I sit cross-legged in a hammock, on the edge of a ravine that is sacred to the family that hosts us. On the terrace above me, I hear sounds of the kitchen crew preparing breakfast. The Beatles, laughter, and knives on chopping boards sound so close, I fight the urge to look over my shoulder. It’s 6:30 a.m. Forty-four volunteers from all over the world call this little patch of woods and overgrown rice terraces home. Together with our Nepali hosts and interpreters, we wake; take our meals of fresh fruit, vegetables, rice, and lenils; and spend hard hours moving dirt, stone, and bamboo. Together we support a community to rebuild after the earthquake.
The village of Takure is small. You won’t find it on google maps. Located in the Sindhupalchok district of Nepal, Takure is home to 100 families. The entire village save one home collapsed this spring. Conscious Impact, a nonprofit born immediately after the earthquake, leverages a volunteer model to bring resources and skilled labor to Nepal in an effort to rebuild. Conscious Impact settled in Takure to join its community partner, YUWA Unity Nepal. YUWA is a local Nepali nonprofit that works across ethnic, political, cultural, and financial barriers to supply villages with the resources and training they need to rebuild their communities sustainably and safely.
The founders of YUWA, Mark Wiebers and Dheeraj Mishra, traveled to Takure immediately after the earthquake to deliver resources to build temporary shelters. They and the village of Takure worked together over five days to ensure that every family had a temporary shelter. When YUWA began to look for a village to partner with for a long term rebuild, they returned to Takure. Dheeraj grew up in Takure but had lived abroad or in Kathmandu since he was twelve. Now, months after the earthquake, Dheeraj is back in his village. His family invited the people of Conscious Impact and their volunteers onto their land to make their camp, and Dheeraj manages relations between the community, Conscious Impact, and our growing team of volunteers and staff.
A week after I arrive in Nepal, I climb onto the back of Dheeraj’s motorbike to fetch groceries from the nearest village. My friend Allen Gula, a founder of Conscious Impact, intended to do the shopping but was sick, so I offered to go in his place. Jonathan Lee, a volunteer, friend, and photographer, jumps on behind YUWA staffer Prakash Khanal’s bike, and the four of us take off up a winding, gravelly, mountain road.
We stop almost immediately up the hill at Prakash’s home. Prakash shows off the family’s chicken farm, goats, and water buffalo with pride to Jonathan and me. Dheeraj leads us up a tiny path to where YUWA is building its office space on the site of Dheeraj’s crumbled childhood home. He beams as he shows us how much has been accomplished in the days since I was last here. Clearing the rubble to rebuild on the site is a big deal. Six months after the earthquake, Dheeraj’s family was the first in the village to do so. The day after they started, Dheeraj’s uncle began clearing the site of his home. Then, like dominoes, more people every day began slowly clearing away the stones and bricks that had been their homes.
Back on the motorbikes we drive towards Nawalpur. The roads force us to drive slowly, and Dheeraj points out community members and sacred places as we drive past. The monsoons have just ended, and Nepal is green. The rice harvest is two months away, and every terrace is rich and flowing with color and water. At Nawalpur we buy okra, bitter gourd, bananas, huge squash, potatoes, beans, lentils, cabbages, and eggplant. Dheeraj asks if we mind running an errand that will take us to the next village, but we should take chai first at the little tea shop. Sweet, milky, spice tea is served to us in metal cups so hot you have to hold the top rim of the cup to avoid scalding your fingers. As the four of us sit talking, villagers young and old come around to greet Dheeraj and Prakash and nod to Jonathan and me as well. After we have dipped the last of the flaking, slightly stale, puff pastry into our tea and rinsed out our cups, we climb back on the bikes.
Prakash’s bike is much faster, and as we take off, I see Jonathan leaning around Prakash with his gigantic camera precariously jutting out. A few minute later we find them waiting for us on the side of the road where the jungle clears to offer an expansive view of carved mountain sides. Jonathan shouts at me to get down, and I see why they stopped. Deep in the crevice of one of the mountains is a waterfall. Although it appears tiny from where we stand compared to the mile high mountains surrounding it, we know it must be stories high. Jonathan and I stand next to each other, silent and in awe of this country. Dheeraj and Prakash confirm, yes, it is a very big, very beautiful waterfall. Maybe one day we can hike to it. Back on the motorbike I am better at balancing my weight and leaning with Dheeraj on the myriad twists and bumps.
We arrive at another collection of buildings. We are led through a room, then a doorway so tiny that both Jonathan and I have to double over to get through it, and then into a tiny square room, empty of furniture except for a bench and a chair, where we are greeted by our host and a few other men. Our host motions for us all to sit and comes back with another chair for himself. As Prakash and he talk, Dheeraj translates and explains why we we are here. Most of the electrical poles fell down during the earthquake. This man is helping communities get new electrical poles. Prakash scribbles on a piece of paper how many poles our village will need and discusses money and logistics with him and the others.
A toddler runs in and out of the room, and Dheeraj begins to tell us about coming home to Nepal after working as a chef in Oman. He had saved money to open his own restaurant, but fifteen days after he returned to Kathmandu the earthquake hit, and all of his savings went into disaster relief. He rode around on the beds of trucks delivering tents, tarps, and food to villages in Nepal. On one of those trips he met Mark. They started working together to raise funds and deliver aid. Together they founded YUWA. Prakash, one of Dheeraj’s childhood friends, contacted him and asked him to bring support to Takure, the village they both grew up in. That is how, months after the quake, Dheeraj is living and working in the village he grew up in. It is where he hopes to continue living and working for the rest of his life.
That night, I lie in the tent I share with two friends, all of us on the precipice of sleep. I feel movement under me and look at Allen. For a second we lie still. Then he sits up and whispers,”earthquake!” In the time it takes me to sit up, the rumbles stop. We lie down again, hearts pounding. Allen was in Nepal during both quakes this spring, and what he experienced during that time and immediately after convinced him to stay and bring volunteers from all over the world to help rebuild this beautiful country. Allen whispers that it’s no use checking online now to see if what we felt was an aftershock or a big quake with a distant epicenter. Everyone in the village will be online and on the phone checking with their family. The networks jam up. “We’ll check tomorrowmorning,” he says as we settle back into bed. My own heart pounding, I wonder how Allen, how anyone in the village―people who have lost their homes, family members, livestock, careers―could fall back to sleep tonight. I try to slow my exhale. So far my experiences in Nepal have been defined by kind strangers, people opening their homes and lives to a group of foreigners, sharing Dal Bhat, German chocolate, and so much laughter. We see piles of rubble everywhere, but it’s easy to forget that destruction, fear, and pain live side by side with the peaceful, generous, openness of this village.
The next day we get up to make coffee. The rumbles of last night are forgotten when we learn that it was just another aftershock, like the hundreds that came before it. The volunteers fill their bellies and walk up the road to the future site of the training center. They spend hot hours flattening a terrace for a compressed earth block machine now in transit from India. Four villagers take a break from the bamboo construction at YUWA’s office and move four times as much dirt as the volunteers. Side by side, in a beautiful balance of fragility and vitality, people from cultures new and thousands of years old together improvise designs and dreams for the future of this little community.
This post was written by Chris Del Vecchio, a team member whose work we will be forever grateful.