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HFH Nepal To Start Community-Owned Bamboo Enterprise With Canadian Funds

Three Architect Volunteers Help Make Bamboo Railings, Weave Bamboo Mats For Walls

KATHMANDU, 23rd January 2008: More than a year ago, Habitat celebrated its 1,500th housein Nepal that was built as a model of bamboo technology. Now, Habitat is in full swing preparing to start a factory for corrugated bamboo roofing sheets in eastern Nepal. The quality of the 1,500th house laid to rest the misconception that bamboo houses, made from the abundantly available indigenous plant, are poorly constructed and in need of annual repairs.

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Earnings source: Habitat home partners can look to doubling their daily income from weaving bamboo mats for the new CIDA-funded enterprise in Jhapa, Nepal.

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End-product: (From left) Ashmita Thapa, Indira Manandhar and Pooja Gautam with a bamboo railing that they have made.

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Hard at work: The architect volunteers weaving bamboo strips to make the wall of a house.

The cost-effective and environmentally friendly bamboo technology has not only attracted the interest of foreign visitors during the dedication ceremony but also other non-governmental organizations working in Nepal. In particular, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Caritas, a Catholic relief agency, have sought Habitat’s assistance in providing shelter to ex-Kamaiyas (former bonded laborers) in the western districts and flood-affected families in the mid-west. Located in the eastern Jhapa district, Habitat’s bamboo enterprise is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency with support from HFH Canada and the Canadian Architects’ Legacy Fund. The Fund will also provide expert help in the architectural design of the bamboo factory. HFH Nepal was chosen as the catalyst partner of the US$25,000 fund based on the team’s track record in microfinancing. The Fund was established as a revolving fund in June 2006 to mark the 35th class anniversary of the founding architects who graduated from the University of Manitoba in Canada.

The bamboo enterprise is expected to start production in mid-2008, producing more than 1,000 bamboo mats daily. The Habitat home partners in the villages in Jhapa will be involved in planting bamboo, harvesting and weaving mats out of the plant. The woven mats will then be brought to the bamboo enterprise where they are laminated into corrugated roof panels using resin.

To be owned by the community, the bamboo enterprise aims to alleviate poverty, empower the women home partners and reduce construction costs in Morang and Ilam districts, as well as Jhapa. Home partners in these areas, who rely on seasonal work, earn on average less than US$1 a day. The enterprise offers the opportunity to earn more than double this – about 150 rupees  or US$2.50 – for weaving one-and-a-half mats each day.

While the bamboo enterprise is in the making, three young local women architects took the opportunity to learn about bamboo technology. The trio, who are in their mid-20s, spent three days in PrithiviNagar village, Jhapa, with Habitat’s partner Samjhauta Nepal, a local non-governmental organization. Ashmita Thapa, Indira Manandhar and Pooja Gautam were among young local architects whom HFH Nepal invited to a construction technology in March 2007. They also tried their hand at building bamboo railings for houses, incorporating the villagers’ suggestions, and weaving bamboo mats to make laminated wall panels.

The young architects’ readiness to help was appreciated by the villagers. Fifty-six-year-old Habitat home partner Tika Rai said: “You are god sent angels for me, and you made my dreams come true.” The benefits were mutual as architect Indira Manandhar, 25, commented: “We are really overwhelmed to see what Habitat is doing for the community. The women are getting a chance to participate actively and also build better habitats for themselves.”

Before the architects left Jhapa, they shared their views about cost-effective construction and indicated interest in partnering with HFH Nepal in conducting research into indigenous construction materials on behalf of Habitat.