Building the School, Starting on New Year’s Day

On our first morning in the Village, New Year’s Day, we started off with our daily Yoga practice from 6:30 – 7:30 am with a local “Yogi” that BuildOn brought in to lead our practice each day. This was outside on a tarp, and although it began in the dark, it afforded us the luxury of watching the sunrise each day mid way through Yoga. Let’s just say that it was very different than what many of us were used to from our Western Yoga classes, but we grew to love the Yogi and his quirky ways!

What ended up being a great perk is that many villagers (children and adults), joined us each morning for Yoga, and it was a really wonderful way to start the day. Also, we’re pretty sure the morning Yoga helped to keep us limber and was the reason our bodies ached a lot less than we expected after the grueling work on the school site!

One thing our Yogi would have us do every day towards the end of our session was “laughing yoga”, where you first laugh with your mouth closed, then with your teeth together, and then open mouth laughing. Of course we would all be cracking up by the end! We loved seeing and hearing the village children giggle. By the second morning, Desmond couldn’t help himself and got up once it was light enough to get some photos! And of course, getting photos of sunrise as well.


We would watch the sunrise every morning during Yoga.


A peaceful way to start the day


Someone’s a little tired!


Ella is very serious.


Lions Breath


And then cracking up during “Laughing Yoga” 🙂


The girls watching the boys crack up!


Too funny!

After Yoga, we were given a hearty breakfast prepared by our BuildOn cook. BuildOn provided breakfast and lunch for us every day, but dinner was spent with our host families. We ate very well during our time in the village, and all of the food (all vegetarian) was incredibly delicious! One of the favorite treats during each meal was Nepalese Chai, which we drank up in large quantities!


Our breakfast and lunch spot


Freshly made bread is so yummy. All of our meals were made on an open wood fire!


The delicious Chai



Work on the construction site started at 8:30 each morning and we would start with everyone gathering in a circle (including our team, BuildOn staff, and the local villagers who had come out to work on the school). Some words were shared (and translated) by people on both sides, and again the villagers shared their gratitude for their new school (cue more tears for Roxy!). We ended the circle with a cheer that would be lead by one person from our group and one villager.

The site was already marked up to show where we needed to dig the foundation, needing to dig 14 holes, each 6 ft deep by 6 ft square, as well as 2 ft wide by 2 ft deep by 10 foot long trenches running between them all.

There were different tasks that we could each do, such as digging, shoveling, carrying (rocks, sand, rebar), stacking bricks, and actually tying the rebar. We would work on the job site from 8:30 to 12:30 and it was some of the hardest, most backbreaking work that any of us had ever done. The ground was very dry and hard and it was definitely not an easy task to break up the earth and then shovel it out….especially using the oversized hoes that the village provided to do all the digging.



The first day’s construction begins.


Digging was not easy since the earth was very hard and dry.


We had to dig 14 different 6′ x 6′ x 6′ deep holes plus 2′ x 2′ x 8′ trenches connecting them all as part of the foundation.



Nothing is Impossible!

We were sweating in the hot sun and exhausted not long after starting, but watching how hard the villagers worked, especially the women who kicked our asses in their level of strength and stamina, kept us going! We couldn’t be more proud of Evan and Ella for getting in there and working so incredibly hard doing all the same labor as the adults. We honestly didn’t know how they were going to handle this, because it really was back breaking work. Even the fittest of our group were feeling incredibly fatigued at the end of 4 hours, but we did it as a group and were extremely gratified to see the great progress being made each day.

At 12:30 we would break for a delicious lunch, prepared by the BuildOn cook, who always cooked on an open fire with the help of a few village women. While eating lunch, we would not only get to know each other better, but would also have discussions about our thoughts on the work we were doing and the experiences we were having in the evenings while we were all apart in our separate houses with our separate host families.

After lunch, the second half of our day was dedicated to cultural exchange experiences with some of the villagers, but the locals on the work site worked all day.

Our first cultural exchange experience was “fishing”. A group of local villagers (mostly woman and the village chief) walked us through a part of the village we had yet to see, with beautiful green fields, mountain views and finally to a small river. It was obvious that the water levels were typically much higher, but we were there during the dry months…..but there was still enough water for fishing! The villagers in our group went down to the river with some nets and then got in the water. Their technique was to walk as a group through the river, with the net spread out in order to catch the fish. Sadly, most of the people in our BuildOn group, including us, didn’t feel comfortable going down in the river because several of us had heard horror stories about bacteria and hook worms which could be caught when going in rivers in Asia and SE Asia and the terrible illness that came as a result. Better safe than sorry is the motto we chose to go by in this case! Although we felt bad not helping, it was still lovely to walk along side the river, watching and interacting with those in the water, and taking in the beautiful sites. We met other villagers, water buffalo and cows along the way, and as always many photos were taken!






Checking for fish.


And the reward…tiny fish!


Woman bathing in river. Remember, no plumbing in the village.


Girl swinging the day’s catch.


Naturally, Desmond was loving the photo opps!


One of the great parts of this afternoon, on the way to the river and back, was a chance to see some scenes from typical village life.


