Building the School

Our first full day in the village started with waking just before dawn (in our dark, electricity-less room), finding our clothes, water bottles, gloves, etc, with the help of our headlamps. Then we headed out into the dawn light to use the outdoor latrine and then make the roughly 10-minute walk over to the BuildOn central meeting area. There we would have a delicious breakfast (which was prepared by the BuildOn chef) while having a brief discussion about the day’s schedule, as well as reminders about staying hydrated and safe on the worksite.

Very shortly after, we started the 5 minute walk to the worksite. Today would be our first workday and we’d start this morning (like every other workday morning) with a big circle that included our team, the BuildOn team and all the villagers that would be working on the site throughout the day. We’d all hold hands in the circle, hear some inspirational words from our translators and do some stretches, which Roxy led the first morning, followed by others from our group on subsequent days. The villagers would always giggle while they stretched, having never done it before!

At the end of our circle time, we all gathered into a tight huddle with everyone’s hands in the middle, where two people in the middle (one person from our group and one villager) would yell “Ino Ndefou” (meaning “we are”), while all the rest of us would respond with either “BuidOn” or the name of the village (Diokoul). We then hit the worksite!

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Ella leading the “Ino Ndefou” chant

On average, we worked from 9am – 1pm, and then we broke for lunch. Long before coming to Senegal, we’d been told (by friends that built a school there last year around the same time of year) that it could be as hot as 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, and we were all a bit worried about doing construction in the blistering sun. Fortunately, though, we got really lucky and the weather was cooler than we had expected, even with a slight breeze blowing from time to time, which was very welcome on the job site!

The school we were building will be a large and airy building with two large classrooms and a separate building that would act as the bathrooms, albeit with squat toilettes, no running water, and no electricity, but still quite nice!

On the worksite, there were various “stations” that we would try to alternate through throughout the day: digging ditches for the school and bathroom foundations, as well as two 6 ft deep septic tanks (using pickax’s or shovels), tying the rebar together that is used as internal structural support within the concrete foundation and columns, making bricks (all the bricks used for the construction were made on-site), and lots and lots of passing of finished bricks and buckets filled with sand, gravel, dirt, and concrete!

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Many of us worked on digging two 6 foot ditches for the septic tank. Not easy!

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Learning to make bricks was really cool!

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It was truly back-breaking work, especially the hours and hours of digging and the making and carrying of hundreds of very heavy bricks. The really wonderful part of this though, is that while working on the job site, we got to work hand in hand and side by side with our adopted families and community…men, women, and children alike! It was truly humbling to see how hard everyone worked. And there was a great spirit of teamwork and fun too!

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“The Donkeys” pulling the cart!

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When people were lined up to pass buckets, often the women would start singing and dancing, which we just loved! And of course, to make it more amazing, many of the women had their babies strapped to their backs while they worked.

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Roxy was so excited to get a chance to carry this little precious baby around for a little while!

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The first few days were during the local kid’s school holiday, so many came out to help as well! I think it’s fair to say that we all fell in love with the children of Diokoul. Their spirit just exuded a pure joy, enthusiasm, and excitement that we rarely see at home and they were just beautiful, all around. Our interactions with the kids are definitely one of the things that we miss most, when thinking back on our experience.

 

Arriving in Diokoul For The School Build

After an early group breakfast, we met to have our pre-trek orientation. At this orientation, we would be discussing what to expect in a “typical day” in the village and on the worksite, including how to stay safe and healthy and how to interact with your host families and the village community in general. We also had a brief session regarding the local language* (which is Seereer), with a booklet and lessons given by our two translators MJ and Bouba. It’s definitely not an easy language to learn and it was a bit of a struggle for some of us to try to memorize many of the words and commonly used phrases prior to our departure.

Here’s an example of a common morning exchange in the Seereer language:

You – Mbaldo (Good Morning)

Them – Feedee Jam (Good Morning)

You – Jam som (Peace only)

Them – Jam rek keey (yes, Peace only)

*one of the things that added an extra challenge to the language is that unlike many other languages, there were different responses to greetings. So if someone says good morning (or afternoon or evening) to you, you have a different response than if you had said good morning first (as opposed to Buenos Dias, or Bonjour for example).

After our morning orientation, we had a couple of hours to pack up, check out, have lunch and take a little bit of time to appreciate the beautiful coastal setting of our hotel, prior to our departure for the village.

