We strive to offer an alternative path to rebuilding and support local community members of the Sindhupalchowk region to rebuild long-term, sustainable schools and homes. We are currently producing Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEBs) at The Takure Training and Production Center. These earth blocks - composed of local soil, sand, and a small percentage of cement - have been used to complete one primary school and will soon be for a second before we begin distributing them for homes. The Training Center currently provides full-time employment for ten local Nepalis from the surrounding villages. Ultimately we envision The Training Center as a self-sufficient, Nepali run business which can function as a national hub for local, culturally-relevant, sustainable, earthquake-resistant, and affordable technologies in building.
Our volunteer team worked alongside local skilled masons we employed to rebuild the Siddhartha Primary School in Bimire using CSEBs produced in Takure. The existing steel structure survived April’s earthquake, but the stone walls, which were built around the steel, were badly damaged. Our team demolished the remainders of the previous walls, built extensive retaining walls around the site, and prepared foundations for the new CSEB walls. We built three units which provided six classrooms, an office, and three latrines. The school, reinforced with rebar, will provide a safe learning space for approximately 60 students and act as our first demonstration of alternative building techniques.
Many thanks to architect Fred Dolmans, founder of GroundUp, a firm that offers professional design expertise and sustainable solutions in locations around the world. GroundUp is also our partner in home reconstruction in Takure, having designed several sustainable options for home owners to choose from.
It has been a year and a half since the ground shook and hundred of thousands of families in Nepal lost their homes. Now the dream of rebuilding is finally coming into fruition. The government recently began distributing foreign aid funds for rebuilding, which will be allocated overtime to insure earthquake resistant construction. Several families from the village have expressed interest in rebuilding with CSEBs, which we are excited to support them in. We are currently producing bricks exclusively for homes and are excited to continue working alongside local in rebuilding this incredibly humble community.
In collaboration with Back to Earth, an organization specializing in earthen building, we will be building a rammed earth office with an additional skill training center for the local women's financial cooperative. The Women's Co-op currently functions as a micro-finance group with approximately 730 members from various households in the Nawalpur district. Each month, the women pay a membership fee of 100 rupees (1 USD) which qualifies them to apply for loans anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 rupees. Most families in our area are practicing agriculturists whose work simply provides enough for basic necessities. These loans allow opportunities to invest in livestock, provide simple necessities for their households, or manage a medical emergency.
In response to the need for long-term work opportunities, PLAN International has donated 15 sewing machines to The Women's Cooperative. The co-op recently purchased a piece of property with the intention of building a space for women to learn valuable skills which will enable them to provide for their families beyond the rice fields. We are fundraising to bring this dream into fruition. Ideally we would like to build a two-story structure out of rammed earth, an ancient building method which is simple to construct with local materials, affordable, strong, and durable. Rammed earth walls are constructed by compressing clay, sand, and gravel manually with a power tamper in a sturdy wooden frame. We will be starting construction on this project after monsoon season, in the fall of 2016.
Due to the current needs of the community, we have decided to postpone the rebuilding of Takure Primary School while we support locals in rebuilding their homes. The design we intend to use when the time comes, consists of thousands of earth blocks to use in the building of six classrooms, a computer lab/library, and new toilets. PLAN International recently re-located an existing structure on site to accommodate the need for a teacher’s office before monsoon, and our design will incorporate this new structure into the site layout. The new site will feature an expansive courtyard between the buildings, providing a play space for the children, and a convenient gathering space for school and community events. Our design hopes to incorporate some permaculture design aspects, including rainwater harvesting for a garden on site.
Cob is another natural building material we have been experimenting with in Takure. Made out of a mixture of clay, sand, and straw, the cob is then sculpted into place. Once dry the material is strong with an incredibly high thermal mass, which allows for more efficient use of firewood in stoves and ovens. We currently have two ovens, a couple stove-tops, and a few benches made of cob with materials sourced from the property we live on. In a country with massive deforestation issues, we believe this technology could act as a small step in reduced firewood consumption.
Our intention is to act as a demonstration of sustainable building techniques, allowing the villagers to choose the method best suited for their rebuild homes whether it be CSEB, rammed earth or cob.
Building a safe school is just as important to us as what happens in it afterwards. Our response to that need is the education program whose mission is to provide an interactive and hands-on learning environment for Nepali school children currently enrolled at the primary level between the ages of 3-11 years old. We currently have a team of international volunteers, led by our Education Program Lead, who visit the two primary schools 2-3 times a week to 1) provide supplemental English curriculum in a fun and engaging way and 2) to incorporate skills and values that can sometimes be absent in the standard government curriculum, such as: teamwork, leadership, creativity, and confidence.
Over time, as we continue working at the Takure and Bimire Primary Schools, we hope to develop a more mature program that can act as a resource to the greater community. Our current workable goals include providing outlets for artistic expression, helping to cultivate teamwork and leadership skills, and increasing the self-confidence and intellectual capability of our students. We want to be a resource for local teachers and provide supplementary learning that fits into and supports their current curriculum.
Our long-term goals include eventually building a youth community center where young children and teenagers alike can have access to a range of resources, whether that be art and school supplies, extracurricular workshops, or a locally run computer lab/internet cafe. Being cognizant of the need for sustainability, other long term goals include 1) developing an infrastructure that can train and empower local teachers to learn new methods and be as effective in their classrooms as possible, and 2) outreach to university educated Nepalis from metropolitan areas and create a program for them to volunteer and give back to rural communities.
We understand that regenerating community in Takure requires more than just rebuilding homes. The life of every family involves the land they live on, the animal shed, the flow of water off the roof, the fields where the grain and animal fodder is grown, and the forested ravines where wild plants are gathered daily. Using an integrative design approach, our Eco Design (one Nepali and three volunteers, all recent graduates of a local Permaculture Design Course) are focused on agro-forestry, forest gardening and water management on a village level. We hope to support design thinking in home reconstruction through training, example designs and forestry projects, and building connections with existing agriculture resources, both governmental and NGO. We also value the production of nutrient dense perennial and annual vegetables for use in our kitchen and as test site for local farmers. We design our volunteer camp with the goal of creating abundance and fertility, leaving behind a system that will continue to flourish and adapt long after we leave.
We are active everyday at camp, from feeding our composting worms to mapping and assessing sites for future projects. Many volunteers find their time in the nursery, or mulching garden beds, or helping in our neighbor's rice harvest, the highlight of their time in Takure.
The hills of Takure rest at 1400 meters, a wonderful location for organic, shade grown coffee plants. Just a short walk away in a neighboring village is a thriving 65 member coffee cooperative, where Lycee fruit and nitrogen-fixing trees shade the coffee bushes and tumeric, ginger and cardomom grow between the coffee. Our large greenhouse has been home to 10,000 organic coffee seedlings since last June, and in a few months we plan to distribute these to local farmers, along with a variety of trees and perennials, to help restore topsoil, minimize eroision and landslides, and create long-term, cooperatively-managed income soruces for generations to come. We are greatful to the many active Nepali organizations supporting organic coffee, including the Coffee Cooperative Union, Sindhupalchok and Beautiful Coffee Nepal.