Secret Garden Disaster Relief team in a truck

1 Year on…

Its been one year since the April 2015 earthquake hit Nepal. One year since we started our group. One year since a small group of travellers committed to helping Nepal and came together to found Secret Garden Disaster Relief.

Seeing people who had lost everything, fathers and mothers with children sitting on the street with nothing left, people crying for the family they had lost and the house that no longer stood, we knew we should help, and quickly found that with your support, we could! We asked you help us fundraise $1000. after reaching this in a matter of days we decided we could go on and try for $5000. At that point this seemed crazy … but, you made it happen, you smashed through that target, continuing to donate, share our posts, follow our blog, raise awareness, and continue support us. We received an incredible amount of funding that we never thought possible.

You gave and gave and together we grew and grew!

Volunteers came from around the world and worked tirelessly day and night planning and organising the huge amount of work that needed to be done, coordinating and leading groups to carry out the missions ahead, and personally building in villages for months and months, through Summer heat, monsoon rains and winter cold. You gave us the funds to buy people medicines, food, clean water, blankets and temporary shelter in those first weeks. The Secret Garden Disaster Relief team went to villages to build emergency shelters, tool libraries, schools and even a whole village for 40 families previously living on a land slide. Within this time we have been lucky enough grow and learn together, meeting life long friends whilst continuing to make links with other groups here in Nepal, helping each other to achieve great things.

After one year we have seen many changes, the team constantly shifting and rearranging, our methods of working adapting and evolving… and some patches where we worries that we might not have the capacity to keep going. Things are different now from 6 months ago, for sure. No more crazy build missions, no more huge teams of volunteers riding trucks into the mountains with wrecking bars and smiles. But even though its different, its not to say that we are not still here.

A few of the original Secret Garden Disaster Relief team are still in Nepal, and all are working in various different ways, combining our efforts with other groups and initiatives to support Nepal.

Chris and Tori are still committed to working with Conscious Impact, helping with their build in Takure. Beth and Dipu are back, and together with our old volunteer Taisha, are continuing to support Rajkumar Lama and Bhummlu Salle, one of the first villages we ever worked in, through distribution of solar lights, and small scale agriculture and micro-finance initiatives. Harry is working with Marli and Bhuwan from NfN on a social art and storytelling project, trying to raise awareness of solutions, whilst supporting the fantastic work that NfN are doing. And last but not least, Bud is working closely with Nasreen from Local Woman’s Handicrafts and LocWom, trying to support women from fragile situations through training and work.

One year after the earthquake, SGDR has been through many shifts and changes. its been a real journey. Right now the dust has settled, and we are using our abilities slowly, gently, and receptively, to try to continue to help. We want you to know that you can still help too. We’ve come this far together, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

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Introducing… the First Community Tool Library in Mawkanpur, Ipa.

A New Vision

Back in September, as the Hokse Village relocation was finishing up and the monsoon rains were ending, volunteers of SGDR were busy at work planning for a new project. The dilemma – how to best to prepare and aid families whose homes had been destroyed in the earthquake after they already had temporary shelters? How could we best aid in the permanent rebuild? After much work and debating, the solution came from experience in the field.

While at Hokse, the SGDR team had noticed how many people from the community would come asking each day to borrow tools – even small things like hammers and drills were hard to come by in the villages and even where tools were available, they were often of such a poor quality that they would break after only a couple of uses. How better to assist the rebuild than to provide the basic essential tools for building which could be used by any community member. The idea for the Community Tool Library and Build Support Centre was born.

The First Assessment

After checking in with Mahendra of Nepali for Nepali who assisted to SGDR locate a potential site, Harry and Charlotte headed out to Mawkanpur, Ipa to do an initial assessment. After a crazy, bumpy, raining and adventurous motorbike trip to the site, on roads damaged by the earthquake and washed out by the then ending monsoon, they finally arrived in Ipa for a community meeting.

“When we had a meeting with the community to see how the plan for a community tool library would be perceived, we didn’t know what to expect- to our excitement- everyone loved it! As Mahendra explained the concept in Nepali, we could see the community getting amped up at the idea of having tools to work with during the rebuild. A paper was passed around and the villagers wrote down the tools they thought would be helpful. We also learned that the women’s community in the village had lost their headquarters the earthquake, so we thought- why not add another room to the tool library and have it serve a dual function- the women’s community could have a new meeting space and run the daily checking out and upkeep of tools as well.”  Charlotte

 

As the meeting came to a close, the assessment crew took some measurements of potential sites and surveyed the damage that the earthquake had caused around Ipa.

“It was my first mission with SGDR and also first time seeing the destruction caused by the earthquake in rural Nepal. Even Mahendra’s home had been completely destroyed -corn stalks and vines of large yellow pumpkin flowers were growing on the remains of a half-standing rock and mud wall. Everywhere, homes had been abandoned and nearby had been constructed small tin shacks in their place.”

 

Out with the Old, In with the Tool Library

After a quick rest in Kathmandu following two school builds in Kavre- Bhummlu-Tar and Jamuni, the SGDR team set out for Makwanpur, Ipa loaded with tools and ready for the build. For the first few days, the SGDR crew teamed up with Mahendra and with local volunteers to assist with demolition of damaged homes and buildings. They cleared rubble and took down buildings employing ropes and pulleys, intense work!

With the rubble of the damaged structures out of the way, it was time to begin the construction of the new tool library and women’s center. After another community meeting a final site was chosen the plans for the tool library structure approved. The crew got to work.

“We all felt that providing the necessary tools and promoting independence from foreign aid was the best way to rebuild in a sustainable way, so we got to it. We built a 20×10 foot tool shed using the same tools we eventually filled the shed with. The locals became more and more involved in the building process and their commitment and involvement was of course a key factor in the project.” Nick Fenyo, Build Leader, Ipa

 

After a week of hard work, the crew returned to Kathmandu to purchase tools that had been overlooked in the first round and to rest up to continue the build. The structure of the tool library had been completed, but the SGDR team wanted to return to Ipa to assist in the mud plastering of the bamboo walls, build shelves for the tool library, and give workshops for using the tools. Learning that the water sources of Ipa had also been diminished by the earthquake, the Secret Garden team also decided to provide water storage tanks to the families of Ipa. Loading up the truck with the tanks, the team headed out to Ipa a second time.