With a great deal of excitement and anticipation, we finally loaded up our little bus (throwing all of our backpacks on the roof) and headed off to the village of Diokoul where we would be living for the next several days while taking part in the groundbreaking and initial construction of the school that we had raised money for.

The drive was approximately 2 hours (heading east from the coast) and took us through many small villages and rural areas. As we got closer to where our village was located, there were several times that our driver needed to stop and ask locals for directions to Diokoul!

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The local transportation in all of the smaller villages

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We got a warm welcome even as we stopped to ask for directions to Diokoul!

After several miles along a dirt road, we knew we were finally arriving in our village when we saw a large group of people gathered together, waiting to greet us. As we got closer, we could hear the drums playing and see all the smiling faces. A bunch of the kids were holding handmade signs saying “Welcome” and “BuildOn” and as soon as we stepped off the bus, the dancing started! Of course, Roxy’s tears started to fall right about this time, as it was such a beautiful and heartwarming site!

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We were immediately pulled into the gathering of the villagers, immersing ourselves in’ the celebration!

At the beginning of every BuildOn school build, each village holds an “Opening Ceremony”, welcoming the crew of people that have come to help them build their new school. In addition to performances by the villagers, there are generally speeches from the village leaders welcoming us and sharing their gratitude, as well as speeches from members of our team addressing the villagers with the help of our translators. Desmond and Whitney volunteered to give the speeches representing our fundraising team.

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Desmonds speech

Desmond giving his speech on behalf of our group

The Opening Ceremony is also the time when all of the villagers and all of the BuildOn team sign the covenant. The covenant outlines the requirements of both parties in order to complete the school. BuildOn and sponsors (like us) provide the funding for the materials and oversight of the construction site, and the villagers agree to provide the land and local materials needed to build the school, work on building the school with the BuildOn team until it’s complete, and send an equal number of boys and girls to school. And so we all took turns signing the covenant. In some cases, villagers did not know how to read and write, so they were able to just mark their signature with a thumb print.

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The Village Chief signing the covenant

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Of course, the most fun part of it is listening to all of the traditional music and watching all of the locals dancing in their colorful outfits! The villagers were definitely dancing from the moment we arrived, but it wasn’t long before they were pulling each of us out there to dance as well.

We did our best to keep up with them, but of course, we couldn’t help but feel silly at first. But it was so much fun!!

After a lot of dancing, a lot of drumming and many speeches, we were finally more accessible for many of the local kids to come “check out” the foreigners….and that’s when our love of the children of Diokoul started! They were so curious, sweet and joyful. Looking back now, the kids are what we miss the most.

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Lillian in our group was the one that initially drew in a crowd of kids and started exchanging the few words we had learned in Seereer, which the kids got a kick out of. Within a matter of moments of engaging with them, she was surrounded by kids, with a couple even sitting in her lap.

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Lillian drew in all the kids!

The other thing the kids loved was seeing photos of themselves, so this was of course, “photographic gold” for Desmond and a great way to engage with the kids. We realized that they may have never seen a clear photo of themselves before, so taking a photo and showing it to them would immediately elicit giggles, excitement, and enthusiasm to have more photos taken. This continued to be a great way to engage the kids, as we all had phones with cameras, and they never tired of seeing photos of themselves and their friends.  And if you had one child that was posing for you, there would almost certainly be 2, or 3, or 5, or even 12 more kids within a matter of moments, ALL eager to have you take their picture and show it to them.

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After the ceremony was over, we were each introduced to our host families. As in Nepal, Ella and I were in one house and Desmond and Evan were in another house. But fortunately, they weren’t too far from each other!

Both of our families had many small children which we were really excited about, because we knew it would mean lots of kids to play games with each night!

Most families lived in a compound-like environment that included multiple buildings or huts for the different members and generations of the family. Roxy and Ella’s home was actually quite nice and they got to stay in a room that was part of a 3 room house. And although there is no indoor plumbing or electricity, they had a nice and very clean outdoor squat toilette and shower. Of course, we use the term shower loosely here, as it was just a small brick room with a tin roof and a drain in the floor. To shower, there would be a bucket in the little room with a cup in it, and you would use that cup to scoop cold water from the bucket and pour it over your body. You would have the same type of bucket and cup scenario in the squat toilet to use to “flush” the toilet. Both were extra challenging when being used after dark, being that there was no light, so you’d have to have your headlamp on while washing or using the latrine.

