Building a school in Nepal

I’ve heard first about All hands and Hearts organisation while I was trekking in the Polish mountains, I love how sometimes it all works out so well, we’re all connected in some way. I knew that during my time in Nepal I wanted to do some volunteering work and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. So I’ve signed up for building a school in a remote area of the lower Himalayas, it involved sleeping in tents and bucket showers in the middle of winter!

I believe that there are no selfless good deeds, it’s absolutely fine to help others and feel good about it. I was really excited about doing some volunteering work, I definitely do not give enough back. But I also had an ulterior motive, I was looking forward to getting to know the culture and the local people more, away from tousrist trap 🙂 I knew that while working in a village away from the famous trekking routes I’ll have a chance to understand better this beautiful country and its people. But lets start from the  beginning!

While I was trekking the Annapurna Circuit I’ve met a lovely couple who has just left the volunteering project and they were kind enough to give me some insight tips what to bring with me to make my stay more comfortable. I was going to live in very basic conditions so any advice was very welcome. They also confirmed one very important issue, it will be very cold! It did scare me a bit but I figured that the trek I was doing at that time will toughen me up a bit 😉

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My little home (the first tent in the row was mine), despite the cold I got pretty comfortable there.

The Annapurna trek was full of surprises! I also met a Nepali guide who wore a hat with a Polish flag on it, that obviously caught my attention. We got talking and it turned out he’s a big fan of Poland (hence the hat) and he offered to lend me a tent to use during mt volunteering. Thew! One thing less to worry about! I already had all the warm clothes, now I just needed blankets! A -20 fake North Face sleeping bag bought in Pokhara will definitely not do!
Bringing a lot of layers with me definitely helped as in deed it was freezing cold! Everyone told me that I’ll get used to it and I kinda did. Having inhereted an extra sleeping mat from someone already leaving the project did the trick!

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Keeping warm by the fire, our favourite activity after work 🙂
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Christmas celebrations started early 🙂

The discomfort I faced on daily basis seemed irrelevant when I was surrounded by such a lovely group of people. They made me feel instantly at home, there is nothing like bonding by a bonfire over a cheap local whisky, that is priceless 😉  That’s where we hang out after work each day, it was way too cold to do anything else but sit by the fire. Once a week we had a dinner with the local people who worked with us at the construction site. There was a lot of Nepali music and dancing, I had no idea how to actually do their traditaional dance but I figured as long as I move my hands and twist them in the air I can pull it off 😉

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Visiting a new born baby, we all got invited for the ceremony. We went to see the baby and gave him a bit of money as a part of the tradition. That was followed by drinks, snacks and of course dancing 🙂

But it was not only about sitting by the fire and dancing, far from that! We were all there for one thing – to help! It was amazing to see such a diverse group of people working together, the age of the volunteers differed from 18 to 60, we were all from different countries and backgrounds. Some had construction work experience, and some (myself included) not so much. But it didn’t matter at all, it’s the energy and the attitude that counted. But to be honest,  I was a little lost at the site at the beginning, I didn’t know the name of the materials and couldn’t really get the bigger picture. For instance, my first task was bend rebar (to those who are just as clueless as I was rebar is a long metal bar that is used in construction to strenghen the foundation). It sounds simple enough but it took me good few days to understand how to properly bend it and why is it so important to do it right. Every time I thought I’ve tighted the rebar ‘just as good’ I’ve thought of another earquake with the kids inside the school and that always made redo my job until it was perfect!. Some of the schools were immediately rebuilt after the disaster but they couldn’t accommodate all of the children, so some kids had to walk miles to the nearest school and some simply wouldn’t go at all.

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What a great team! It was a big day for all of us, we poured concrete on the first floor of the school.
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Initially I was on a Team Sand
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There were also team gravel, team cement, team carring the wheel barrels up, and team bringing the wheel barrels down. Throuhout the day I was part of each team at some point 🙂
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Throwing ingredients into the mixer, that was the big boys job. However after a couple of weeks I even got to be a team leader of the mixer team on a smaller pour. Till this day I have no idea how that has happened….

What I love about the All Hands and Hearts is that not only do they help out and build schools but also they create opportunities for the local people. Each project had a group of Nepalis who were trained as mysons and hired by the organisation. This means that once the school is built and the project is finished in that region the mysons will have a profession and the right experience to look for a job. The best part of it is that it is not only men that are hired, women are too! And they do an amazing job! It’s not easy to be a female in Nepal, ironically for such a beautiful and kind hearted country there’s a lot of inequalities when it comes to gender. So the fact that All Hands is creating jobs and future opportunities is absolutely amazing! The volunteers also thought them English, there were weekly classes after work for mysons and children. I was truly moved and honoured to be part of this organistation (as briefly as it was though).

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The mysons were really skilled. That’s not my expertise obviously, the guys who actually knew what they’re doing there told me that 🙂
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Lovely ladies who prepared our lunch every day, they tried to remember my name but it was too long, they loved making jokes about my shaved head though 🙂

I had to leave the project sooner than my heart wanted. I got a nasty cold and I knew that I’ll never recover staying in a cold tent, especially that it was getting even colder by then! Saying goodbye was really hard, I got attached to the other volunteers. I really enjoyed working on a construction site, I’ve finally started to understand all the steps of work and it would have been nice to see the school come together. But health comes first I had to go back to Kathmandu. I did end up going on another trek while still being a bit sick but that’s another story 🙂

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A rather frustrating day at work, I was assigned to name and cathegorise all of that random mix of items. Luckily I was teamed up with Laurin who’s Aussie, she provided most of the names of the tools. Frankly I didn’t know those names in Polish either 😉

I left the project very emotional, sad but also excited about the upcoming hot shower and a soft mattress. What struck me most during my time as a volunteer is how little I actually help others. Some of the volunteers there spend their lives helping, others used their whole paid holidays to come and work in construction instead of being by a beach somewhere sipping a cocktail. My contribution to the project seemed very small in comparison. But it didn’t make me feel sad, I was inspired to do more, much more! I’m already day dreaming about joining another of their projects, maybe Puerto Rico… anyway, some place warm 😉

If you’d like to find more about the organisation or make a donation here’s the link:
https://www.allhandsandhearts.org

And here few more random photos from the site:

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Puja ceremony before the ‘Big Pour’ day
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Blessings done, hard hat and mask on, ready to roll!
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Around 50 people working together pouring the concrete.
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Back home the mixer would be much bigger with a lift attached to it. But we were in Nepal and we had to pour the concrete with one wheel barrel after another, it’s a good thing there were so many of us!
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I was briefly assigned to carry the wheel barrel full of concrete up the stairs… that didn’t last long though. Some women were strong enough to carry it, I wasn’t one of them;)
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After many hours of non stop work the pour was almost done!
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And here’s the final result. What a beauty!
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My morning ritual before work, enjoying a cup of tea, admiring the sun and the first warmth of the day. Cold cold cold!
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That was just our regular view, while having a break, during work, when getting out of your tent. But I don’t think you ever get bored of it!
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A small hike and chilling on our day off.
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One of the volunteers (a rather skilled one) built this for the kids from leftover materials.
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Sometimes the work was less glamourous, I found sifting sand quite therapeutic though 🙂
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Data Tree, the only place on the base where the connection was good enough to get in touch with the rest of the world.
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A quick massage on a break, we all had our backs pretty messed up after all the heavy lifting.
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Did you know that ducks mate for life? This lovely couple ruled our construction site. If there was ever a dispute amongst the chickens the ducks would fly in and bring the peace and order 🙂

 

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