shed and some wooden panels being laid on the floor. In the last couple of weeks we’ve finally made ground level and beyond, and the progress is amazing. Not only are the walls and doors on both buildings starting to climb ever upwards, but the rebar window and door frames (that I’ve helped cut, bend, and bully into shape) are in place. It is finally looking like an actual building, not just a load of concrete and bricks underground.
The “school” when I first arrived at site!
Talking of bricks. . . bricks in Nepal aren’t what you’d call regular. Or consistent. Or useful, in fact. Don’t trust a brick. In my eyes bricks should be the same size, or at least pretty close. It seems that in Nepalese Brick Factories they make a brick or two and then can’t remember the dimensions and so guess. The bricks not only differ in length, but width and shapes, too. You can see how that might make building straight, earthquake resistant walls difficult. We persevere. It tends to work out through pure grit and determination, and the outrageous talent of the brick masons All Hands has in their employ.
I’ve been bending and cutting rebar for much of my time here – bending them manually at a creatively bodge job work station – but have learned to brick lay among other things. I spent weeks making rebar into the shapes and sizes under the assurance that they were useful in some way, but it wasn’t until we started putting them in that I realised how fundamental they were. I’ll save the engineering talk but they basically reinforce the concrete layers that are spread throughout the building and are one of the key reasons why these buildings are more earthquake resistant than previous ones. All those bits of rebar fitting together and being tied with wire made me weirdly happy.
Building 1 putting the windows in, a week ago.
The schools are racing along now; which is good because we’re in a race against the upcoming monsoon season. Once that hits, and it’ll hit hard, working is going to be a whole different board game. Wish us luck.