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Roxy & Ella meeting their family after the ceremony. Ella was so excited we had so many young kids in our home!

Desmond and Evan’s house was slightly different….they had an individual hut with a thatched roof, that was part of a commune of 4 huts. Their Latrine/shower area was VERY different, in that the family didn’t really have a separate building for a latrine or shower, so they improvised on our account and converted an open-air area behind our hut (normally an open-air chicken enclosure) to be the “shower” and “latrine”. The Latrine was literally a hole dug about 12-18 inches deep, with a plastic tub lid put over it to act as a cover. Fortunately, we were able to work it out to be able to use the shower/latrine at Roxy and Ella’s host family’s house.

Below is a video that we took early one morning walking through the area of the village where our homes were.

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An Aerial view of Diokoul, at least the area where we stayed, from prior to our arrival. The red marker is where the school would be constructed.

After dropping our things off at our respective homes, we headed back to HQ, which is basically where we would meet our BuildOn team for all of our meals. Normally, dinner would be had with host families, as we did in Nepal, but because all meals eaten here are communal, using just hands out of a singular bowl, BuildOn prefers that we not eat with the host families to avoid any potential illnesses. After dinner, we went back to our homes and brought out the games we’d brought (Jenga and Uno). The first night we started with Jenga, which was an immediate hit! The kids loved it, and would just crack up anytime the tower would fall! Check out the video from Desmond and Evan’s house!

Our evenings spent with our families playing games are definitely some of our favorite memories and we’d usually have a couple of hours each night to play with the kids/families.

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Playing Jenga with Desmond & Evan’s family

 

 

 

Arriving in Senegal!

Yesterday, after more than one and 1/2 years of fundraising, planning and immense anticipation, we finally arrived in Senegal. We landed in the country’s capital of Dakar and because we weren’t scheduled to meet with our BuildOn team until the following evening, we decided to stay at a hotel in Dakar, right on the beach. There were several western hotel options in Dakar, but this hotel stood out to us as it was not only right on the beach with a view out to Goree Island, but it also seemed a little more “local” feeling. In the end, we were very happy with our choice, and after such a long journey, it was nice to just chill at the hotel with it’s an idyllic setting, have a nice dinner overlooking the Atlantic and get a good nights sleep.

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Our Dakar Hotel Restaurant had a beautiful view!

Our first morning in Senegal was clear, sunny and warm and after a nice breakfast looking out at the sea, we checked out of our rooms and met with a local guide that we had arranged in advance to take us to Goree Island, which is an island about 20 minutes of the coast of Dakar with a very tragic and horrific past. The Ferry terminal was large and very colorful. We were greeted by many women (all beautifully dressed in gorgeous outfits with vibrant colors), asking us where we were from and what our names were. They each then invited us to visit their shop on Goree Island once we got there. We ended up chatting with several of them on the Ferry as well, which was fun!

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Ella cracking up as the baby bit her finger!

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Views of the Island from the Ferry.

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Ella’s friend from the Ferry

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We were jealous of the kids jumping off the pier into the beautiful water as it was a hot day!

From the 15th to the 19th century, Goree Island was the largest slave-trading center on the African coast and it’s where the Portuguese, French, English, and Africans would bring, hold and “process” slaves until it was time to send them off to their final destinations. Our main stop on the Island was a museum that was once one of the “Slaves Houses”. While the white settlers lived comfortably in the upper section of the buildings, the slaves were kept in unimaginable conditions right below them. We were shown small rooms (think jail cells) that would house large numbers of men, women and children in a very cramped space. They were only let out once per day to go to the ocean to relieve themselves.

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Anywhere from 20-30 people would be forced into these tiny cells.

Ella in Door of No Return

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Evan and Ella in the Door of No Return.

According to our guide, it’s been estimated that between 15 and 20 million slaves were “processed” through Gorée over the 3 centuries that it was a slave trade hub, all going out through the “Door of no return” and onto ships bound for far off destinations. Hearing about the details and conditions of this place and seeing this site in person was truly devastating, and there were many tears shed by all of us. It’s unfathomable to understand how humans can be so cruel. We can only hope that better education, more empathy and a true understanding of the history of atrocities such as this, will help to lessen the chances of repeating the past.

