Brick by brick…
(Written by Steph)
Our first day back from our trek, we decided to stay at the guesthouse where the day volunteers had their meetings. At 7am we were dressed and psyched up for a full on day. By 8am, we were back in bed. It seems they had too many volunteers. Not a bad problem to have! Still, we signed up for the next day, a Wednesday, and were happy to get going. Our first project? The name was “One Home”. Well, one’s better than none, right? The other projects were “Rubble” (clearing the debris from people’s collapsed homes) And “50 Homes,” which was a rebuild project, funnily enough, creating 50 new homes. So what was special about the “One Home” project? Apart from our amazing brick laying skills, you mean…
The difference between this house, and the other 50 homes was exactly that – this was the only house where All Hands would lay bricks. Technically, this was not allowed; the government had specified that all houses built by NGOs should be “temporary,” until they could approve new-build designs*. From what I have read, I don’t believe this is expected to happen until the end of the year, when the government is due to release its national reconstruction plan. There are, of course, reasons to ensure new buildings adhear to safety measures, especially given the circumstances. However, over 500,000 homes were completely destroyed; this was a time when the Nepalese people needed their government to act quickly on their behalfs. Their failure to do so echoed what we had heard so many Nepalese people tell us – their government were lacking – either in compassion, or competence. No one could really decide.
*Another government requirement of the “temporary” homes, were that they had to have two rooms with no adjoining door – not for comfort, but to segregate the women when they have their period. Many NGOs are working hard to increase awareness and education regarding such issues.
So, day one and we were breaking the government’s rules. Doesn’t sound like us. 😉 Actually that’s because this lady was deemed a very special case by All Hands. At 11 years of age she married. Young to be a bride. At 11 years of age her husband died. Even younger to be a widow. As women are rarely allowed to remarry, she essentially became a societal outcast at this point. When All Hands found her, she was an old lady, who had survived through sustenance farming, but had never had an income. Following the earthquakes, and after being dug out from her own house, which took over an hour, she was badly injured and living with chickens in some kind of coup for shelter. Before the earthquakes she was marginalised; now, she was in a truly dire situation. For her, it was worth a bit rule breaking.
Only an hour in and we were mixing cement and laying bricks – something that takes several years to learn in England. And yep, there’s a reason for that. We used the pole and string method to measure upwards and outwards, in the hope that the house would not be dubbed The Leaning Tower of Kathmandu once we had finished, and we were semi-successful, although not to my usual obsessive standards. I tried desperately to get the bricks looking neat, my OCD preventing me from being the speediest of construction workers. Not that I should have worried – as I looked around at the other houses, it was pretty obvious that aesthetics were not top priority here. Function was key, and at least with bricks and concrete, the building had some hope of remaining standing.