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.