Despite Goree’s very tragic past, it’s now a charming island full of artists, friendly people, and colorful houses and shops.  We enjoyed walking around and seeing the local artist’s work. 

We stopped into an artist’s workshop where they did a demo of creating sand art paintings. The artists create beautiful paintings depicting African history using different color sand. It was very cool to watch him! It was no surprise that several of us bought some of the paintings.

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And of course, there were our friends from the Ferry who insisted we come and visit their shops! A common refrain was “you are my sister, come with me and I will give you the best price!”.  Sure enough, we did end up buying a few items, as there was a lot of pressure selling going on. But it’s all part of the experience and we had fun with it! After some shopping, we worked our way back to the Ferry.

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Evan was excited to find a Senegal soccer jersey!

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One of the many beautiful mother and child combos we saw!

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After our ferry ride back to Dakar, we piled into our van and headed off to pick up our luggage from our hotel, as well as make a stop in one of Dakar’s historic markets on our way to the town of Saly (about 1 hour south of Dakar on the coast), where we were meeting the rest of our group.

Several of the ladies in our group were interested in potentially getting a colorful local style dress, like the ones we had seen so many beautiful women wearing on the island of Goree. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and only a small portion of the market was open. After looking at a couple of shops and being shown MANY different styles and fabrics, the consensus was that none of what was shown was fitting the bill of what was desired. So back into the van we went, but just before we left, one of the shop keepers came out with a pile of skirts, which sparked interest in several of our party. Then another pile was brought…..and another….and after probably 20+ minutes of showing new garments to us in the van and negotiating prices (we were told to counter offer 20-25% of whatever they said the price was), several items were purchased!

And again, we were off on route to Saly. The journey was relatively uneventful, other than the occasional waving passengers from other buses on the road and the incredible sunset we saw off in the distance.

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Getting off the highway to enter Saly, we were greeted with a vibrant and bustling little coastal town, with lots of restaurants, shops, markets and resorts (this is a big resort area for the French).

Upon arrival, we were met by our official BuildOn team which included our Trek Leader Dylan, Trek Coordinator Aby,  Translators Boubaca and Marie Jo, and Kim (who is one of the BuildOn staff members from the Chicago office)…….all in all, an incredible team as we would soon learn!

Being that our arrival was relatively late, we went straight to having a group dinner, followed by a short orientation about the cultural norms and acceptable behavior in the village we would be visiting staying in. After that, it was time to go to bed, so we were all well-rested and prepared for the following morning’s orientation and departure to the village.

 

 

 

We’re About to Embark On Another BuildOn Adventure!

For a while now I’ve had this nagging feeling in my stomach whenever I think of this blog and have realized that it feels similar to feelings of failure. Now that we’re so close to our Senegal BuildOn trip, leaving the day after Christmas, I’m painfully aware that we haven’t made any updates to our Blog since we completed our Nepal BuildOn trip. The goal had been to keep up with our family travel blog and continue to chronicle our travels and adventures. But we didn’t, which is where the feeling of failure comes from!

However, just recently something dawned on me as I’ve looked back over the last three years since Nepal, which thank goodness has made me feel a little bit better. Maybe we didn’t write down and share details of all of the places we have visited in the last few years, but we have lived and accomplished A LOT during that time! And I think actually making those trips happen and being present for those experiences may be more of an accomplishment than taking the time to Blog about the memories. There have been so many great memories…trips that included visiting family in Northern Ireland and being mesmerized by the Scottish Highlands, spending last new year with our London Friends at the “Cottage”, spending time with family over Thanksgiving in Cancun, and a 25th wedding anniversary trip for Desmond and Roxy to visit the Great Wall (a major bucket list item!) and rural China. 

Great Wall Anniversary

The last 6 months have been even more full for us as a family as Roxy left her long-time job and soon after decided to start her own Marketing Consulting business and Desmond shifted the focus of his Photography business to do more Corporate and Brand photography vs. weddings. With Evan as a Senior in High School and Ella an 8th Grader, both kids (and parents) have been doing many school tours and applications, which has not been an easy feat. But thank goodness we’re just about done with all the applications!

And now as we are less than a week away from heading to Dakar, Senegal to embark on our 2nd BuildOn adventure, we’re just very grateful for having the opportunity to partner with BuildOn again to build a school in a rural village to help break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.

