Bachek. The earth bags school construction. Nepal

The first time I happened to come to Bachek was in July last year. Back then, I almost coincidentally arrived to Nepal about a day and a half before the earthquake began. I was living in Kathmandu for 3 months, collecting and delivering some humanitarian aid to those who suffered from the quake. Almost all Western countries had evacuated their citizens from the disaster area by that time. The streets were empty and those few foreigners who had stayed to help knew each other in some way. I once came to Alobar 1000 Hostel, located in historical center of Kathmandu, to get an advice about the technology of constructing out of bamboo, because Alobar volunteers were engaged in construction for a few month by that time, non-stop from the very beginning of the quake. The first person I met on the hostels’ stairs in my first time there was the main volunteer and manager of all the projects, connected to hostel-organized humanitarian aid delivery, Om Adhikari. He was the one I’ve been looking for.
– "My name is Beautiful, and you can come with me." – Om introduced himself shortly.
The next day we went to bring some books, pens and notebooks to the one of the school in Kathmandu suburb. In couple of weeks he called me back and suggested I go with him on an exploration trip to Bachek. He was looking for a place to build a school in Gorkha, one of the most suffered remote regions in Nepal,.

photo by Raman Kchetry
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That trip stays in my memory with a 5-hour Jeep drive on a gravel ‘road’ in a cloud of thick dust, uphill, to the remote villages; two nights spent in Bachek, 10-hour hike to the Oalang village and back, the best dal-bhat (traditional Nepalese dish) in my life, which we were fed by friendly and hospitable locals, and – don’t ask me why- with an unexpected feeling of utter happiness, which seemed to be surrealistic at that moment.
– How do you think to build this school?
– With zinc-coated metal sheets and bamboo.
– But it’s only a temporary shelter, to hide from the rain, isn’t it?
– Do you think It was much different before the quake? All schools in these villages are built like this.

photo by Om Adhikari
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A villages school in Nepal looks like a barn. A long box divided into separate rooms with thin inside walls. This building’s only task is to protect those inside from wind and rain. Interior consists of an earthen floor, a few tables and benches. In summer it’s very hot inside, in winter it’s freezing.

photo by Larisa Matteyssen
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People were talking a lot about how and what to rebuild Nepal with after the massive destruction caused by an earthquake of 2015. Architects and eco-technology civil engineers from all over the World came to Kathmandu with their ideas and masterclasses. And many of them have chosen the earthbag technology. This technology, well-known among the eco-engineers in the West, is new to Nepal. Village builders are pretty skeptical about it, as about everything new. And only westerners and young enthusiastic Nepalese are willing to try it. It’s more than justified logically as well as economically. Most of the main materials are available nearby, and buildings of such type are seismically resistant. But construction mistakes are expensive, therefore locals don’t want to take these risks.

photo by Larisa Matteyssen
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The chief architect on the earthbag school building project in Bachek is Ujjwal Tamang. Ujjwal is 21 y.o. and he’s attending the last year of Civil engineering University in Kathmandu. Within the last year Ujjwal has already built a few similar facilities in different regions of Nepal affected by an earthquake, but building the school in Bachek takes more time than it was expected. There are many volunteers coming from the hostel, but some works like plastering, roofing, stone flooring are to be done by professionals only. The local builders’ work is paid with the money from the fund, but in Asia a work agreement scheduled for tomorrow generally means a few days term. People simply don’t show up on a scheduled day and there’s nothing to do about it, only to wait.

photo by Jacqueline Woo
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School building in Bachek has started on January 2016. And with almost no time off, from the very beginning till the end, a Canadian lady named Cathy Grogan was present on the construction site. Cathy is in love with Nepal and she has kept coming here every year for a few recent decades with different projects. But the biggest dream of her has always been to build a school. On April 25th 2015 Cathy was suddenly awake in her house in Canada with a strong heartbeat. She quickly turned her computer on, opened a Facebook and a first message she saw was the one from Om Adikhari, about an earthquake in Kathmandu. She couldn’t contact him for the next 2 weeks, and her friends started to transfer money into her account to support Nepal. A week ago Cathy has rescheduled her flight back home for a third time, for June this time, because the final construction terms had changed again.

photo by Larisa Matteyssen
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-“I have no idea, my friends, what mourning is like in your countries, but we usually hold up the Tibetan prayer flags in silence. And we also lit up the candles at night. You all know the fact that it’s already been a year as Nepal is recovering from what happened. Tourists start coming back here to Himalayas only now. It has been a hard year for all of us. About a quarter of Nepal’s population is living below the poverty line. And every trekking trip you go to gives some work to at least five people. You can see yourself how hard it is to live in a village like Bachek. You can decide to go to Pokhara or Kathmandu any day, but these people don’t have such a choice. The absence of decent education is one of Nepal’s biggest problems, which dooms them for a life in the difficult conditions of permanent hard physical work, and I want to say “thank you so much” to everyone for your aid and support, with both your physical efforts and material resources. Thank you a lot from all Nepal. From all of us.
A year ago Om has lost one of his best friends, who went to the mountains with a couple of tourists on that day and never came back. On that and the following days Nepal lost around 9 000 people.

photo by Justin Shetler
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photo by Larisa Matteyssen
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As a result of an earthquake of 2015 Bachek village was almost completely destroyed. A village literally consists of sheds quickly made with boards and steel sheets. The locals cook food on the firewood ovens, they have power supply just for a few hours a day.
But this experience is valuable not as mastering of new construction technologies only. First of all it is dipping you into real Nepal, into the life in remote mountain districts. When there’s not enough water because of a dry season and it must be carried uphill in countless buckets not to the camp for washing and drinking only, but also tons of water for the construction. When it’s so hot and the air so dry and full of dust that you’re covered with a thick yellowish-grey layer by the evening and sometimes there’s no water to wash it all off your body. When you’ve got a sore throat and blocked nose and sneezing all the time. When due to the lack of vegetables there’s the same rice, potatoes and lentils soup for lunch and dinner. And after a week spent there almost all the faces are familiar to you, you help to pass the buckets and huge brass jugs to the others while waiting for your turn near the well, and every single dog is wagging it’s tail when seeing you on your way from the camp to a small café made of same boards and steel.

photo by Larisa Matteyssen
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I left Nepal half a year ago in October 2015, and came back here as soon as the first possibility came up. I had no other ideas where to go. A week after my landing in Kathmandu I was already back to Bachek. We’re going to finish the construction in the next couple of weeks and we’re already thinking about our possible chances to build another one.
Larisa Matteyssen
translation by Kate Trusova
the English edition by Doug Jones
Pokhara, Nepal

the article in russian: http://foxit-acrobat.livejournal.com/6195.html

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