candela [12:05 AM] 03.31.2017
The way we came upon the school build:
Due to unexpected snow in the higher elevations, we were looking for last-minute volunteer work in Syabru Besi.
I asked about the crumbled school with the river view we had passed by. It was ruined for almost two years since the quake, and nobody was taking care of it. Binoy and I had this idea…what if this could be our school? And we started our team rubbling. At some point in our work, a local man approached us with an amazed look on his face.
“Do you want to help us?” I invited him.
“Of course I do. I am the principal.”
So that is how we got in touch with Madhev Lamichhane, who gave us direction on the rubbling to be done.
Binoy and I dreamed up a vision where we would build a school in Nepal.
“This is one of the best things you can do in this life, isn’t it Candice? To give back to humanity”.
Binoy is passionate about education. Before this discovery, he had proposed building a school as a project. And the ruined school came at such perfect timing, fulfilling immediate and long term needs and was too glaring of a sign of fate to ignore.
Since Binoy and I have idealistically adopted the school, I have been reaching out to my nonprofit networks in Nepal. I called up a friend at Conscious Impact, a nonprofit manufacturing earth bricks. I called up my friend Rhys who is a construction worker, and was a volunteer at All Hands and was looking to get into Nepal for 10 months to help do some rebuild work. I called up Build Up Nepal after checking out their website and met the founder at their office in Kathmandu. Their design is undeniably ingenious - like lego blocks that have holes in them for rebar. Their price is reasonable - estimate of $40,000 for 5 classrooms, 1 story. Bjorn the founder of Build Up Nepal walked me through the calculations of cost, and I was pleased with his transparency. I was left with instructions on how to take 3 2kg soil samples to see if the location was suitable for the brick making.
On the second trek back into Langtang, I arranged a meeting with the District Education Officer in Dhunche (the next town over) and the principal. With Pranoy’s help, I explained what Trek Relief has done already for Langtang, our abilities, and our interest in rebuilding the school. We were met with very positive reactions and these officials were happy to help.
On one of our scheduled work days the principal showed up with the newly elected School Chairman, who immediately proved to be useful by bringing the LOCAL ARMY to help us the next day! Instead of their normal 2 hour warm up drill, they came and rubbled for a bit at the school (though I have to say, our volunteers have SO much more work ethic than them! Makes me proud of my volunteers, but at the same time I am appreciative of the significance of having the army show up in the first place - shows community support!) We have gotten signs of more community support as well, as two young women showed up for this group, and enthused that they would like to bring their Older Sister and Younger Sister’s Club out to these volunteer days.
I also was able to get the professional input of two civil engineers who were working nearby. After doing some site assessment and asking locals about the local resources, we determined that the Build Up Nepal earth brick model is not possible here in Langtang. The soil composition is not right; it’s too rocky up in the mountains. Therefore, they have suggested building using a Reinforced Concrete Structure, which is what they were doing at their site, that would incorporate readily available resources (reusing the stones from the building that we are rubbling into neat stacks). The next step is to contact a consultancy, which would provide an architect to do a formal site assessment, give a budget proposal, and do the necessary permitting through the Nepalese government (passing the earthquake-resistant standards, etc).
Overall I am very excited about this new direction that Trek Relief is going. I have many thoughts and feelings about this - excitement, and incredulity that we have undertaken a project as big as this. I have no doubt that this will go through completion, based on the attitudes of key people we have met along the way, and our ability to raise the money to make this possible. I have projected this to be a 2-year project, but this of course depends on the proposed budget of the school. But I am not too concerned - we will be able to reach any goal with time. Go TR!!!
EVEREST BASE CAMP
candela [8:23 AM] 05.17.2017
Just made it to Lukla, back on limited wifi for the night. I am so excited to share what I've got in store for us in the Solukhumbu area, and I've hammered out a solid English teaching + medical trekking program for our volunteers. I've found a district sitting on a ridge in the equivalent to a green Grand Canyon that has asked for our help and is excited to have our presence. This area is not receiving any international aid (unlike most parts of the Everest region). We'll be fundraising to help sponsor equipment for a government hospital. More details later when Im back at my computer in 3 days and can get into everything!
candela [9:50 AM] 5.21.2017
Initial web research showed that there was a shortage of medicines in the health posts of Solukhumbu. An article was written as recently as February 2017 about how a man had to return home after a 10 hour hike without the medication he needed.
Phone queries to the district hospital and aid organizations left me with the impression that in Nepal, most questions are not answered over the phone and in-person meetings are necessary to gain information.
That led me to start the scouting trip with nothing but one lead - go to the Solukhumbu District Hospital in Phaplu, a half hour’s walk from Salleri. I went, introduced myself, explained Trek Relief’s goals, and asked if there were any health centers that needed any help. He introduced me to the visiting Dr. Bimlesh Shah, who was the head doctor of the Salyan Primary Healthcare Center (government run).
Dr. Bimlesh told me about how his primary healthcare center had just suffered severe storm damage, needed more staff, and big equipment, but there was a cap to the government budget and no funding was in sight.