Can you spot the 7 women in this photo?!


Deep thoughts…


Prepping for dinner.



Village traffic


After a good mile and a half of walking in and along side the river, we headed back to the village to go back to our respective family homes for a shower (outside, with a cold bucket of water!), dinner and (usually) games….typically not seeing each other again until morning.

Playing games in the evenings with the families and local, neighboring kids, was definitely a highlight. Playing Jenga or Uno would never cease to evoke squeals, giggles, huge smiles and lots of laughter!



Playing Jenga by the light of our solar lantern.

By the way, in regards to the New Year, given the Nepalese aren’t on our calendar year, we didn’t do anything for New Year’s eve. I think we were all in bed by 9pm! However, actual New Year’s in San Francisco was at 1:45pm Nepalese time on this day and given we were just finishing lunch at that point, we made a point to celebrate it then. Ella and Lilian (an architect) came up with the idea of doing a human 2017! They sketched it all out and assigned each person a position. It took some time but we sort of got it right 🙂


Happy 2017! May it be filled with as much joy and fun as we experienced in Nepal.

Arriving in the village of Nimuwaboji, Nepal

We wanted to share a bit more info regarding Nepal to help set the stage for why we are here and how our efforts with BuildOn Nepal will hopefully be impactful.

Nepal has a population of 28 million people. Although Nepal’s ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index has steadily improved over the last ten years, a quarter of the population remains below the poverty line of US $1.25 a day. Before Nepal’s revolution in 1950, only one child in 100 attended school. Today, the total adult literacy rate in Nepal is just over 50% nationally, but in rural communities the illiteracy rate is still near 80%.

The village Where we’re heading  to is called Nimuwabojhi and is located in the far western region of Nepal in the Kailali district, near the city of Dhangadhi. We’ve learned that there are currently about 182 students enrolled at the current school (102 girls and 80 boys). They currently have 2 proper classrooms and four temporary structures.

While here, we’ll be living along side the Tharu and Kshetri people, where the majority of the people are Hindu and Christian. In this region, most people generate income as construction workers or foreigner laborers in India. Many grow crops such as rice, wheat and maize.

Because of the generosity of everyone who helped us to raised funds for this school, the people of Nimuwabojhi will have increased access to education that will help effect positive change in the lives of children, parents, and grandparents for generations. Each new school helps Nepal increase literacy rates one community at a time.

On the morning of December 31st, after some additional language lessons, we boarded the BuildOn “Party Bus” in Dhangadhi to make the 90 minute journey to Nimuwaboji (the village where we would be building the new school). Before leaving, we decided to take a group photo in our BuildOn shirts and when asked where would be the best place to take a group photo, Desmond suggested we climb on top of the bus (not thinking they would really go for it), but the Trek leaders offered to go up in the hotel balcony several stories up and get a shot from above, while we were on the roof of the bus!


On the BuildOn Bus ready to head to our village!


Supachart and Ryan, our Super Star Trek leaders!

En route to the village, we stopped on the side of a rural road for a picnic lunch of delicious Momos (Nepalese dumplings) and Samosas. While having our lunch, we really enjoyed watching the locals going by on their bicycles and Ox carts…and I think the locals that were waiting on the side of the road for their bus, found us very interesting as well! Now this was rural Nepal.


Helen and Ella. Helen and I actually met right around Ella’s age!


The villagers waiting on the side of the road for the bus.


Evan’s just chillin’ out on top of the bus!


A little entertainment to go with our picnic lunch!

After lunch, is wasn’t long before we turned off the main road to head in to the village. After driving down a narrow dirt road with simple houses on either side, cows in the road, woman carrying large objects on their heads, and locals squatting by open fires, we arrived at the school work site, to see a large crowd of kids and adults waiting for us.

We knew there would be a ground breaking and signing of the covenant (agreement between the villagers and BuildOn for the completion of the school) but we didn’t realize there would be such a warm welcome by the whole village, as well as such an elaborate ceremony (it certainly surpassed our expectations)! The whole village, including dignitaries from ministry of education of Nepal, as well as the principal of the current school came out to thank us.



Our BuildOn Team

There were many speeches and performances all in our honor. It was incredibly touching because it was clear that the whole community had gone to a great deal of effort to welcome us. They shared their gratitude with us for giving them a new school, and it made for an emotional time for everyone in our group. It’s fair to say that some tears were shed! During several of the traditional dances, our BuildOn group was pulled onto the make shift stage to join in with the locals. It was just amazing!


Teenage dancers performing traditional Tharu dance


More dancing


Young Dancers


The view from our special tent.

The Nepalese people are incredibly warm and kind, and they exude a certain type of joy that we just don’t see often in America. It was incredible being there with them and watching the activity and beautiful people around us!


The final part of the ceremony was the signing of the Covenant.  The Covenant is a solemn promise between BuildOn and each village outlining their respective contributions to the projects and embodies the consensus of an entire community and for many of the women in the village, it will be the first time they have been asked to sign their name.

BuildOn contributes the engineering, materials, skilled labor, and project supervision. Each village provides the land, local materials such as sand, and the unskilled labor to build the school. Additionally, every village promises to send girls and boys to school in equal numbers.