“After returning to Ipa a week later, the tool library had already begun to have an immense impact in the village. Many families were busy reconstructing their homes-some had already finished. The community members were learning and honing their skills necessary for the rebuild.” Nick

 

All that was for the SGDR team to do was relax and swim in the gorgeous waterfalls that surrounded the village. Bliss.

 

 

1.1

Hokse – Designing a village

As you know from our updates, the last 2 months SGDR have been focused on our huge relocation project – providing a semi permanent settlement for 41 families who were at risk of a landslide on the north side of the mountain in Hokse.

A few months back, Beth, Dipu and Harry went to the Nepali for Nepali (NfN) office, to see if they knew of areas in need. We talked about several different situations, but the most concerning was something unlike anything we had tackled before… In Hokse, Kavre, 42 familes live on the steep north side of the mountain. Far below is the winding road to Dolal ghat, and the River. This is the beginning of Sindhupalchowk – Landslide territory. Small landslides had been chipping away at the base of the mountain for years, and shortly after the earthquake, the locals had noticed something disturbing — a hairline crack that ran all the way up from the bottom of the mountain, along the top, and back down the other side of the village — everybody in the area agreed that a landslide was going to happen – maybe in a month, a year, 5 years, or tomorrow, but as monsoon approached, something had to be done, now. The next Day Harry, Wal, Mahendra and Sanjay went to Hokse to assess the situation.

It was Harry and Wal’s first assessment without Beth and Dipu, who were having to leave to the UK a few days later, the pressure was on. Together with Mahendra and Sanjay from NfN, they spent the most part of the day  surveying the area and seeing the cracks for themselves, talking to locals, and checking out the situation on the other side of the Ward, where many villagers had been left stranded with frames for shelters, but no roofs, after an Indian NGO backed out on their promise to deliver 2 bundles of tin to each family.

That night we returned to Kathmandu to make plans, and readied ourselves to head out to Hokse to get started on the temporary shelter building for the south side, something we could do whilst making plans for the landslide area. The whole team were together at Secret Garden guesthouse for an emotional goodbye to Beth and Dipu, and a few days later, Harry, Wal and the NfN boys headed out to Hokse to get started on house-to-house assessment.

The next two weeks we worked consistently on the Hokse ‘Down-side’ Build, and distributed tin and assisted in building shelters for 56 families. Meanwhile in Kathmandu Harry and NfN planned, schemed and discussed about the solution for the landslide zone. After a long drawn out process we made a decision – a new village, less than 1 Km from their houses, on a patch of land that NfN negotiated from local government. Things began to take shape.

It was really quite unreal, designing a village from scratch – town planning was something that people do Master’s degrees in, and here we were, a group of ordinary people, working on a community space for over 200 people – designed to be habitable for months and years to come. We considered Permaculture systems design, safe sanitation and water supply, water harvesting, community dynamics and neighbourhoods, shared spaces and communal areas, water harvesting, waste management, safe large-scale human waste disposal. The massive scale of this project began to become apparent.

And… Go!

Aug 1

On the 1st of August, Chris, Claudio and Harry travelled by bus to the site to make preparations for the build crew. Armed with a few tents, a couple of wrecking bars, some tools and a square of tarpaulin, we cleared the field of corn, built a compost toilet, and constructed a covered kitchen space complete with a homemade earth rocket stove.

Three days later Wal, on his trusty Iron horse, and Tori and Siri riding shotgun in a big blue truck piled impossibly high with 47 bundles of tin, 20 pieces bamboo, 56 feet of PVC tubing, 8 ceramic toilet bowls, a 1000 litres water tank, wire, tools, pots, pans, and a week’s worth of crew food arrived on site. It was time to begin.

  “I arrived in Hokse to Chris and Claudio in a corn field with a shanty “kitchen” and a compost toilet,in the pouring rain. In the beginning it rained a lot, and I really doubted whether we could physically do this. But eventually the sun came out and we got to building and I got to cooking. We broke ground, building toilets and frames of houses,working hard from sun up to sun down all the while the Nepali community watched in awe.”  – Tori

Aug 5

Wal and the boys set to work marking out the site- as per the Digital site map we’d made- with a few on-the-spot alterations. They split ‘Glenntown’ into four neighborhoods, A,B,C and D. Wal has a history of landscaping and construction work, and was able to visualise and adapt the plan as things changed, which they did, often. The numbers of families, the agreed land, the duration of the lease etc. Also, during the initial assessment, Harry mapped out a large area of land which he included in the plan, and placed the community centre on… The land later turned out to not exist, and the whole thing had to be re-located to the other end of the site, with a minimum of fuss, by Wal

Aug 8

When all planned out, the locals came to clear and level the patches of land for their Homes. New volunteers, Simon and Anna, and our veteran master builders, Glen and Julia arrived, and began construction on the community centre and toilets. Wal and Hari Lama (our friend and interpreter from the Hokse) created a system whereby the village could be split into four neighborhoods, A,B,C and D. Locals would arrive in groups by area, first A would come and clear their land, then the next day B would come and clear theirs, while A brought down their Bamboo posts and started digging holes, ect… The Idea was that SGDR volunteers could work to help and supervise families, and we could mitigate the chaos of 40 families on site all at the same time.

Aug 11

With the build organised and rolling, we got our first shipment of eager new volunteers. Armed with shovels and wrecking bars, Thia from US, Nick and Elena from Canada, and Romain and Camille from France, arrived on site and got straight to work, digging holes and ramming posts into the ground. Our photojournalist friend Kiran Kreer (imkiran.com) came down to help and document the progress, and we made plans with Jez, a plummer from the Uk, to come and plum in the toilets.

