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Constructing the Women's Microfinance Co-op

Constructing the Women's Microfinance Co-op

A Lesson in Earth and Community Building

Since November 2016, Conscious Impact has been working to build a permanent office space for the Nawalpur Women's Microfinance Cooperative. For over 5 years, the 730+ women members have been assisting each-other in economic empowerment and self-sufficiency for over 5 years... all out of an office the size of a small closet. After purchasing land and hearing of our rebuilding efforts in Takure, members of the Cooperative reached out to us for assistance in building a larger, sustainable, affordable and earthquake-resistant space with which to continue their operations.

The sixth annual Women's Microfinance Cooperative gathering.

The sixth annual Women's Microfinance Cooperative gathering.

In response, Conscious Impact's resident architects (Satwika, Fred and Oliver) have teamed up with Nitzan and Maya of Back to Earth Community to design a functional space using an earth-building technique known as “Rammed Earth.” Volunteers, Nepali women and Nepali brick-masons alike have spent the last month working together to move rocks and dig the foundation for the project. It's been a truly inspiring experience, and by April 2017 we aim to provide Nawalpur with its very own completed rammed earth Women's Microfinance Co-Op Office building. 

Conscious Impact resident architect, Satwika, explains the design for the project to volunteers

Conscious Impact resident architect, Satwika, explains the design for the project to volunteers


Why Rammed Earth?

Rammed earth is an ancient earth-building technique that requires a specific mixture of compacted sand, gravel, and soil to make full rock-wall panels. This technique essentially mimics how nature makes rock by compacting sediment in place. The whole process personally reminds me of making a bread recipe from scratch with local ingredients for a large group of people. You first use small molds to test differently proportioned “recipes” made with your locally available earth ingredients to see which one holds its shape best. The nature of our soil here is preferred for rammed earth because it is more sandy and gravely than clayey. Rammed earth is highly dependent on gravel for stability and durability. By the end of preparation for this project, Nitzan said he tested over 20 different mixtures to find the right one.

Allen and Maxime ram the walls inside the formwork for a test section.

Allen and Maxime ram the walls inside the formwork for a test section.

Once perfected, you multiply your recipe proportions to a large enough scale that you can mix it in large batches on-site. These batches are then poured layer by layer into a wall formwork usually made with wooden panels. To construct the walls, people stand inside the formwork and use ramming tools (somewhere between a long-handled ice scraper and a garden-hoe) to compact the mixture layer by layer until it is finally full and stable. The result is a rammed earth rock wall. If you fit together enough of these wall sections on top of a stone foundation and put your desired roof on top (in our case, concrete) you eventually have a durable, affordable, earthquake-resistant, sustainable rammed-earth building. It is for these reasons that this method perfectly complemented our vision for the Co-Op, and why we chose to use it.


Day 1 and Beyond: A Rock-Solid Project

After weeks of meeting with the women in the Co-op and finally getting the proper permits from the Nepali government, on Nov 19th we were able to hike to Nawalpur and begin construction. A team of six of us hiked the 30 minutes to town to start manually leveling out a terrace for the supply-truck we ordered carrying bamboo, stones, gabion (rock retaining wall) cages and sheet metal. After 40 minutes of shoveling, we managed to finish constructing the resultant soil-ramp with 5 minutes to spare.

CI volunteer John moving rocks between terraces for the foundation.

CI volunteer John moving rocks between terraces for the foundation.

The rest of the day was spent constructing the foundation of a temporary bamboo/sheet-metal supply shed that will remain there to house our tools until the project's completion. We unloaded the trucks, measured out our bamboo poles, cleared out a 3x2 square meter rectangle of vegetation, and dug four 60-cm deep holes for the frame. After being in the sun all day and eating heavy chowmein for lunch, I ended up falling asleep on the ground for 20 minutes before returning to work. Nevertheless, we finished the foundation prep work for the shed to go up the next day.

CI Volunteer Joshua helps Maya and Nitzan (behind) move rocks for the gabions.

CI Volunteer Joshua helps Maya and Nitzan (behind) move rocks for the gabions.

BEFORE - Setting the stage to build gabions for the retaining wall.

BEFORE - Setting the stage to build gabions for the retaining wall.

AFTER- The retaining wall is completed! 

AFTER- The retaining wall is completed! 

Nitzan, putting the finishing touches on the retaining wall.

Nitzan, putting the finishing touches on the retaining wall.

It is now Day #22. In 3 weeks, we have built a septic tank in addition to a beautiful retaining wall supporting the Co-Op structure. In two days, we will also be ready to pour the cement for the foundation before building the walls in January. I have been back at the project on multiple mornings to clear out, level, dig and transport rocks for the Co-op foundation, and the experience has been nothing short of inspiring. It has been exciting and empowering to work alongside so many people from different parts of the world to bring this project into fruition.

