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I have always felt a connection to Nepal. On 25th of April 2015, the day Nepal was shocked by a devastating earthquake, I also celebrated my birthday. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing that day, but I do remember the strange sensation I felt when I found out about the earthquake: in the same moment I realised how our lives are relevant, yet insignificant at the same time.

I’ve also always wanted to volunteer. As a privileged woman – having been born and raised in a rich country, full of opportunities - I feel a duty to contribute and give back to the world as much as I can.

So when a friend told me about Conscious Impact, based in Nepal, my decision to join them as a volunteer didn’t take long. They were offering exactly what I was looking for: to visit and experience Nepal, get to know the Nepali people and culture and to have a positive impact.

Rebuilding Nepal with the Nepalese

Allen Gula and Orion Haas, two Americans who met while working together in Ghana for a non-profit, founded Conscious Impact in Nepal shortly after the 2015 earthquake. They originally began fundraising with the goal of donating to a non-profit which was working on rebuilding projects. However, they soon realised that this did not guarantee a long-term solution for the Nepali people.

So along with the help of another friend, Beth Huggins, Conscious Impact was born. Although the founders didn’t know exactly how to make it work at first, they were clear in their purpose from day one: apply sustainable solutions, build community and work together to learn and grow

Two years later, after a lot of hard work and collaboration with the locals, Conscious Impact is developing projects in three main areas:

  • Engineering and building: Conscious Impact produces Compressed Stabilized Blocks (CSEB) with the intention of selling these to the community and training locals on how to make them. They are also experimenting with other sustainable technologies, such as Earth bags and Rammed Earth.
  • Agriculture: They are working to engage the local farmers in organic agriculture, permaculture design, agroforestry and water management, and recently announced the launch of a coffee cooperative.
  • Education: They provide weekly lessons for local children on sustainable living and climate change, in addition to female empowerment and sex education.

Living in a sustainable way

The Conscious Impact values are illustrated perfectly by their chosen living arrangements: “We will live in tents on a hillside in the Himalayas until the people we serve are living in homes”.

Committed to a sustainable lifestyle, they try to have the smallest environmental impact possible: washing dishes with ashes, heating the water with solar power and using dry latrines as toilets, are just a few examples of how they reduce their impact.

Living in the mountains and sleeping in a tent doesn’t mean it’s a hippy retreat where everything is chaos. In fact, one of the things that surprised me most was the effective organisation of the camp. The Conscious Impact team in general, and Beth Huggins in particular, work hard to ensure that every volunteer feels at home and finds the best way to contribute, so, everyone feels fulfilled and can be his/her best self. As a result, you can feel the happiness in the air, and the constant laughs join the birds to create the camp’s soundtrack.

Because it is not just buildings…

Rebuilding a country is not only about building new homes: it’s about rebuilding trust with communities who are terrified by the thought of another earthquake, and would therefore rather live outside their home than risk rebuilding it and having it torn down again; it’s about building a healthy economy which allows the locals to buy their own materials and homes; it’s about building a future for the next generation, of which 29% currently have to leave the country to find work; it’s turning a crisis on its head and creating something positive that will last, something that will remain with the community once Conscious Impact is long gone. Allen, Orion and Beth listened to the community to find the solutions they needed for the problems they were concerned about, so they could build trust, relationships and shared-knowledge.

They needed to rebuild people’s trust in infrastructures and buildings. After two years of cultivating relationships and proving their commitment to the community, the locals are beginning to rebuild their homes using the CSEB.

They needed to rebuild Takure economy, creating a healthier one which provides jobs for the locals near by home. Today, they have created more than ten jobs for women and men in the area, offering young men an opportunity outside the farm that enables them stay nearby their families, and the women a salary which empowers them and increases their level of freedom.

This is the most inspiring thing about this project. I went to Nepal because I wanted to visit the country, know Nepali people and culture and have a positive impact. After joining Conscious Impact, I´ve discovered a small part of the country, I’ve met amazing Nepalese people who I’ve worked and celebrated a wedding with, and I have been impacted: not just by the majestic mountains and the exceptional food, but by a project which has shown me how it really is possible to make a difference and improve the world if one has a purpose and determination, as well as humility to achieve their goals.

Thinking about visiting Nepal?

If you are looking for an amazing experience which allows you to dive deeply into the country and culture, and at the same time learn more about sustainable living, Conscious Impact is for you!

What to expect:

  • The enjoyment of communal living with amazing and inspiring people, that at the same time respect your privacy. You feel like home living in the nature!
  • Living in a camp on the hills of the majestic Himalayas, where the environmental impact is minimal. 
  • Learning about organic agriculture and permaculture, as well as sustainable building materials.
  • Contributing to the project/s you are most interested in, with the freedom of choosing how you want to help everyday.
  • Working side by side with locals and building real connections with them.
  • Being inspired by a mission shared by everyone in the camp. 

Conscious Impact are very aware about what real volunteering is about: serving. So if you are looking to have a real impact and help the local community, this is a great option.

Written by Maria Antequera for Live Conscious

Volunteer, March 2017