In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015, a budding nonprofit and a local Coca-Cola bottler turned their attention to a marginalized and completely devastated village on the outskirts of Kathmandu. With a project built on hope and hard work, they’ve created a communal bond. So far, it’s working.

The dismal sky that hung motionless over the rolling hills of Lalitpur, the Nepali district directly southeast of Kathmandu, didn’t match the sentiment of the few dozen villagers of Bhurunchuli gathered at the hilltop that overlooks their nascent community.

Their village is slowly but surely coming back to life, and they can feel it. One of the group’s elders sat next to the foundation pit of what will soon be a new padhero (a private bathhouse), the likes of which haven’t existed in this village before. He waited calmly, surrounded by an air of anticipation of men, women and children huddled under a temporary shelter as the rain picked up. Then he looked down at verses that filled the slips of paper in his lap and began to chant.

The Buddhist ritual is a tradition that precedes many of this group’s construction projects. One by one, community members knelt down and spread the first layer of mortar, each addition meriting a resounding cheer. The date was Sept. 12, 2016, exactly 16 months after the second earthquake that rocked Kathmandu Valley just 17 days after the initial shock.

No more than 50 feet from the ceremonial ground, in the shelter of a newly built house, we met Aanand Mishra, CEO and founder of the Kathmandu-based nonprofit CREASION (Center for Research and Sustainable Development in Nepal) and one of the first responders to the disaster last year. Before the Bhurunchuli project Rebuild for Change launched in response to the quake, Mishra spent 10 years encouraging Nepali youth to act on their passion for their communities by volunteering at CREASION.

The April 25 earthquake struck at 11:56 a.m. By 2 p.m., the CREASION team was providing relief to as many people as they could. According to Mishra, Bhurunchuli looked like no less than Syria in the aftermath of its civil war.

“Everything was gone,” Mishra said. “The way the young people reacted… that was the beauty of the Nepali people.”

In the middle of a country still struggling to bounce back from what is widely considered the greatest tragedy in the nation’s history, Bhurunchuli has become an intersection of engagement between companies Bottlers Nepal Limited (BNL) and Rotary Club of Jawalahkel, 11-year-old CREASION, and 395 hardworking villagers who are demonstrating the effectiveness of smart partnership. It’s also a testament to the growth that can happen when communities take ownership of their own development. For the small NGO just over a decade old, the project is something of an experiment. In addition to the 55 houses it plans to build by 2017 (24 of which are finished), Rebuild for Change will be CREASION’s first test with this kind of padhero.

According to Mishra, Bhurunchuli is also “one of the first model communities where everything is planned according to the law and code and conduct of the government of Nepal.”

For BNL, the local Coca-Cola bottler in Kathmandu and one of CREASION’s partners in Rebuild for Change, it’s an opportunity to provide a holistic perspective to the village’s revitalization plan. When the CREASION-BNL partnership began a few months after the disaster, it was clear that the community’s health would be a central piece to its overall success—in education, infrastructure and social life. Individuals at BNL observed a need for safe water and sanitation, an initiative that, at the time, had yet to be taken. Before the earthquake, not a single house in Bhurunchuli had bathing facilities. Shree Bhimsen, the local secondary school, also lacked the resources for proper sanitation, forcing many girls to drop out of school at a young age.

BNL began supporting CREASION in its goal to complete the padhero and build new bathrooms at Shree Bhimsen, both of which the organization aims to finish by 2017.

“The water and sanitation aspect...is critical to the community as part of behavioral change,” said Irina Karki Gurung of BNL. “We could see CREASION delivering results and since the houses were in the process of being built, BNL wanted to enhance this good work.”

Rebuilding Bhurunchuli

Aanand Mishra, CEO and founder of CREASION, christens the foundation of a new padhero (bathhouse) in Bhurunchuli. The padhero, a joint project by CREASION, Bottlers Nepal Limited, and the people of Bhurunchuli will give the village safe water access and function as a private bathing place for the community’s 154 women.

 

 

A Village on the Verge

Bhurunchuli is a small village inhabited by the Tamang people, a largely Buddhist group indigenous to the Himalayan regions of Nepal. It’s also a group whose social and geographical marginalization has contributed to its people taking an even harder hit from the earthquake than urban dwellers who had access to resources and aid that flowed, however slowly, from Kathmandu. Gurung says that although most relief efforts were focused on the Kathmandu Valley after the quake, a lot of people bringing assistance to the valley hadn’t reached these small villages. In fact, some of the most devastated regions were inhabited heavily by Tamangs; according to some estimates, they accounted for approximately a third of the more than 8,000 people who died in the earthquake.

