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.