Day 2: Clearing the land.

Day 2: Clearing the land.

Day 16: Foundation in progress!

Day 16: Foundation in progress!

More than 40 volunteers, Nepali women and masons came out for our Saturday Tea Party to kick off the digging for the foundation. On any given day, anywhere from 10-15 people from all different backgrounds are working on site doing manual labor side by side to complete this project. It has been a true example of sustainable collaboration with a meaningful cause, and I cannot express enough how important it is that a project like this exists. Ultimately, we hope it will serve as a living example of the potential for sustainable earth-building technology in an area that sorely needs it.

Saturday digging party to get ready for constructing the foundation. 

Saturday digging party to get ready for constructing the foundation. 

 

Get Involved!

Hammers with handles made for us by the local carpenter next door.

Hammers with handles made for us by the local carpenter next door.

View from the site of the Women's Microfinance Co-op

View from the site of the Women's Microfinance Co-op

Stay tuned for more updates! "Like" us at Back to Earth Facebook Page and Conscious Impact Facebook Page.

Social Media Hashtags: #rammedearthnepal #dunga #steppedstonefoundation #cometonepal @consciousimpact @backtoearthcommunity

Want some more visuals of the project? Here's a short video of the last 3 weeks of work!

As always, Namaste!


Anne Goodman is a long-term volunteer with us at Conscious Impact. If you would like to read more of her personal writing, you can follow her blog at https://thecycledthymes.wordpress.com/

Yoga for Nepal 2016

Yoga for Nepal 2016

Last year, we began a tradition of inviting yogis and yoginis to come deepen their practice here in Takure during a 10 day yoga retreat. This year, we were humbled to welcome a new group into our peaceful home once again under the instruction of the beautiful and inspiring Dharma Shakti.

The yoga retreat at Conscious Impact allows opportunities for hatha yoga (postural yoga) practice, as well as karma yoga (yoga of action or service) and bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion).

The yoga retreat at Conscious Impact allows opportunities for hatha yoga (postural yoga) practice, as well as karma yoga (yoga of action or service) and bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion).

 
This retreat brought together a unique group of people with a variety of backgrounds, interests, and reasons for attending, all with lots of love and energy to share. 

This retreat brought together a unique group of people with a variety of backgrounds, interests, and reasons for attending, all with lots of love and energy to share. 

 
Mixing the soil, sand, and cement to make bricks is just one example the karma yoga we practice daily. Karma yoga is the practice of putting forth your best efforts with intention, but without being attached to an outcome of personal gain or reward. We were blessed with an incredible group of selfless and hardworking individuals.

Mixing the soil, sand, and cement to make bricks is just one example the karma yoga we practice daily. Karma yoga is the practice of putting forth your best efforts with intention, but without being attached to an outcome of personal gain or reward. We were blessed with an incredible group of selfless and hardworking individuals.

 
Dharma Shakti of Yogalution  studio in Long Beach, CA receives tika or a blessing from a local community member in Takure.  Starting each morning with meditation and chanting, visiting local temples, and participating in local traditions are all part of immersing ourselves in the practice of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga focuses on cultivating love and devotion. Practicing bahkti yoga allows us to better connect with the divine and our higher sense of self. 

Dharma Shakti of Yogalution studio in Long Beach, CA receives tika or a blessing from a local community member in Takure.  Starting each morning with meditation and chanting, visiting local temples, and participating in local traditions are all part of immersing ourselves in the practice of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga focuses on cultivating love and devotion. Practicing bahkti yoga allows us to better connect with the divine and our higher sense of self. 

 
We practiced hatha yoga twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. The physical practice of hatha yoga gives us a chance to strengthen the connection between our hearts, minds, and bodies. This is especially important after putting in a lot of hard work!

We practiced hatha yoga twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. The physical practice of hatha yoga gives us a chance to strengthen the connection between our hearts, minds, and bodies. This is especially important after putting in a lot of hard work!

 
When we take the time to serve ourselves by connecting and building our inner strength, we can better serve others. Our yoga practice allows us to serve Takure as we work together and rebuild this beautiful community.

When we take the time to serve ourselves by connecting and building our inner strength, we can better serve others. Our yoga practice allows us to serve Takure as we work together and rebuild this beautiful community.

 

The retreat may have ended, but our intention and work has not. We continue to practice service to ourselves and others everyday here in the foothills of the Himalayas. If you are interested in joining us, please learn more about the work we do, and contact us!

Festival Season in Takure

Festival Season in Takure

This fall, the Conscious Impact team returned to Nepal to continue our work in producing bricks and rebuilding in the village of Takure. The post-monsoon season welcomed our homecoming with lots of work to do, people to reconnect with, and festivals to celebrate. 