Whilst all this was going on, Harry busied himself running too and forth having meetings, making plans, procuring materials, and assessing new sites. One factor that can be easily forgotten is the Bureaucracy involved in planning this kind of thing. The team encountered constant setbacks, from the Big things to the many daily problems. Without the dedicated work of Mahendra and Sanjay from NfN to smooth over the politics and community dynamics, it’s unsure whether this project could have been possible.

  “Every day was characterised by uncertainties that span from local participation, encountered structural or planning issues to very basic things like water access. Finally, after about 3 weeks, the first water arrived in “Glenntown” flooding “sector B” of the village. Nevertheless, this uncontrolled spilling of water provided some of us with the great opportunity for refreshment, working in the daily heat.” -Simon

  “By the time I arrived in Hokse on September 9th the team had installed 2 x 1,000Ltr plastic water tanks which were filled, or half-filled, on what appeared to be an entirely random and sporadic basis from a source controlled by the local government. I witnessed on-going wrangling and negotiations with a stream of local bureaucrats and committees in whose hands the villager’s water supply was dependent. A constant source of foggy frustration.” – Kali

Aug 19

With The toilets and community centre completed, The septic pits and plumbing marked out, the first water tank installed and connected to the local supply,  and the shelters rolling along nicely, It was time to plan the next phase- walls, doors, and electricity. Bud, our resident roaming electrician started research and plans for wiring up the village to the grid, considering viability of solar PV and LED lighting.

Harry, Wal, and NfN weighed up many options for walls; Canvas, Plastic, Bamboo, Plywood, Tin. We checked the viability of the different options, and as a team, we decided on Bamboo with mud plaster. It is natural, carbon trapping, breathable, affordable, and thermally efficient. It was decided, and the volunteers even took it upon themselves to personally raise funds for the Bamboo.

But then- another factor came into the equation. It dawned on us that although every one of us Western volunteers would choose Green, Beautiful, Natural Bamboo, If given the choice- 99% or more of the villagers would choose Tin. It was a tough time for the team, who had invested so much time and effort into this project, to have to see the walls made from a material that is heat trapping, non insulating, made from a damaging production process, and to our eyes- Ugly. Together we swallowed our personal beleifs, and put the decision to the community for individual choice. The result came back, 38 houses- all chose tin.

This was just one of the difficulties the build team faced. Every day was long, hard work, In baking sun, and pouring rain. As Wal once remarked, the Secret Garden team have been massively diverse, very different people from different places and very different walks of life, but they share one thing in common- an uncanny ability to push themselves, day in, day out, for no material or personal gain, entirely for the good of others. All of the highs and lows of the Hokse build project were faced together. Living together in our communal space (which was nicknamed the Taj Ma-Wal), over time, the build crew came to resemble more of a community family than a team of volunteers.

  “I could talk about sweating my ass off every second of every day, about how the first night the monsoon rain made the floor of the tent feel like a water bed, about the constant blisters from digging and pounding rocks….. No,  what I remember is working with incredible and dedicated people who had an internal work ethic that I have not experienced on that scale before, I think that is why each of us were there in the first place.” – Thia

  “We worked, Ate, and lived together, for 24 hours a day, for almost 8 weeks, and you know what? in that whole time, there was not one single argument or fight. there’s something pretty special about that.” –Glenn

Aug 21 

At lunchtime on the 21st August, we completed the 20th shelter, We had reached halfway! Cause for a celebratory lunchtime chang.

Aug 31 

Today a new truckload arrived with 4 custom made septic tank liners, 500 pieces bamboo, cement, rain gutters, waste field drainage pipes and connectors, wood for doors and frames, Hinges, and a second water tank, plus new and old friends and volunteers, Olli, Martha Breeze, and Jess. Soon after, another truck with 67 bundles of corrugated tin for the walls.

Sept 7 

Mahendra and Sanjay came to site, and we held a meeting with the villagers. A lot of miscommunications were explained away, (some of the villagers even thought that we were being paid for our work!!) and we were able to gather opinions and responses to what the community wanted. We organised the locals to be ready for distribution of bamboo, tin for the walls, and wood for the doors. They would collect tin and begin building on monday, and tuesday would be the doors. That day We finished the roof on the last shelter, a big milestone, and a sad day, for it was the Siberian tiger’s last evening with us. Her 5 month Visa had come to an end, and It was time for her to go.

Over the next few days the villagers worked together with half of the team to put the walls on, whilst the other half of the team cracked on with digging and lining the septic tanks. with this kind of coordination things moved incredibly quickly

“For me, the most motivating and inspiring days, were the days when we had local support. I remember clearly the few days when we put on the walls….Interestingly, seeing the TIN Walls go up really motivated me. That day I and most of the volunteers worked on the toilet dilemma, only few of us worked on the shelters. Whenever I climbed out of a 2x2x2 meter hole and saw how quickly the walls were going up and the effort the villagers were putting in, it really boosted my confidence that this temporary relocation will ultimately work.” – Simon

Sept 11 

  “In just 2 days, the entire village had been organised to collect all of their tin, bamboo, and door materials, and work in synchronicity to erect all the walls together at once. Every return to Hokse comes with a huge step forward in progress, but this was perhaps the most noticeable change so far. 

…In the morning, the real extent of the progress became clear… The walls and doors up, the roof gutters on, The toilets fully walled and plumbed to the two huge double septic tanks which had been dug by Simon and Chris. the 2 x 1,000 ltr water tanks operational, and the cement wash stations complete, with the addition of a tiny pool ladder, rafts and diving board made by the lovely Martha. The build team has now been sweating away, day in, day out, for over 6 weeks, and the fruits of their labour are now coming clear. From the days at the drawing board 2 months ago, to the very real village we now have, Its really quite hard to believe.” – Harry

With this milestone reached, the end finally seemed to be in sight, but with the huge amount of tasks still needing to be completed, the team still had nearly 2 weeks more hard work ahead of them.

