More Than 460 International Volunteers Construct 40 Bamboo Houses In Lekhnath, Pokhara
POKHARA, 20th October 2010: They came, they built and they were “conquered”. That summed up the experiences of many of the 460 international volunteers who were in Pokhara city, Nepal, recently for the Everest Build.
Habitat for Humanity Nepal organized the six-day blitz build which took place in the Lakuri and Pachbhaiya communities in Lekhnath municipality. The build site is located in picturesque Pokhara which is about 200 km. west of the capital Kathmandu.
Through the week, volunteers worked with Habitat home partners to build 40 bamboo houses each measuring 26 sq m in size.
The volunteers worked their way through trimming bamboo slats, weaving them into wall panels and plastering and painting the walls: bamboo frames and cement floors were already in place before the volunteers arrived.
On the last day of the build, Nepal’s president, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, graced the closing ceremony held near the stunning setting of Begnas Lake, one of the seven lakes for which Pokhara is known.
According to Aruna Paul Simittrarachchi, country representative for HFH Nepal, the president’s presence marked the first time Dr Ram attended an event by an international non-governmental organization. The presidential visit was reported on major television networks in Nepal.
About 220 of the volunteers came from the U.S., making them the largest contingent. The New Zealanders, which numbered 150, formed the next biggest group of volunteers. Other groups came from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
Celebrity volunteers included German actress Alexandra Neldel and Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya who form Nepali comic duo Maha Jodi. Shresthra and Acharya are also HFH Nepal’s goodwill ambassadors.
Local volunteers who assisted with construction and logistics included about 200 young people from HFH Nepal’s partner, SOS Children’s Village, and several dozen from the Nepal Tourism and Hotel Management College in Pokhara.
Among the international volunteers was Neil Reid, winner of a photography contest held by Habitat World magazine. Reid, from Northern Ireland, led Global Village volunteer trips to Mozambique, a country which he fell in love with. But Nepal captured his heart. “I’m blown away. I don’t want to go home.”
In between working on a bamboo house in the day and strumming the guitar as he relaxed with other volunteers, Reid was taking shots of the Nepali community and its people, especially children.
“This is my calling in life – helping people. I get a bigger kick out of this than sitting behind a desk,” said Reid, a 34-year-old civil engineer.
Habitat families, however, were not passive beneficiaries. The 40 homepartners took time off from working on paddy fields or on construction sites to make pre-build preparations before the volunteers arrived.
Some of the homepartners such as Ram Bahadur Thapa spent five days to lay the cement floor foundation with the help of paid labor. Habitat’s skilled workers then put up the bamboo structure of the house.
Thirty-nine-year-old Ram Bahadur lives with his wife Ram Maya Thapa, daughter Roshani, son Rajip and his 75-year-old mother Guri in an old mud house just next to his Habitat home.
“Whenever it rains, the roof leaks. I have to cover the holes in the roof with plastic. The walls, which are cracked, are not strong,” said 39-year-old former army regular who currently lives on his pension.
“My children are growing up and they need separate rooms. I want my children to study and do well in school,” Ram Bahadur said.
His aspirations for his children are similar to Bishnu Maya Sunar’s. The 41-year-old widow and her youngest child Bijay, aged 10, live in a mud house with her oldest son and his family of four.
“My oldest son works as a driver but does not make enough money to help me or my youngest son so I go to the forest and collect firewood to sell to the families in the community,” said Bishnu.
To supplement her income, she buys charcoal more cheaply from other villages and sells it in her community where she can make about 300 rupees’ (US$4) profit per bag.
Due to tension between Bishnu and her son and daughter-in-law, she wishes to have her own home. “When I was a young child I did not have the chance to go to school as my parents did not feel it was important for me. It is very important for Bijay to have an education and a better chance for his future, more than I ever had.”
“Now that we will have our own home, this is a good start; a new life for both of us,” Bishnu added.
Helping families such Ram Bahadur and Bishnu to fulfil their dreams are volunteers as well as HFH Nepal’s donors and supporters. Twenty-one of Habitat for Humanity’s affiliates in the United States have been steadfast in their support.
Other donors include Daimler Financial Services which funded the trip of German actress Alexandra Neldel and Fulbari Resort & Spa, a five-star hotel in Pokhara.
A group of volunteers from Singapore harnessed funds exceeding their initial target. Leading the eight-member team was Amy Lee, a lawyer and chair of HFH Singapore board. “We wanted to be called the Platoon from the Little Red Dot but shortened it to Red Platoon.”
The Red Platoon’s members more than tripled their fundraising amount to garner over US$61,000, mainly from friends and some corporate sponsors.
Whether contributing their time, labor and/or financial resources, volunteers realized that they gained more in return. Interactions with Habitat home partners left indelible impressions.
Beatrice Carmela Dito, from Melbourne in Australia, recounted how simple gifts were treasured. “I gave a Habitat cap to our homepartner. He was so pleased that he had been wearing it since. When he rubbed his eyes while plastering the walls, I gave my goggles to him which he continued to wear. His family has been so good to us and so welcoming.”
Dito is on five months’ sabbatical from her job as deputy director of nursing and operations manager in a public hospital in Melbourne. She knew HFH Australia was responding to the Victorian bushfires but did not realize the reach of Habitat’s work.
Her trip to Nepal is both inspirational and humbling. “As long as you have health, safety, shelter and family and love, that’s all you need.”