Taking Time to Learn in Nepal

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu

Contributed by Paul Wilson

It’s been 2 weeks, nearly to the day, since I returned from Nepal while I am writing this -although it’s hard to tell precisely given this is the third time zone I’ve been in during that time- but I do know that I’m 2 weeks late in writing this blog. Admitting my tardiness is exactly why the experience of the RMS Impact Trek is of such value. We all have day jobs and commitments that absorb most of our time and it is a rare opportunity to be able to step outside our daily routine, to learn about something new, experience a new part of the world and talk with people whose passion and commitment to the work they do might just inspire us to try and contribute however we can and perhaps challenge our own routine or ways of thinking more often.

Build Change has been the cornerstone of RMS’s CSR agenda for the past 4 years, starting with Impact Treks in Haiti, moving last year to Nepal. We’ve also just announced our continued support for the work Build Change do over the next 5 years. The annual RMS Impact Trek is an opportunity for RMS employees, and for the first time this year RMS clients, to see first-hand the work that Build Change does, see first-hand the way they approach building resilience, supporting and empowering a network of organisations, working directly with local communities, promoting the idea of home-owner driven rebuild and retrofit as well as engaging with the government and local authorities not just in Nepal but in all the countries in which they work.

Each of my fellow Trekkers is writing about their experiences and thoughts on the work Build Change do so I wanted to try a present an overview of our time in Nepal. Most of the 8 trekkers arrived in Nepal on Sunday the 5th and spent that afternoon seeing the some of the world-famous sites in Kathmandu such as Pashupatinath Temple and Bouddhanath Stupaa, and also just getting to know each other. On Monday morning, we climbed into the two 4x4s that world carry us around for the next few days and headed to the Build Change office to meet with Noll, the country director in Nepal who would be our host for the week. We spent the morning talking and learning about the earthquake nearly 2 years back, the work that Build Change do, how they operate both immediately following disasters through to the years of reconstruction that follow. I think it’s fair to say all of us were shocked by the scale of the problem the country still faces. That afternoon it was off to the field, driving out of Kathmandu to Dolalghat, we were to stay for the next 2 nights in a small guest house on the Araniko Highway. Build Change rent out the whole building for all their employees who spend much of their time in the field. The next day we headed to across the river Indrawati to Bhimtar and Eklephant (Sangachok region) both nearly completely destroyed by the earthquake to see Build Change’s work in action, visit construction in progress, walk around the villages to see how people now lived, talk to engineers, other NGOs and locals alike.

Working on site for construction

People working on construction sites.

We returned to our guest house late in the afternoon talk over our experiences and for the brave few of us to swim in the very cold Indrawati – much to the amusement of the locals, who explained only children swim in Nepal. The following day we would we would return to Sangachok visiting a local school and a technical resource centre Build Change has set up and talk to more of the local community. That afternoon we returned to Kathmandu where we would spend the next two days in the Build Change office, meeting more of the team, learning about the work they are doing with the civil engineering department at the local university, meeting with visitors to their office, talking with staff and volunteers on a wide range of topics from their use of drone and areal Imagery to micro-planning of the villages they work within. It was in this last discussion, talking with Adam a volunteer at Build Change, that really struck me. Adam showed me the images I’ve include below. This is Bhimtar, a place I’d walked through just a few days before, before and after the earthquake. It struck me how the entire layout and structure of the village has changed, temporary housing sprawls out around where the houses once stood – to me this really highlights how Build Change aren’t just focused on building back stronger more resilient houses but in working with the local community rebuild their future and make the most of the resources they have.

The final weekend was spent seeing more of Nepal; visiting Bhaktapur, hiking to Namo Buddha Monestary (a unique opportunity to see inside a Monastery with young Buddhist Monks performing their daily rituals) and hiking back down in the mud and rain. The final Sunday also provided the opportunity for us all to see and take part in Holi, the Hindu spring festival, also known as the “festival of colours” which the photos of us smiling while covered in paint and water show is very appropriately named. 

The energy, enthusiasm and hospitality of the Build Change team during this entire trip was inspiring. The work they are doing is impacting directly the lives of those whose homes they are helping to rebuild but they also have a much bigger vision – attempting to change the opinion and operation of disaster relief and response to put retrofitting and home-owner led engagement at the front of the agenda. It was a privilege to take part in this years impact trek and to see how Build Change aligns with RMS’s own goals of helping to create resilience to natural disasters.