- Group:Ulverston Victoria High School
- Age:16 years old
- Group Size:11 students and 2 staff
- Project:Building / Disaster Relief
In December 2016 I was part of a group of eleven students and two staff from Ulverston Victoria High School fortunate enough to travel to Nepal to help on a disaster relief building project. We were there to rebuild part of a school which suffered damage in the huge earthquake of April 2015 and everyone was looking forward immensely to this exciting adventure that hopefully would make a meaningful difference.
Arriving in Nepal
We flew from Manchester to Istanbul then on to Kathmandu, arriving in bright sunshine at the city’s tiny airport: a stark contrast to the snow falling in Turkey. We were guided immediately to minibuses then began the crawl through Kathmandu’s hectic rush hour traffic. It is organised chaos with very little organisation and plenty of horn beeping. Our accommodation, two different city centre hotels over the two weeks, was basic but pleasant enough once the showers heated up. There was a tasty variety of local cuisine like dhal baat- the national dish- and Nepali takes on international food. On arrival we were introduced to our Filipino supervisor Ken, who proved a fun, good natured and helpful addition to our group during the trip.
Volunteering Project Work
Our work site for the project was the Shree Ganesh Secondary school; a rural village school for pupils from 3 to 16, an hour’s coach drive from the hotel. Much of the journey was on rough dirt roads but the countryside scenery, interspersed with pop-up brick factories on the dry winter fields made up for it. When we arrived the site had two serviceable buildings into which the entire school had to squeeze, in addition to one unsafe block and one demolished one. It was the latter we were to rebuild. Guiding us was the disaster relief and building coordinator Taylor who was never short of energy, and several local engineers and masons. We quickly got the hang of mixing mortar and concrete by hand, sifting sand, soaking bricks, digging a trench and of course laying bricks- a must have addition to anyone’s CV. The Nepali masons were all incredibly patient even when they had to demonstrate something, like how to lay a brick straight, many times.
It transpired that this was exam week for the children of Shree Ganesh so we saw them surprisingly little initially as they had early finishes or were working inside. However, those who did pass all had smiles on their faces and some of the girls taught us an unorthodox version of ‘one-bounce’ / ‘keepy-uppy’ with a ball of leaves.
On two journeys back from the work site we stopped off at Olgapuri Children’s Village (orphanage) which was only recently completed with overseas funding. The site was built to provide homes and soon a vocational college to over 80 kids, all of which are living in four houses with a resident ‘uncle and aunt’ in each. The children, originally from all over Nepal, had excellent facilities including the beginnings of a farm with hydroponics, a library and a small theatre. We were proud to be able to donate some books to help get their collection going. The kids were incredibly friendly and smiley, and inevitably better at football than us.
We couldn’t come to Nepal without finding out more about its rich cultural heritage and landscapes. In Kathmandu itself we visited the world heritage site of Durbar Square with its numerous temples and shrines. Many are barely standing almost two years on from the earthquake. We also visited the Hindu temple Pashuputinath, the spectacular Bouddanath Stupa and Swayambudaath; the ‘Monkey Temple’ – another stupa perched on a hill with the city stretching out around it, and monkeys running about on it of course!
On several evenings we ventured into the Thamel district- the maze of narrow streets that is the city’s tourism hub. Visiting in winter meant fewer tourists so the tiny colourful shops were never crowded though a good head for haggling was still required. Everyone now has a tale of how much they got the price down by.
Weekend Christmas Trip
This year we were looking forward to Christmas – which fell on the middle weekend of our building project – even more than usual as we were going to spend it with elephants! First we had to make the long journey down to Chitwan National Park on Nepal’s southern border. The road wound its way along the Trishuli River and came with no shortage of precipitous drops, roadworks, queues, crazy drivers and of course striking scenery. On Christmas morning we were canoed across the Rapti Khola River to meet the Jeeps that would take us deep into the misty forest. Several hours and crocodiles, peacocks, deer, monkeys and a rhino later, we emerged into warm sunshine. It was the first and hopefully only time I’ll have curry, rice and noodles for Christmas dinner.
The Final Touches and Leaving Nepal
By the end of our time on site the building had progressed considerably, looking much more like classrooms than the beginning of the trip. A few more finishing touches by the next group of volunteers and the school would finally get their space back. As a leaving present, we took hammers to the remaining unsafe building so it could later be rebuilt – a sure way to release any pent up anger and something we enjoyed probably more than we should’ve given the resulting mess. Before we left we presented the children with some stationary bought with money raised back home and loads of kids we hadn’t seen all week were suddenly around joining in dancing.
Before leaving Nepal itself there was one thing we had to see: the Himalayas. As climbing them wasn’t an option we instead drove to a viewpoint outside Kathmandu from where they spanned the entire horizon – an impressive sight.
It was sad to leave Nepal, with its wonderful people and places, but we were very proud to have made a small difference to a deserving community and having such an eye-opening experience. Gazing out at the snowy Himalayan peaks as we flew back west we knew we would be back one day.
- Harry Scott