RMS Impact Trek: Day 3 – Retrofits in Dhunkarka

By Alastair Norris

We are now all completely submerged in Nepali time and the first four days have quickly slipped by providing in a huge mix of emotions. I completely echo the words of Christine and Matt on how much of a culture shock it was arriving in Kathmandu four days ago, but what once seemed so strange to us all now feels like the normal way of life.

As Christine mentioned in her blog, the five of us parted company yesterday, with Matt B. and I heading to Dhunkarka whilst Christine, Meghan, and Matt N. went to Sindupalchowk. After 3 hours of travelling (that felt more like riding an elephant than being in a jeep) we arrived at Build Change’s current retrofit houses in the region and were greeted by Kiran and Manoj, the respective site managers. At 25 and 27 they both have solid heads on their shoulders and are each leading a team of 6 workers from the village.The workers all want to learn how to retrofit these buildings so they can provide safer homes to more families in the community and it was very heartwarming to hear the pride they have in working for Build Change.

These houses were chosen for retrofitting by the local village council due to both the damage level sustained, enough to require retrofit but not enough for rebuilding, and the financial position for the family. They are typical buildings of the area consisting of 3 floors with approx 120m2 of floor area – the first for living, the second sleeping, and third for storage of crops. The retrofit includes a number of structural alterations, including new columns and beams to tie the walls and floors together – these can be either wood or concrete, through stones connecting the inner and outer leaves of the wall to ensure they do not separate in an earthquake, horizontal bracing within the floor to restrain the walls further and a ring beam at the top of the house to hold the walls together. The build time for these houses is 8 to 12 weeks, which is unbelievably fast given everything that they have to get done and means a lot of hours spent on site, even requiring them to work every weekend! Seeing these buildings has allowed us to identify a number of small projects where we may be able to help Build Change streamline their designs. These incorporate a number of structural alterations to maintain the high standard of retrofitting whilst reducing the amount of material used and thereby the cost. We intend to work on these further both during our time here in Nepal and when we return to RMS.

Now for the more social side of our time in Dhunkarka! We have met some truly wonderful people and have been amazed by the hospitality of everyone here. So often we have wandered into a local villager’s house to be met by smiles and the offering of food and tea… Back at home we would be phoning the police before they even crossed the threshold! The two Build Change site engineers have been brilliant in helping us explore the place, introducing us to the locals and initiating us in their local Nepali cuisine. Enjoying a beer and Mo Mo’s (a Nepalese food similar to a gyoza) with them in a tiny bar whilst swapping stories about our hobbies, Build Change and the earthquake, was a moment in time I will never forget.

Since arriving in Nepal my overall feeling is of surprise by the slow recovery process that has happened since the earthquake. However, with organisations like Build Change and the Nepali people joining forces, it feels like there is real progress being made. Given time, who knows what can be achieved – especially if you listen to Noll! I know that I speak for all the Trekkers in saying that we hope being here can help them along that journey.