We had the opportunity to take part in the two largest and most celebrated festivals in Nepal: Dashain and Tihar. Our participation in these festivals signifies that we are not only here to rebuild structures that were lost, but to share the celebration of cultural tradition and community ties that continue to stand strong.

Dashain

The entire festival of Dashain lasts for 15 days, but the first day and last six days are the main celebration days.

The entire festival of Dashain lasts for 15 days, but the first day and last six days are the main celebration days.

 
Dashain celebrates the victory of good over evil and reminds us that truth and virtue will always prevail.

Dashain celebrates the victory of good over evil and reminds us that truth and virtue will always prevail.

 
Animals are sacrificed and  puja  is offered to the Hindu goddess Durga, who defeated the evil Mahishasur.

Animals are sacrificed and puja is offered to the Hindu goddess Durga, who defeated the evil Mahishasur.

 
Bamboo swings are built throughout villages in Nepal, and they're not just for children! Swinging during Dashain is meant to lift spirits and rejuvenate energy.

Bamboo swings are built throughout villages in Nepal, and they're not just for children! Swinging during Dashain is meant to lift spirits and rejuvenate energy.

 
Even our tools receive honor during Dashain! Here, we venerate our brick press to bring good fortune and prosperity to our work.

Even our tools receive honor during Dashain! Here, we venerate our brick press to bring good fortune and prosperity to our work.

 
Celebrating Dashain is focused on gathering with family and loved ones. People return home from throughout the country and the world to reconnect with one-another. We are so blessed to be able to celebrate this festival at our home in Nepal!

Celebrating Dashain is focused on gathering with family and loved ones. People return home from throughout the country and the world to reconnect with one-another. We are so blessed to be able to celebrate this festival at our home in Nepal!

 

Tihar

Along with our Nepali community, our team celebrated Tihar - the festival of lights. This five-day festival celebrates several Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as humans and animals of religious importance.

Along with our Nepali community, our team celebrated Tihar - the festival of lights. This five-day festival celebrates several Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as humans and animals of religious importance.

 
The second day of Tihar, Kukur Tihar, honors the dog. Our camp dog, Kavita, looks quite festive with her  tika  and garland!

The second day of Tihar, Kukur Tihar, honors the dog. Our camp dog, Kavita, looks quite festive with her tika and garland!

 
Rupak and Tharendra, two of our Training Center staff members, light candles to welcome Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, into our home. 


Rupak and Tharendra, two of our Training Center staff members, light candles to welcome Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, into our home. 

 
Bhai Tika is the fifth and final day of Tihar. On this day, siblings give  tika  to one another, which is meant to strengthen their close relationships to one another. 

Bhai Tika is the fifth and final day of Tihar. On this day, siblings give tika to one another, which is meant to strengthen their close relationships to one another. 

 
Uddhav, one of the local staff members at the Training Center, receives the special multi-colored  tika  from his sisters. Sisters give  tika  to their brothers to ensure long life and prosperity, as well as thank them for their protection. 

Uddhav, one of the local staff members at the Training Center, receives the special multi-colored tika from his sisters. Sisters give tika to their brothers to ensure long life and prosperity, as well as thank them for their protection. 

 
Bahilo and Deusi are the performances of traditional song and dance as girls and boys go house to house. Children are given treats, but everyone enjoys the music and dancing. We were very happy to host such a large crowd at our camp for this joyous celebration!

Bahilo and Deusi are the performances of traditional song and dance as girls and boys go house to house. Children are given treats, but everyone enjoys the music and dancing. We were very happy to host such a large crowd at our camp for this joyous celebration!

 

 

 

What is My Life, and How Did I Get Here?

What is My Life, and How Did I Get Here?

"The hills that we live in are magical, the people with whom I have the pleasure of working with everyday are truly inspirational, and the work that we are doing is benefiting the community that we are so privileged to live and work in. It is now almost eight months after I arrived in Nepal, and I still wake up with a smile on my face, eager to work everyday.

One Year After the Shake

One Year After the Shake

"I could’ve never in a million years imagined where my life would be right now, even though this is exactly what I wanted. I’m using my knowledge and talents. I came to Nepal to help rebuild the lives of those who lost everything, and I’ve gained so much in the process- both from local Nepalis and from international volunteers from all walks of life.

Crafting Bricks; Crafting Community

Crafting Bricks; Crafting Community

"The bricks are the building blocks of the schools, but the process of making them is the foundation of our relationship with the community and the basis of many of the other projects that we take on in the holistic progression of rebuilding...I cannot deny that I will always feel connected to Takure."

Living in the Hills of Takure

Living in the Hills of Takure

"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.