Sept 16

The next time Harry returned to Hokse was to be his last for some time, as his 5 months in Nepal had also run its course. But the silver lining came in the form of Charlotte, SGDRs new coordinator, who came together with harry to meet the team and see Hokse for the first time. They witnessed the team ploughing on with the task of digging the huge zig-zagging drainage fields and painstakingly cutting holes in pipes for the septic system, laying bricks to complete the water tank area, and lining the pits with the septic liners. That day we employed a local electrician, and bought 50 sets of light bulb holders, switches, sockets, and LED bulbs, one for every house, as well as fuse boxes, Meters and high capacity cable. Having seen SGDR go from a small group of ordinary people at a guesthouse 5 months back, to an organised build team capable of massive projects, and now only days away from completing their most ambitious yet, It was time for Harry to leave.

A few day later Beth, Dipu and Charlotte arrived from Kathmandu with BBC Manchester reporter Pav, who was following up with organisations operating in Nepal for the upcoming 6 month anniversary of the earthquake. Beth and Dipu were able to see Hokse for the first time since they had left for England seven weeks before.

  “We were totally overwhelmed by what had been achieved in the seven weeks that we were away.” -Beth

The next day everyone got to work immediately. Wal, Simon, Chris and Nick finished up the septic tanks while Kali and Ange worked with the local volunteers to transport many shipments of gravel down to the newly dug drainage field. That evening talk turned to the truck ride back to Kathmandu, and just how amazing those celebratory cold beers were going to be- the village was almost complete. After seven long weeks of work it was beginning to settle in that the project was nearly finished.

With only two days left before departing from Hokse, the pressure was on to tie up loose ends. The crew worked non-stop from 6 am in the heat and sun digging the drainage, carrying the gravel and joining the pipes. As the team finished up, exhausted, dirty, and with just enough water for a small bucket shower, word came from Hari that the community had planned a surprise- a ‘thank-you-and-moving-in’ party!

The next morning, pressure was high to finish up. There were still things to be done before the team could enjoy the party and relax for a job well done. Details and packing- the work wasn’t over! To keep spirits high,Tori prepared an amazing last meal- lentil burgers and fries- like all the meals at Hokse, absolutely delicious  far more than you might expect from a work site out in rural Nepal! As the community began to show up for the party, the crew was still out in the field. by 4pm, work was done.

The site began to fill up with people- local women carried down large buckets of soaking lentils to be cooked, men prepared a fire in the communal area, children were running around everywhere. One woman arrived with a sound system and started blasting Nepali pop music. The volunteers were sat down for dinner in the Tajma-Wal and presented with a huge feast the villagers had prepared, along with a Tubourg each!! As is customary in the village, the community watched the volunteers finish the meal. As the last fork was downed, the space was cleared, the Chang started flowing, and the old man of the village started the dance party, which continued late into the night.

The next morning, weary from a long night of celebrations, it was time for the Secret Garden volunteers to say a final goodbye to the village and community that they had become a part of over the last months. They headed to the chai shop for one last buff omelette and Chowchow with Nisa and Paldon, the owners. After breakfast they headed back down the hill for an official ceremony, thanking the volunteers for their work and officially handing over the shelters to the families who will call them home for next few years. They were presented with white scarves, necklaces of flowers, small statues of buddha for their work and as a parting gift. As the crew climbed aboard the truck, beers in hand, the whole community came out to the road to wave them goodbye.

At last, it was time to relax and celebrate with some well earned beers, and a panoramic mountain drive through what Julia would have called “himalayan cinema”

7 ½ weeks of backbreaking work, over 20 different volunteers, ten truckloads of supplies, and some serious dedication, and SGDR have built a village.

  “It feels like there is pressure now to write more about experiences and thoughts than being part of creating a village … Ordinary people came together and that’s hard to convey. There was initial apprehension for me, for sure. A moment to get our heads around this project, then Yeah we were doing it !!! It was a day in day out grind, no rest, an amazing selflessness and commitment by all. We had so many things to overcome but we managed it daily and we moved forward. We always moved forward. That was the spirit, it has to be done! Everybody stayed longer than they planned to. We didn’t want to leave.” – Wal

  “I cooked, we dug, we ate and laughed and slept. Seven weeks went by and the project was finished. In that time I meet some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, Nepali and Foreign. What an amazing accomplishment! A hand full of inexperienced travellers and a local community came together and saved an entire village from this potential landslide. It really goes to show what a little drive and a big heart can accomplish.” – Tori

  “Upon first arriving into Hokse, I think every volunteer questioned how squeezing an entire village into such a difficult, uneven lump of land would be possible. Day by day, bit by bit, we all happily busted our asses hauling dirt, rock and tin until we could all see the village coming together. From the beginning of the project and through to the end, the group of volunteers at sgdr motivated each other to work beyond their own expected limits. Focusing on what needed to be done today and working together to sort out any problems we encountered, the village was built with a meticulous attention to detail that we could all feel good about. In the end we all asked how a bunch of grubby volunteers were able to complete this project without schisms or squabbles. Maybe it was the food, surely the safety breaks, but mostly just enjoying the company while working towards a goal we all felt passionate about. SGDR is a good thing.” – Nick 

 

 

words By Harry, Charlotte

Photos by everybody

Illustration by Harry harrymorganillustration.co.uk

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A week in the life…

Phew! what a whirlwind few days since you last heard from us… Theres been a lot going on here!

On Monday, Ashim from Bring Thoughts to Action​ and I took off on a motorbike for a 2 day research/ assessment trip, making plans for the next phase of our work- a big secret project, which you will no doubt hear all about soon.

First stop, Pranesh Mala’s farm in Kathmandu, to see his custom made rammed earth brick press, and earthquake proof housing design, we were all very impressed. and he had ducks!

