The work: The Dhampus community decided to build a new primary school after the quake (although the old one is serviceable). Our funds built a retaining wall and the foundation, and a group from Malaysia paid for the rest of the building and furnishings. The retaining wall had already collapsed after 3 months, close to the back wall of the school. We had to take apart the rubble, stack the rocks to the side, then the workers brought in rock cages which should be sturdier, but had to be filled. So up and down a steep hillside of steppes. The math wizards estimated 1700 rocks varying from a half to 50 pounds. Hours of assembly line passing.This project allowed for some creative time-filling with song, chatting, watching the family plow and plant the steppes below, watching the weather change over the mountains as we passed rocks. Another group painted so the building went from grey concrete to white, Brown enamel and turquoise in the week we were there.
Another fun part was working alongside the local workers who spoke varying levels of English, mostly none. We learned to count in Nepali as well as a few other words. Tezin was a great asset with her fluent Hindi.
The other part of our work was with the children. We went up to their school twice (there were 2 national holidays and 2 strike days last week, as well as exam day). The kids had great fun playing, teaching English words and demonstrating their Napali. It was fun to see the hats and shirts we gave on various people all week. Several of them would race down to our camp after school to try to get into a soccer or volleyball game with the students and staff. Many students found a child or two they connected with. One moment for me was trying to encourage a little girl to join in the “pictionary” activity with the enthusiastic boys, but she refused until Kiani put a pen in her hand. The second trip she was tending her little brother who desperately wanted Mom to return from her blossom-collecting trip up the hillside with her class. This 8-year-old carried that 2 year old around for 30+ minutes. The kids seemed to flow between rooms freely, often to connect with siblings who both tend them and push them aside.
It was wonderful to have 8 days in this village. It gave a chance to feel we made a difference, long enough to make wilderness camp feel like home, and to deepen the group.
Even by Nepali standards this village is poor. Many families consist of children and grandparents and Maybe even mom. Dads are in the cities or abroad earning money. People are small and health/dental care is distant. The dirt road did go to the new school, so access by jeep and motorcycle is possible. Most families had chickens, goats and a pair of oxen/buffalo. Growing dry rice, corn, veggies–still too early to tell what else. Most tools are wooden. For example the family plowing involved a pair of oxen pulling a single blade plow that dad stood on to dig deeper. After a few passes, he switched to a furrowing tool and wife followed behind with a sack of seed corn on her back. The two girls hacked at edges the plow had missed with a hand hoe and the son played with the baby, dragging him around on the unused tools.
One man invited us to see his home, so we took time out on our rain day. A single room downstairs with a large bed, open fire (smoke preserves beams from termites but makes it very dark), a few handcrafted cupboards and shelves. There is a separate tiny marital bedroom off the pitch, and a toilet room. Upstairs is storage. Other family use a bedroom. Much goes on on the porch, from threshing rice to other tasks. The women haul great loads of greens to their animals from the woods. Washing is done at cement platforms where the water hose comes out, run down the hill from a spring. The children in this school were pretty grimy, at least by Friday. Each village has a community organization that collectively makes decisions, and clearly community is critical. None of our students had known people who appeared so content with so little. Will smart phones change all this? Will any young people return to village life after going away to school?