The tendency among small Tamang groups to reside in the undeveloped outskirts of cities like Kathmandu also means that necessities such as safe water access are hard to come by. Mali Gole, one of the older villagers, has long been accustomed to waking up at 3 a.m. to collect water from a source located a half-hour walk down a rugged dirt road so she can arrive before the wait becomes painfully long. The water source that she and the rest of her village use is shared by four different communities, and Gole needs to access it at least twice a day.

When monsoon season is over and the padhero is built (construction projects in Nepal usually don’t commence until the after the months of heavy rainfall have passed), that will change. And aside from being a much-needed source of drinking water for the impoverished village, the padhero will serve as a community haven for the village’s 154 women. It isn’t uncommon for women in poverty-stricken regions of Nepal to be devoid of privacy when they bathe; after the earthquake, women often had no choice but to wash themselves in public. For many of them, along with that lack of privacy comes a certain level of isolation.

“Unfortunately in our country, talking about menstruation is taboo,” Mishra said. “You have to engage women. After the earthquake, I saw all these women taking baths in public…so we thought ‘how about building a public space that’s covered so that men cannot see women taking baths?’ It’s a big problem in Nepal. It’s impossible to put a toilet and bathroom in every house because they don’t have land. So how about a community place?”

In addition to the community bathhouse, CREASION, with aid from BNL, is investing in Shree Bhimsen, where much of Bhurunchuli’s next generation is being cultivated. The absence of clean toilets and hand-washing facilities has for years been a roadblock for student health and ultimately, academic potential. Now, BNL is partnering with CREASION in constructing boys’ and girls’ bathrooms for 325 students and 20 teachers at the secondary school, which will be completed in 2017.

Rebuilding Bhurunchuli

A villager performs a Buddhist ritual as the foundation of the new padhero is laid. Construction of the new bathhouse will begin in at the end of monsoon season, which usually lasts through the month of September.

 


Building Trust

It didn’t take long for Mishra and his team to form a unique bond with Bhurunchuli. CREASION is a small organization and didn’t have the resources to provide widespread relief in Nepal following the earthquake. But as soon as they started working with the villagers, Mishra says his team believed they could make an impact there. CREASION began its post-earthquake construction phase in the village by building temporary metal shelters and toilets, but the team’s ultimate goal was to provide the people of Bhurunchuli with the resources to succeed for themselves. Preeti Tamang, one of the younger women in the village, remembers the realization she had of how rapidly her community had been devastated. The earthquake lasted less than a minute, but when she walked outside, she saw that almost every house had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Preeti also points out that she “can’t stress enough how pushy (CREASION) was to get this project done.”

Mishra has been at the helm of CREASION ever since he founded the organization in 2005, long enough to see the results of failed post-disaster housing projects in India and Haiti where newly built homes were left empty and unwanted by the people who were supposed to live in them. CREASION knew they needed Burunchuli’s residents to take ownership of rebuilding their own homes. The self-reliance that the CREASION team has instilled in the tight-knit community has not only allowed them to move forward but has begun to change the way the village perceives itself, a vital element of the model of sustainable living that CREASION and the villagers are forming. Preeti Tamang goes so far as to say that the earthquake has given her people an opportunity to improve their lives. As devastating as last year’s tragedy was for Bhurunchuli, Rebuild for Change has given the community a vitality that didn’t exist before the earthquake.

“We’ve involved them from the very beginning—to dig the foundation, to make the roof, to make the bricks and everything,” Mishra said. “In that way, they will attach in the process. Now they feel like ‘This is our house.’”

Aside from the 24 completed homes in Bhurunchuli, 10 are halfway finished, and eight more foundations have been laid. The houses, which each cost about $5,000 to build, feature more stable and resilient construction than previous homes, including metal beams that run through each column of bricks in the walls and four-layer stone foundations at a meter deep, elements of an improved design developed by project architect Aanand Gupta.

It’s nearly impossible to predict when another earthquake might occur in Nepal, but some experts believe that with the current stress on the Nepal fault line, the Kathmandu Valley is more likely to see another one in the coming years or decades rather than centuries.

Mishra and his team aim to finish construction of the padhero, 55 houses and sanitation facilities at Shree Bhimsen by the end of 2017. If CREASION can reach their funding target of $600,000 (the first $350,000 was donated by Rotary Club of Jawalahkel), they’ll continue to expand their system of regrowth in Bhurunchuli beyond their current building projects, bolstering education, health, micro-entrepreneurship, and providing solar lighting.

“Once we are gone, we want the community to become self-reliant,” Mishra says. “A lot can be done, even if it’s a small amount of money.”

From Their Perspective

Read the personal accounts from our journalists as they write about our trek by searching #NepalNow on social media and by checking out their stories below:

Amy Bellgardt, Mom Spark

Mary Edwards, Go Adventure Mom

Leanette Fernandez, Funtastic Life

Jennifer Howze, Brit Mums

Jennifer James, Social Good Moms

Adva Saldinger, Devex Impact

Christine Young, From Dates to Diapers