Next, the two of us made the long ride up through the mountains to the town of Bhangritar, Sindupalchowk. The town is 10 minutes from the site of a colossal landslide that happened last year, claiming many lives. We picked our way over the mountains of rock and debris that still lie there, far below us, the bodies of those who could not be removed. It was a haunting experience.

We met Ashim’s father, a teacher at the local school, and had a few meetings and talks about the site plan for a new project there. That evening we stayed at his house and talked with the family. Ashim’s grandmother made us comfy beds on the floor, and after months of intense volunteer work, the two fell asleep almost immediately.

The next day, after a hearty Dal Bhat breakfast, we took off once again, headed for Bhummlu Salle, the town where SGDR had worked for 3 weeks previously, building shelters and a school, to make further plans for our new project. At the town at the bottom of the hill we met Rajkumar Lama, a trusted friend, who is our partner in crime in Salle. after a welcome cold coke, we set off up the long, bumpy hill. A steep path of loose sand and huge rocks, hit hard by monsoon rain and landslides, It was no easy undertaking. Wal’s poor bike!

In Salle we drank hot sweet tea with Raj’s family, and talked of micro-financing, women empowerment, and special skill training. Raj has some very forward ideas on these topics, and it was an enlightening talk. After this, we went to see the site, and talk to a local welding expert, and a bamboo master craftsman… Things were looking good for the new plan. With the sun about to set, we took our leave, Back down the hill. Wal’s bike had just had its clutch plate and wheel bearings replaced, but the steep descent not only undid all this good work, but we also lost a foot pedal to a boulder in the middle of the road.

At Dholal Ghat, we ate a snickers, and parted ways, and I drove up the hill in the fading light to rejoin the build team in Hokse . As I walked down the hill, the entire village seemed to shimmer and glow in the dark, the walls were on! in just 2 days, the entire village had been organised to collect all of their tin, bamboo, and door materials, and work in synchronicity to erect all the walls together at once. Every return to Hokse comes with a huge step forward in progress, but this was perhaps the most noticeable change so far. We drank Roxie together, and fell asleep under the shelter.

In the morning, the real extent of the progress became clear… The toilets fully walled and plumbed to the two huge double septic tanks which had been dug by Simon and Chris. the 2 1,000 ltr water tanks operational, and the cement wash stations complete, with the addition of a tiny pool ladder, rafts and diving board made by the lovely Martha. The build team has now been sweating away, day in, day out, for over 6 weeks, and the fruits of their labour are now coming clear. From the days at the drawing board 2 months ago, to the very real village we now have, Its really quite hard to believe.

That day also happened to be Glenn’s birthday, he spent the day with the locals, and helped the doctor and leader to build his walls, when night fell, we prepared him a Mediterranean feast of many dishes, Shakshuka, Hummus, Flatbreads, Tahini, and Cocktails. For dessert, Martha and I made an apple pie dessert island, complete with a tiny Glen, and a tiny Wal, and in tiny Wal’s hand, a tiny little J! It was a sweet and well deserved celebration for the Team.

In the morning, we had another sad goodbye, as Martha Breeze packed up her things for the drive back to Kathmandu. Sad indeed, but, we did drink Lassi find some nice tiles in Banepa. Oh Nepal, theres nothing quite like it!

 

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Return to Bhummlu Salle

On Tuesday 11th August, Harry, Raj Kumar Lama, and two friends interested in funding school build projects, woke at the crack of dawn to travel to Bhummlu Salle in Kavrepalanchowk.

The SGDR team had twice visited Bhummlu Salle before, and Raj Kumar Lama had become a close friend. Back in May SGDR took a huge truckload of emergency food supplies ant tarpaulins to the area, and in June/ July they worked together with Raj and locals to build over 80 semi-permanent shelters for families, and a large 6-classroom school building for the local school, which was badly damaged in the earthquake.

We had met with Raj Kumar in Kathmandu several times since to gather updates on the situation in Salle, and on his tireless work for the good of the community. He had helped locals to fill out the paperwork necessary to receive government damage grants, Secured solar battery lights/chargers for communal use, and was teaching female empowerment classes, showing local women that they needn’t rely on their husbands for income, and giving them the training and resources to begin their own startups.

During our last meeting, Raj had informed us of 3 schools in/around Salle that had still received no help since the quake. We gathered all the information we could, and on Tuesday morning we set off with a notepad and a camera. After a hot sweaty, rather bumpy journey, we arrived at our first destination.

Prakesh Campus is a government school in Bhummlu Tar, providing education to around 1,500 children, from ages 5 to 20. It’s a large campus, with around 18 classrooms, and every room was badly affected by the seismic shocks of 25th April. The Nepali government had given a ‘red sticker’ to every building, condemning them to demolition and barring their use until action was taken. “We re-opened 19 days after the earthquake” The Math and IT teacher told me. “At first we taught classes in the Jungle at the top of the hill, beneath the shade of the trees, But its very difficult to keep structure and order in a place like that.”

The government did take some action, providing the school with a heavy canvas tent to use as a temporary classroom, when we looked inside, all we found were puddles and a few sad upturned chairs. “Its just too hot. We can use it for the early morning cram class, but by 8am its too stuffy to breathe. The children really cannot concentrate.” With little option, the teachers of Prakesh campus are taking the same action as many other schools in Nepal. They cleared the debris themselves, and continue to teach classes in the ravaged skeletons of their classrooms, despite the red pvc ‘sticker’ hanging loosely from the rafters, and the loose stones perched precariously on piles of soft mud plaster dust “If we don’t teach the kids they will have to stay home. Not only would they fall behind, but it can cause real problems with extending Truama and slowing recovery”.

The school has had four visits from different groups providing counseling and PTSD workshops to help with trauma. They are mainly self-organized student groups, doing what they can to help. The scars of the building may be visible, but those of the children can be difficult to understand. “We still see problems, Attendance is below 50%, and those who do come aren’t doing their homework. Their home life is so disrupted, the whole family crammed into one small bamboo house, there’s no way they can study properly.”

