Although the rains came late, the monsoon season in Nepal was particularly long this year as it started in the beginning of July and continued through the middle of September. During this time, Trek to Teach forged on with the Kliyu school project by forming the construction committee, which then began selecting laborers and getting quotes about materials from suppliers. To participate in these meetings and decisions, there were many long bus trips along thin, rain-soaked highways from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Once in Pokhara, the trip to Kliyu consisted of wet mountain roads and efforts to push the images of imminent landslides out of mind. We were in the thick of it and we weren’t giving up.
The construction committee put a lot of thought into who would make up the team of laborers. It can be hard to find work during monsoon season for manual laborers and with a long few months of rain predicted, the thought of finding reliable work was especially disheartening. With the locals in mind, the committee decided that the first preference would go to the skilled laborers in Kliyu and the villages nearby to enhance the living standard of those living in the area. That was an easy decision for the committee as all were in favor of filling as many positions as they could with individuals who have a personal connection with this remote region. “Why hire solely from the cities when there are skilled, able-bodied workers personally invested in this project?” was the sentiment throughout the committee. Immediately the moral of the committee soared, and the villagers were proud to contribute to revitalizing their children’s school.
The first phase was then underway and the focus of this part of the construction project was devoted to pillars. Without reliable pillars, the rest of the project would be on shaky ground both figuratively and metaphorically. For this, the committee hired four skilled village laborers to build thirteen pillars. While the work seemed straightforward as these were experienced workers, the rains made it difficult for the pillars to dry. No matter, the laborers did as much as they could during the weather and still managed to complete this stage of the project in only two weeks. However, as the pillars then had to dry, this portion of phase one was based on luck rather than skill as predicting the weather can be extremely fickle (especially during this time of year). Fingers were crossed for the rain to hold until the pillars were strong enough for construction to move onto phase two.
Once the pillars were completed and dry, the second phase of the project was focused on rooftop and truss work. For this level of detail and experience, the committee hired six workers and one supervisor from Pokhara. The supervisor was an engineer, so in addition to overseeing this portion of the project, he also made sure the additions were secure and stable. Although assembling the team for phase two did not bring any unforeseen challenges, bringing in the materials proved to be a difficult feat. With the heavy rains, it took ten days to get the materials from Pokhara to Kliyu’s school in what could have taken a few trips up and back in dry weather. In addition to the pouring rain, the road used to bring the materials was under construction as it was being pushed further into the mountains. Unfortunately, this meant that it was closed to vehicles from 11AM – 4PM every day. Luck was not on our side during this time and with the combination of the monsoons and the road construction, the project had to be delayed for three weeks.
As the rains let up and the road construction was near completion, the project picked back up. The third phase was unique as it focused on the finishing touches of the projects, which included the wall portion, and the workers consisted of both men and women. Even though Kliyu is a remote village in the rural Himalayas, it is still progressive in not only the employment of women, but also in the sense that they are provided fair wages. A mix of men and women made up the ten workers from the village were hired for phase three. Even though this project, due to its nature and length, paid less than other construction projects, these workers were more than happy to provide their skills as they were passionate about this particular project. The rebuilding of the school is near and dear to their hearts as they know that by working on this project, they are working on their children’s futures. The comradery around the construction site was palpable during phase three as everyone was working toward the same goal – a better future for the next generation.
On April 25th, 2019, the earth once again moved under Nepal. A sense of déjà vu rippled through Kathmandu Valley in the form of three large tremors, reminding the country of the panic experienced four years prior. Unlike the earthquake in 2015, which caused “approximately 9,000 deaths, 23,000 injuries, and the destruction of 600,000 family homes,” this year’s quake caused no major structural damages, although likely left remnants of fear.
While several worldwide natural disasters have funneled through our news feeds in the last year alone, the sheer loss of life from the 7.8 magnitude 2015 earthquake places “second in the deadliest earthquakes in the last ten years worldwide”. It’s no wonder that the effects of this disaster can still be seen everywhere from main attractions such as Kathmandu’s Durbar Square to small local schools in the Annapurna region such as Kliyu’s Shree Phumrokhun Baraha Secondary School.
Relief organizations flooded Nepal to provide support in the form of search and rescue, food distribution, and makeshift housing materials. While this was happening, we at Trek to Teach started to rethink how to expand our current mission in order to include safety alongside with education.
Trek to Teach is partnered with five local schools dotted along the Annapurna trekking route and provides English teachers in order to expand educational opportunities for students in this region. Before the earthquake, we had a number of small infrastructure projects going such as installing drinking fountains, doors, glass windows and electrical wiring to improve the overall educational experience for students and teachers. Once the earthquake happened, we began brainstorming ways to create preventative safety measures for students and teachers alike.
So far, we have completed four out of five safety-based infrastructure projects for our schools and we’re coincidentally beginning our fifth around the anniversary of the devastating 2015 earthquake. According to BBC News, over 25,000 classrooms were destroyed in 2015 and the village of Kliyu, where one of our partner schools is located, visibly falls into this group. Kliyu’s school and surrounding area were dramatically changed overnight as the students’ play area was transformed into a pile of large boulders from their fallen school building. What was once a safe, inviting educational beacon in the community was transformed into something barely recognizable that was unsafe for teachers and students, yet the community had nowhere else to educate their students.
Kliyu’s school has been a construction site for far too long. We at Trek to Teach are thrilled to have partnered with MyTEFL to complete a safe and sustainable multipurpose hall that will used for both classes and community meetings. However, even having the most extensive preparation process in place, the procedure of getting the project approved by the Nepali government has been extensive and has tested the patience of our local Trek to Teach team in Kathmandu. Our president, Manish Chaudhary explained, “We created the proposal, submitted it to the Social Welfare Council and it essentially sat in a queue of other projects from various NGO’s.” Our file was passed around from one department to another to guarantee that we had met necessary construction guidelines. It took months for the project to be approved and this was after the many steps taken to get local approvals before heading to the Social Welfare Council (SWC). Once the SWC accepted our proposal, our team started taking many long trips from Kathmandu to Kliyu in order to meet with the school leaders to finalize the project. This trip includes an eight-hour bus ride to the second-largest Nepali city, Pokhara, then local transportation to get to the trailhead and finally a hike to the village.
Our team signed a commitment letter with Kliyu’s school and created a local construction committee including the headmaster, teachers, and community members. The committee is responsible for tracking the progress of the project, coordinating supply transportation, documenting footage, and seeing the meeting hall through to completion. Despite the approval, we face the challenge of transporting materials such as metal sheeting, iron and concrete in a place where landslides have been a frequent occurrence during this year’s monsoon season. However, the construction is underway and community members are eager to help to see their school transformed and made safe once again.
We’ve embraced the patience it takes to operate in Nepal and are thrilled to support the completion of this school building with the generous support of MyTEFL.