By Marie Meenan
Above the Clouds During my First Field Visit to Syangja
I was initiated into Nepal with a field visit to the Syangja district to witness the work that Build Change are conducting. There I was blown away by the breathtaking views. Each site boasted a unique scenery, every new location as stunning as the last. Trees cascaded down the mountains, the sun pierced the clouds and rhododendrons dotted the paths. We arrived at one site above the clouds and left after they dispersed, revealing the impressive valley below. I was in awe of the sights that the owners of these homes witness every day.
The views, however, weren’t the only thing that fascinated me. At each site, I was intrigued by the large number of female masonry trainees. Having studied mechanical engineering, I am starkly aware of the disparity between males and females in engineering and construction, and so the number of women I witnessed on sites was heartening. Speaking to Build Change engineers in the field, I discovered that there is high male migration into Kathmandu and out of the country. This obviously contributes to the significance of women in reconstruction after the 2015 earthquakes, but I wanted to know more. As Nepal is a very patriarchal society, women’s roles have little perceived value, despite obvious and vital contributions. When I requested data from the Vulnerable Family Assistance and Training (VFAST) and Socio-Technical Facilitation and Consultation (STFC) projects, I discovered that female trainees amounted to 64% and 35% of the totals respectively, both far surpassing the target for female masonry trainees set by the government (which is a mere 10%). This sparked a curiosity in me which brought me to the field to interview trainees, past and present.
A Group of Interviewees from Dolokha
In Nuwakot and Dolokha, the districts where the VFAST and STFC projects were located, I conducted a number of interviews. The women there praised the training, saying it brought them the opportunity to learn a skill, something which many of them reported they had never been given the chance to do before. Many of their husbands were working abroad, but all were supported by their families. Many of these women speculated that family pressure may discourage more women from taking part, with one woman even commenting that women from more economically stable families may not feel the need to participate in income-generating activities. These women were different though. They were all motivated to develop a skill of any kind, exercising their abilities to earn a wage, contributing to the economy of their villages, and gaining independence.
The role of women in disaster recovery and prevention is paramount. Too often, needs in these highly stressful situations are generalised, and women’s unique requirements are neglected. This is particularly short-sighted seeing as women and vulnerable people are disproportionately affected by disasters, whether it be in terms of mortality, or post- disaster, when the risk for human trafficking rises. The unique dangers women face are further exacerbated by gendered roles, where many women perform domestic activities inside vulnerable houses prone to damage and collapse. It is therefore crucial that women are given opportunities to gain independence. The substantial role women play in the reconstruction and retrofitting projects conducted by Build Change gives them this opportunity.
Laxmi, a training participant and interviewee from Charghare, Nuwakot
Maya, a training participant and interviewee from Nuwakot
My time in Nepal has been an unmatched adventure. Spending 5 months away from my friends and family, with an unfamiliar cuisine in a vastly different culture has awakened me to a diversity I am lucky to have experienced. I witnessed Nepal’s new year (the fifth new year to be celebrated that year) where young men pulled a colossal pole to the ground with ropes within an unmoving crowd in Bhaktapur, and tried traditional Newari food in Kirtupur (leaf tripe bag with bone marrow and chilled intestine).
I travelled on some of the most dangerous roads in the world, which felt like a three-hour ride on an old roller coaster. I para-glided in Pokhara over the famous lake with mountain views, which I can only describe as a seat in the sky. I camped beside the Trishuli River and stopped off during a site visit in an orange grove. We were engulfed by the citrusy smell and I was amazed by how the extensive grove was hidden by a modest home.
Masses of People Celebrating Nepal New Year
Men Sorting Oranges at the Huge Orange Grove on my Way Back from My First Field Visit
The View From Kirtipur Where I Tried the Newari Food
Celebrating Holi- The Festival of Colour
During Holi, the festival of colour, we were bombarded by children throwing water balloons and everyone smearing colourful powders on our faces. At a field visit to Kavrepalanchok, we stopped at the Namo Buddha Monastery and Stupa, where a reincarnation of Buddha supposedly gave his flesh to a starving tiger.
Every day boasted a colourful sunset, visible from the rooftop of my guesthouse (despite the pollution). The vastness of Kathmandu seemed endless, blanketing the earth with disheveled shapes and uninterrupted colours. Kathmandu’s cacophony of sounds are etched in my ears; dogs barking, incessant horns, and daily parades and weddings. I am sure I will still hear them back home.
I have really adored my time here. The memories I have gained from Nepal are fondly embedded into my life and character, and the experience that volunteering with Build Change has given me will influence my thoughts and decisions for a lifetime.