This literally meant that all of us, (BuildOn group and every villager in attendance) came up to sign the agreement.


The local build on team explained the covenant to the villagers before the signing ceremony began. Jharana holds up posters illustrating each step while Priyanka speaks.


The villagers listening.


And the signing begins.


Patiently waiting in line


After about 4 hours of speeches and performances (we were told it would be 2 hours!) we walked over to the site where the new school would be built. Fortunately it’s right next to the current school.

The dignitaries did a formal blessing of the land and the ground breaking was done. Each of our group was given the responsibility to dig out a bit of earth, using a hoe. Many photos were taken! 😉



The blessing by our Yogi (in the middle) and dignitaries.


Evan’s turn to break the ground. Everyone in our group had a turn.

Speaking of photos, one thing that took us by great surprise is the number of phones that the villagers had. Keep in mind, this is a community that does not have running water, and (seemingly) only occasionally has electricity. For example on our first night, our host family had lights in their home. But pretty much each night after electricity was not available, so we relied on lanterns.

Anyway, it was funny to see so many people (especially the teenagers!) with their smart phones, taking photos and videos of us. And as soon as we were accessible we were swarmed by people asking for “selfies”. Oh, and some of the teenage boys were doing non-stop selfies of themselves with a selfie stick. It was just hilarious, and such a crazy juxtaposition of rural and modern life!

I think we were all surprised by this, but loved the opportunity to take photos (we got a bunch as well of course) with the locals. Needless to say, over the next few days we got a crash course in understanding what if feels like to be a celebrity!


These two and their friends took selfies with each other through most of the ceremony. They had us cracking up 🙂


The paparazzi!



After the formalities were over, we got to meet our host families, which were the villagers who had kindly offered to open their homes to us. Desmond and Evan went off to one home as Ella and Roxy went to another….this being because, no one had enough extra room to host all four of us.

Right away, it was clear that Roxy and Ella had lucked out with their host family. We were told to refer to our families as parents, brother and sister, and we needed to learn the appropriate Tharu terms for each. Their host Daiee (mother) was incredibly sweet and was one of the women who had performed in one of the dances. She has the most incredible smile and truly took care of us. The host dad was not there as he worked in India during non-harvest season, as it seems many of the male villagers did to bring in extra money. They also had a 13 year old daughter and a 9 year old son. They also had two 3 month old baby goats, an Ox, a dog and the cutest little puppy!

Desmond and Evan’s host family ended up being related to Roxy and Ella’s, and was just 3 houses down. There was the father, wife (who was very pregnant) and a 3 year old son. They were also very kind, but not as interactive as Roxy and Ella’s family. However, their evenings were spent primarily with numerous kids that lived in nearby houses (mostly nieces, nephews and cousins), that would stop by and play the games we brought and introduced them to (Jenga and Uno).

The same games were also played at Roxy and Ella’s homes, but they got the special treat of sitting around the fire with the family, and the many other family members and visitors who stopped by every evening as well. There were only a couple of the teenagers who spoke a bit of English but overall, but the games proved to be a HUGE hit, evoking so much laughter, smiles and giddiness……all successfully played without needing a common language. Playing games together was the best feeling!

Our accommodations were actually much better than we had expected in that we each received our own rooms, with platforms that we put our sleeping bags on. Given there was no insulation in these homes made with mud walls and dirt floors, and open between the top of the wall and the roof, it got to be incredibly cold at night so we all slept fully clothed each night (some of us even with fleece sweaters, jackets, warm socks and hats on).


Evan with our in home chicken that we affectionately named “El Diablo” (aka Our last night’s dinner)

And of course, being that there is no running water, there was also no bathroom in the house, just the outhouse, which was a very small room with a squat toilette. Roxy and Ella’s was right next to the house, but Desmond and Evan’s was about 100 feet away around a barn and another small house, on the edge of the field. To use the toilet, you would also have to make sure to stop at the hand pump to pump some water in to a container to take with you and use it to flush your “business” down.

For showering, BuildOn asked each host family to create a make shift shower for us. This basically consisted of a large piece of black tarp that was wrapped around the family water pump (to give us privacy) and a bucket to catch water in. And of course, it was only cold water that came out of that hand pump! We felt bad that they were going to so much trouble for our sake, but the BuildOn staff assured us that the villagers were more than happy to do all this preparation and give up the very limited space in their homes for us as they were very grateful for us giving them a new school for their children.

Again, their warmth and generosity was incredible. Each day after lunch, we would have a discussion about the days events and different topics. One of those days, we talked about the definition of “poverty”.

This community is what westerners would call poor, however they were culturally rich in ways that we completely lack, especially in larger cities, in America. What they lacked was opportunities and the education that would help to create those opportunities in the long run…and that is the essence of why we were there. It was clear though, that the people were happy and had a very solid and supportive community! Ella commented very early on about everyone being so happy and that it would actually be nice to live such a simple life, surrounded by so much family and friends, and all of the animals. We all certainly agreed. Less is often more and it was a great lesson for us to take away from this experience.