The campus was recently donated 4 computers by an INGO, but there’s no dry place to put them where they can be used. The children still have IT lessons, but not one of them has touched a computer. What the place really needs is to be rebuilt. They have been waiting for 3 months for the government’s decision, but still nothing. What’s worse is that the government have threatened to prosecute anybody who touches their structures without permission, in effect paralyzing the teachers. We can help in some small way, by providing safe temporary classroom shelters, and reducing hazards, but its really down to the government to fix this. “We don’t really trust them, we wait, because we have no other option, but who knows when they will do something?”

After taking photos, gathering information, and doing a clay content test, we continued our hike up to Salle Bazaar, and after tea, walked a further hour up the hill to see another school. The views were incredible, and luckily the school was more or less untouched. As the sun began to set, we made our way back down to see the Salle school we had built a month ago.

In the morning we rose early again to make another long hike over to the last school, Jamuni Pravi, in ward 1. On the way we stopped to meet Raj Kumar’s family, his father, uncle, mother, brother, and wonderful grandmother. At the age of 92, she sat, smiling, husking the corn from harvest. In rural Nepal you don’t really ever retire. We continued on through stunning rice paddies and waterfall-tarnished roads to the other hill, atop of which Jamuni Pravi sits.

This one was different. All the walls of the structure still standing, 6 classrooms, 40 students, 3 teachers and 1 helper. On closer inspection the walls of 2 of the 3 buildings were right on the edge of falling. Whole support columns leaned at 20degrees from straight, and the smallest bump caused a shower of dust and loose rock. A temporary shelter had been attempted, but with limited help and materials, a sad looking A frame was all they could muster, and, being an exposed location on top of the hill, the wind had taken the tarpaulin already. We made a quick assessment, but it was clear-cut – they need a shelter, and we can build it. The teachers were eager to help, promising wood, bamboo and manpower, desperate for a safe classroom to teach in.

As the jovial horn of the bus could be heard from the next hill, we knew it was the end of our visit, and said our goodbyes to Raj. As the bus hurtled down dust and rock roads, through waterfalls and gaping trenches, we agreed on our intent to help. Harry went back to Hokse to help with building, and the others returned to Kathmandu.

We will be moving to Bhummlu Salle in a week or so to build shelters and help in any way we can.

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A School, a Toilet, a Tippi!

Written by Yasmin Dawes.

On Thursday the 30th of June Glen and Julia led their first build team, including three new volunteers, set off for Sisneri – a small village, surrounded by breath taking mountain views, which was in desperate need of a new school for the 75 village children whose school had been destroyed in the earthquake. The road to the village was not for the faint of heart and the team were cheerfully informed of the high death rate of those travelling on the unstable roads in jeeps and buses. Nevertheless, after a bumpy and at times nerve-wracking ride we arrived in Sisneri.

Julia and Mahendra set off immediately to inspect the site that the school would be built on whilst the rest of the team set up camp near to the river. The new build site is located 10 minutes from the road up a steep hill which made it challenging to reach whilst carrying heavy tools, but the view across the valley was definitely worth it.

The next morning we arrived at the site and spent an hour discussing plans with the local people, including the schools principal who was particularly excited about the plans for the new school. What made this trip so incredible was the effort and interest of the locals, who continuously came to help us in any way they could, including the oldest man in the village who had just turned 85. He could be seen carrying huge bags of rocks up the steep hill with some of the local women who were also keen to help with the building. The men cut the bamboo and fetched huge logs of pine to build the two toilets located on the edge of the site, and even the principal of the school got stuck in, digging holes and ramming rocks to support the bamboo in the ground. The energy was infectious and by the time Tori and I arrived on the second day, expecting to see maybe a few bamboo poles stuck into the ground, the two school buildings were standing and only needed some tin to complete them!

It was on this particular build that we faced the challenge of building not only our second but also our third toilet. The ‘toilet team’ worked together to create a design where both toilets shared the same hole for the waste and therefore had to come up with a design for a lid with two holes that would still be as sturdy as the last one using only bamboo and pine. This they did with great success, with the toilet lid holding almost ten people at once without showing any signs of strain. This trip also marked the building  of Secret Garden Disaster Relief’s first official ‘Tippy Tap’, a device that acts as a hand washing station which is designed to conserve water and encourage hygiene. This design came from a group called Days for Girls who use it as part of their feminine hygiene education. The tap was completed by a fabulous orange ‘soap on a rope’ and received cheers from the watching locals when it was used successfully for the first time.

We finished both the school and the toilets in three days, which shows just how hard everyone worked. Even when the team went down the hill for lunch, they came back to find that the villagers had continued their work even in their absence! It was a very special experience for us to work alongside the locals to build such an important part of their community and knowing that it would be well used.

Wal arriving in Hokshe

Field Mission to Hokshe – first report

On Monday, Harry and Wal travelled to Hokshe in Kavre to assess the need for shelters. The area is notorious for its illegal organ-trading over recent years, as vulnerable villagers are duped into selling their kidneys to Indian conmen for a fraction of the price they fetch in Mumbai or Delhi.

We were called to focus on the west side of the mountain, where the earthquake damage is huge. It transpired that another NGO had visited and told all the villagers to build bamboo shelters, and that they would provide the tin roofs. That was two months ago – the NGO abandoned the village and never came back, leaving hundreds still homeless.

We partnered up with Mahendra and Sanjay from the NGO Nepali for Nepali, and went to see the place. The devastation was truly terrible, and because of the promised tin that never came, most were still staying in dangerous cracked houses, or renting tiny rooms far from their land. It was really quite hard to imagine that large families of five or ten people had been living like this for so long, through the heavy monsoon rains. It was decided: we will help Hokshe.