Salyan was a 3-hour jeep ride away and he was leaving that day. The location was within feasible parameters for Trek Relief’s program. I felt that I was talking to the right person, and very importantly he was asking for our help.
I checked out the primary health center. It was true, one of the units was badly damaged and was a wreck. It smelled of mold and there were puddles of water on the floor. The staff were currently making do by shifting their operations and living quarters into the other functional units.
I sat with Dr. Bimlesh in his office and he told me of other things that the hospital and surrounding health posts needed.
Dental chair and tools
Blood pressure set
Projector for health awareness programs
SPECIALIST DOCTOR VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY: There is a desperate need for specialist doctors in the region, particularly OBGYN specialists, skin doctors, dentists, and ophthalmologists. The doctors that dot the region are primary care doctors, and the area would be so grateful to have specialist doctors come through and hold health camps. Most people who live in these villages have no access to these services, and a trip to Kathmandu is too expensive and time consuming to get the care they need.
If we had specialist doctors in attendance of Trek Relief trips, we can notify our medical contacts in Solukhumbu and hold health camps around their specialty. The news would be broadcasted to the community by FM radio and word of mouth. Extra funds raised would go toward the cost of holding these health camps.
For our non-medical volunteers, I have created relationships with local schools. A huge problem in the school system is their English teaching program - they are taught by Nepali people who may not have a good command of the English language themselves. Having practical English practice with our volunteers, especially focusing on areas such as pronunciation, would be extremely beneficial to the students. It would be interesting to share about topics such as ocean, space, environmental protection, etc. depending on their English comprehension level. But more importantly, the idea is to provide the students with an opportunity to practice their English and to encourage dialogue. With the repeated presence of Trek Relief groups, the students will have an opportunity to develop their English language practice. This idea was met with much enthusiasm and appreciation from the teachers, and they are looking forward to receiving our volunteers.
candela [10:42 AM] 06.9.2017
I spent 4 days in the capital, Ulaanbataar, scoping out the causes landscape here, talking with individuals and orgs. The topics I’ve been exploring range from pollution, domestic violence, environmental degradation, economic security, and drinking water contamination both in the capital and in the countryside.
I also have been having very interesting discussions with fellow travelers about the concept of sustainable foreign aid, and was warned about good intention possibly disempowering the people and letting governments depend too much on foreign aid and handouts.
At the moment I am leaning toward an environmental-based project. I am seeing if I can set up a partnership with a university and social-minded volunteer groups. I have found myself a local champion to spearhead this project - my tour guide! I have a feeling that when the tour agency director understood my mission she assigned him to me on purpose.
He suggested the environmental project, which involves our volunteers training leaders to train high school/college students about sustainable environmental practices (reduce reuse recycle, start green clubs, etc). This is in line with empowering locals to make their own change…teaching to fish, not giving fish. The concept of ecological travel here in Mongolia is just in its infancy, and this is somewhere that we can jump in.
Problem: litter everywhere, even in countryside and national parks. No trash cans/recycling program infrastructure. Habits are not formed, government is not pushed to create the infrastructure because of that. Seeds need to start being planted now to start the push.
The environment is something that everyone can take ownership in, and includes everyone of all skills and professions. I can see us hosting clean up days with local students, installing trash cans in national parks, funding university initiatives, etc...
candela [9:30 AM] 06.19.2017
Just back from Terelj National Park, a golden gem for TR to focus its efforts. It is conveniently close to the Ulaanbaatar (2 hours), which also makes it a popular destination for 1/2 the country, who reside in the capital. And therefore lots of trash. Lots of material to work with…
candela [12:27 AM] 07.09.2017
I am very very excited about our Mongolia trip! Having studied biology and worked in conservation biology for four years, this environmental project sits very close to my heart :-) We will be fund-raising to sponsor cleanup days (one event per group) in Terelj National Park, providing everything from buses and lunches and fun activities and prizes of reusable bags and water bottles for local volunteers to installing permanent trash cans in the park, with eyes set on an eventual hand off to the park management. We have teamed up with existing local green clubs, local youth leadership clubs, the Mongolian Rotary club, and a photography club to draw from their volunteer networks to make our events a success, and their leaders are very happy and receptive of Trek Relief and are offering full support. We also have the support of the national park management and they are providing trash trucks on our cleanup days. This clean up day with the public is followed by our specially designed 3-day Earth Relief trek deeper into the park with just our participants, guides, one or two local green club leaders, and a team of horses and oxcart. The participants will have the option of riding horses, riding the ox cart, or trekking alongside (and any combo of that) while picking up the occasional trash in the deeper areas of the park (NOBODY does that - and the ox cart will be equipped with trash/recycling bags and enables cleanup efforts through amazing scenery). After four days of environmental care taking in the park, the participants will embark on a tour of Mongolia including camel riding, hot springs, a volcano, and three days at an incredibly clear lake near the Russian border where they will stay at a new ger (yurt) camp that is also Mongolia's first dive center (dry suit diving!!) This itinerary is a special blend of purposeful, beautiful work and leisure.