Over two and a half days we completed assessments of over 70 families’ needs, and compiled a list of who we could distribute tin to, based on family size, income, and what resources they already had. Wednesday evening the build team arrived with tools and 60 bundles of tin, and got to know the locals over candlelight dal bhat. We stayed in tents in the grounds of the school, the bricks of its classroom walls fallen in piles, leaving gaping surreal wounds in the building. They told us the school had been shut down, but at 5.30 the next morning we were awoken by dozens of loud and inquisitive children. Julia was not happy!

After chai the team set to work building a demonstration shelter on a site near where the tin would be distributed from. Mahendra gathered the villagers, and together we explained the finer points of the structure (two-feet-deep holes for posts, effective and secure wiring, and clamping of the roof using ‘banana’ bamboos pulled straight for strength). Everybody listened attentively, and agreed on the method.

Next, Sanjay explained to the crowd why we had made the decisions we had, why some families got more than others, and what they would need to give in return for the tin. When it came to distribution time, we gave out a total of 336 sheets of 12-feet CGI tin, and a roll of wire each to 56 families, to secure support poles to each other and to hold the roof down. What’s more, with Sanjay and Mahendra’s organized method, it took only 45 minutes!

The next day, we took a truck up to the top of the mountain to build two more large shelters for families living in the forest, and reassessed how the rest of those in the area were getting along. Most had already managed to put the tin we supplied on their roofs, and five families had pooled their money to hire a digger to clear the wreckage of their homes. Only two days earlier, we had clambered over huge piles of rubble – rocks and timbers – and now the area was flat and ready to begin setting up home anew. There was a real sense of positivity and moving forward.

I visited Mohan, who had received six pieces of tin from us, and he had managed to source more for the walls. He explained to me that the area is prone to visits from tigers and snakes, and with the new tin he was able to keep his family safe at night.

On Saturday the team returned to Kathmandu for an emotional goodbye to Beth, Dipu and Rosie, who started SGDR and have been driven to give their all to those in need from the very beginning. Today we will return to finish the shelters, and tomorrow the second team will follow tomorrow to build toilets in an  effort to prevent the expected diseases associated with monsoons hitting areas without proper sanitation, and to help relocate 35 families whose shelters are perched precariously on a landslide risk. We have six new volunteers, including permaculture designers and toilet makers, and Kiran, a photojournalist who also works to distribute solar lights to villagers in disaster zones.

We’ll keep you posted as soon as we can!

Lots of love from the Secret Garden team.

Nepalese school children

Over 50 new shelters, a school and still counting!

So, monsoon has arrived in Nepal. Just a week ago a very exhausted Secret Garden team, smothered in garlands and tikka paint, bounced down the mountains of Kavre back to Kathmandu after 18 days of full power building in the village of Salle Bhumlu. Our time reconstructing homes across Salle Bhumlu’s 9 wards rapidly increased pace after the training of 8 fantastic Nepali laborers – by the time of our departure your donations had built: 51 new shelters, supplied tin panels for 31 new roofs and constructed a whole new school building for over 100 children who are now keeping safe and dry in the pouring rain. So thank you!

In fact we really need to say another big thank you for the cooperation we received from the Salle Bhumlu VDC, who opened up the community forests to allow access to building materials for all in need. Plus a thank you to our Nepali builders, to Raj Kumar and the coordination team, and also just a big thank you to the whole community for pitching in and getting all hands on deck.

After a few days recuperating in Kathmandu our team was ready to move back to Chaughada, Nuwakot, back to Atula’s school to reinforce the temporary classrooms we had built in light of the impending monsoon. Here we’ve been constructing new shelters and reinforcing others ready for the rains, which are already falling. Naturally after the success we felt in Kavre, using our resources to inspire momentum into a community to begin rebuilding itself, we know it is absolutely essential to transfer this method of support and cooperation with us wherever our work is. In truth we’ve had a lot less cooperation in Chaughada than we need for our project here to be successful.

Between the ridges of the foothills, the Chaughada basin is an immensely humid and fertile land ready for harvest. Our initial assessment showed a definite need for transitional shelters within this community; 95% of the houses here rendered unlivable by the earthquakes. Yet despite there being no lack of able bodies, somehow too few have shown interest in beginning to rebuild with each other. Our local contacts have bared the brunt of aggressive intercommunity politics, greed and selfishness. If we wish to decrease a dependency on outside aid not increase it, we have to assume now that our support will be best felt within other communities devastated by the earthquakes.

Obviously this negative response by no means represents the whole, our team has been able to construct transitional shelters for a number of families without the means to help themselves, victims of caste politics shunned by others, working together to equip these lovely people for the monsoon. So today we begin wrapping up our work here to be able to move out tomorrow, to pursue new leads to areas in the district of Sindalpolchowk, to places where the roads run out and no aid relief has been felt since the very first earthquake.

Here’s some great news though: still working within Salle Bhumlu now are our 8 Nepali workers and a volunteer team of coordinators, including the ever-dedicated Raj Kumar and new boy on the block: Sulav, who even after a full day sweating in the mud and dirt could somehow remain mysteriously, immaculately, spotlessly fresh (which I think we put down to some sort of witchcraft). Anyway, these new members of the Secret Garden team are still working hard in Salle Bhumlu to complete the construction of 20 more shelters and one more school roof.

I hope you understand that all our work building both in Kavre and Nuwakot could have never been made possible without you and your donations! We will work as ever to make certain your donations may be felt by those who really are in need. Wish us luck with our next scouting mission, the roads are getting slippy!

Big love from Nepal. x

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Collaboration with BringThoughtstoAction

We’ve been working together with Linda and Shiva from BringThoughtstoAction for a while now, and now we decided to announce our partnership officially. We call each other sisters. Here’s the who, the what and the why.

Who is BringThoughtstoAction exactly?

You may or may not know this already, but SGDR is run from Beth and Dipu’s guesthouse in Kathmandu. It’s been a brilliant base for us to host volunteers, have meetings, work and plan together, and importantly to have a little downtime when not on missions. Just around the corner is the Fireflies guesthouse which is run by Shiva Shrestha. From the guesthouse, Shiva and the wonderful Linda have been running their relief group, BringThoughtstoAction. These guys are doing an incredible job. Soon after the earthquake they started their first build project in Ramkot, 8km from Kathmandu. Shiva designed an improved temporary shelter building, and with the help of Misha, an engineer from Germany, added some technical improvements. Since then they’ve been building hundreds of their ‘Fireflies’ shelters for families in Nepal.

Why sisters?

Whilst Shiva and his build crew truck out to remote villages to build these shelters, Linda has been tirelessly working behind the scenes, organising volunteers, fundraising, advertising, collaborations, project plans, networking, strategies, for fighting human trafficking and building up local economies… the list goes on! We and Linda frequently put our heads together to share ideas and contacts and plan for the next, and have become good friends. We’ve also been sending out our volunteers to help on BTtA builds, where they help out, and gain building experience and training from Shiva and Co. Misha has been out with us on assessments, and Naill from Fireflies accompanied us to Nuwakot to help with planning and building.

Funding project

BTtA has been rolling out their buildings all over, they have the skills and the manpower, but corrugated steel sheets for roofing can be very expensive, and last week one of their projects found itself without funding and in need of materials. Knowing Linda and Shiva well, and confident that the money would be used effectively to make a huge difference, we took the decision to help them out with funding. We gave $2,000 to BringThoughtstoAction for their build in Sindupalchowk, Providing roofs for 40 houses. Thank you so much for your donations, this is just one more way in which you’ve been helping Nepal.

You can follow BringThoughtstoAction on Facebook.

A message From Bring Thoughts to Action

Thank you so much to our sister group, Secret Garden Disaster Relief, and all it’s donors for helping us to build 40 houses for families in Sindhapalchowk, Phatakshila.

Bring Thoughts to Action was there for the five days before the build, doing house assessments and teaching the locals how to build the bamboo structures. Because of this training, the locals are able to continue building and finishing the roofs, meaning we could provide the bamboo structures and the final materials, metal sheet.

Thanks to Secret Garden Disaster Relief  for your donation and manpower. We reached Sindhupalchok together for the second time on Friday 12th of June where we with the locals build three structures and distributed metal sheet. We finished on 15th of June.

Here is the documentation of your amazing contribution.

Linda and Shiva

Ward no. 6, Phatakshila VDC, Sindhupalchok
Shiva Shrestha did the assessment. They needed 40 semi permanent eco homes.
Locals could provide with some bamboo and materials.

Temporary shelter: 480 metal sheet = $ 2,400.00
Bamboo: $ 200.00
Materials: $ 100.00
Transport = $ 20.00

Total spending $2,720.00
Funded by Secret Garden Disaster Relief – $2,000.00
And Micha Ferb $720.00

School building works in Kavre

Building over 30 shelters and a school in Kavre

What an amazingly positive time we’ve had in Bhummlu Salle! After returning from Nuwakot two weeks ago our few days in Kathmandu were taken up with coordinating the preparation for our second building mission up in the mountains of Kavre; with speed and efficiency being pinnacle to our race against the monsoon, we met with other small aid organisations to discuss and share techniques in aiding Nepal to rebuild itself.

During our first visit to Kavre on one of our early food aid delivery big missions, we made good friends with Raj Kumar Lama, an outstanding and well respected member of the Bhummlu Salle community and, as we came to understand, really a very selfless man; his own house was demolished while we worked together to find the families and individuals in need of shelter, and yet he still committed all his time to helping find those in need. In Kathmandu, before setting off to return to Bhummlu Salle, Raj Kumar informed us that the VDC community forests had been opened up, with a designated amount of timber and bamboo made available for every family. Knowing these resources were available to all those in need allowed us to push the reach of your donations further: we were able to focus our attention solely on supplying tin roofing panels and be more ambitious with the number of shelters Secret Garden could construct.

But it wouldn’t be just us building: prior to construction we were able to hold a meeting with the community, to push an agreement that in order to get ready for monsoon the village needed to come together and work together to begin to reconstruct the damage that had been done. The effect was overwhelmingly positive and as the build project went on it became clear people were all too willing to pitch in and help out. One wonderful example of this was the school, the building had been deemed structurally unsound and ‘Red Stickered’ after the earthquakes cracked the classroom walls, leaving the teachers no choice but to give their lessons out on the cracked steps of the broken classrooms. Immediately we were able to begin making plans to construct a temporary school building for all one hundred students. Initially we worked with a few local carpenters to get the frame up, but as word passed round the village, the school governor himself was not only heaving timbers up from the forests but even went door to door asking all the families whose children attended the school to give a full day of work to the building. Really very inspiring to see.

Within our first week constructing, thirty shelters were up and ready as they’ll ever be for monsoon. These thirty families under nothing but tarpaulin and leaking tins, in lean-tos that used to house their buffalo now have a fighting chance against the rains, but it is already beginning to fall, and fall hard. There will be a time in the not too distant future when we cannot gain access to these remote parts, and this is where the most exciting part of our mission is coming into play.

Already we have begun to train Nepali builders in Kavre, sharing expertise to build a skilled work force of small strong teams that can work with the families displaced by the earthquakes to create safe and sturdy temporary homes for the monsoon. This workforce will be a paid workforce, which not only puts these lovely people back in employment but also allows rapid and efficient rebuilding work to continue and spread throughout the communities of Kavre’s 9 VDCs. Though perhaps most importantly, having teams of local Nepali villagers building in the village instills a sense of power and positivity, the people your donations reach are there with us, building alongside people from their own community, everyone’s still trying to make sense of their own devastation but they’re there together, helping each other to get ready for the next trial.

Our team is still up in the mountains as I write, so more progress updates on the way, but for now we just wanted to share with you where we’re at and say the biggest warmest of thank yous to all our supporters. Early next week we split the team, some will continue in Kavre, the others will continue our work in Nuwakot and Sindhulpachowk! So as ever, keep donating, keep sharing – we’ve come too far to forget Nepal now!

Big Love. x