In fact, we just received more information about the village we will be going to, in order to break ground on the school! The village of Diokoul currently has one temporary classroom (pictured below), which is not suitable for learning and is holding back the village’s 41 students (21 boys and 20 girls) from receiving a proper education. One teacher is trying to teach in this tiny classroom made from sticks and grass. The nearest proper school is a 2 km walk from the village.

Senegal village
The West African coastal country of Senegal is home to more than 15 million people with more than 47% of the population living below the poverty line and more than 48% unable to read and write. The village of Diokoul is a community of approximately 442 people located in the Fatick region. Most are subsistence farmers who rear livestock and grow corn, hibiscus, millet, peanuts and beans.
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We can’t wait to be in Diokoul where we will be living with and working alongside the locals, starting the construction of their new school. Once we leave, the villagers will continue to build and finish the school in partnership with local BuildOn teams, and we will get to see photos of the completed school!
We promise to be good about sharing our experiences in Senegal as we did in Nepal, because we want to make sure that the many people who have generously contributed to funding this school can share those experiences as well. We are incredibly grateful for all of the support and will have you all with us in spirit. 
Here’s to many more adventures in 2020!

A life changing experience

 

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It’s safe to say that this has been a life-changing experience for all of us, and one that we hope Evan and Ella will walk away from with a great deal of perspective and gratitude. We certainly have. Given the conversations we’ve already had with the kids, it’s clear that this was an impactful experience for them as well and one they will remember forever.

We’re thrilled to have found BuildOn.org, and as we have learned more about the various very worthwhile programs and services they offer to each of the communities they work with (locally and globally!), we are committed to continuing to work with them. We’ve already decided we’d like to sponsor another school, realistically in 2 or 3 years. Although it’s tempting to go to one of the other countries that BuildOn works with, we are leaning towards coming back to Nepal (there are still many villages in the same region in need of schools) with the side benefit of a visit to “our village” so we can reconnect with our host families and see the completed fruits of our labors!

Getting to Kathmandu and departing Nepal

After our finished school visit, we returned to Dhangadhi to have a really awesome lunch (one of my favorite meals of our time in Nepal) before heading to the airport. Unfortunately, it was REALLY foggy at the Dhangadhi airport, so the plane from Kathmandu couldn’t land. We kept waiting to see if by chance the fog would clear enough for the flight to land, but it never happened. So this left us with 2 choices….A) Wait until tomorrow and hope that the fog clears and the plane can land then….or B) Drive 3 hours to a different airport, where there was a another flight to Kathmandu departing in only a little more than 3 hours, or C) Take an overnight bus (with Helen and Hans!) to Delhi, instead of flying through Kathmandu.

We took option “B” and immediately hit the road. Fortunately, our Trek leaders were able to get us a car and driver, and through BuildOn’s contacts, they were able to get us seats on the plane, even though it was technically already a full flight.

So off we went for a scenic drive through a part of Nepal we had yet to see. There was certainly a bit of stress as we knew that we were going to be cutting it VERY close to get to the airport on time to catch the flight (and we had a morning flight to Delhi the following morning), but it was also really nice to see a little more of Nepal than we would have seen otherwise. We ended up getting to the airport about 5-10 minutes before the plane was scheduled to arrive, and jumped out of the van with our backpacks and RAN in to the terminal (very “Amazing Race” style!).

Fortunately, the flight had been delayed a bit, so we were able to get on the flight and get back to Kathmandu that night…..all thanks to BuildOn and their network of Drivers, travel agents, translators and very competent trek leaders.

The best thing about all of us making this flight was that we were able to all be together for our farewell dinner in Kathmandu that night (except Helen & Hans….sorry guys).

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Waiting to hear if we’ve got any flight options

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Some photos of “traffic” on the street, while we were waiting.

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Van Selfie: us and our awesome Trek leaders Supa and Ryan, plus our translator and                                   local BuildOn staff member, Jharna.

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The above 3 photos were taken out the window of the van during our drive.

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Rushing in to catch our flight only to find out it was delayed!

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Finally on our way back to Kathmandu

Our last morning in Nepal, we woke early. Our flight wasn’t too terribly early, but we really wanted to try to squeeze in a stop at the Boudhanath Stupa on the way to the airport, so that meant we’d need to depart the hotel at least 60-90 minutes earlier than if we were going straight to the airport.

For those that are interested, the Boudhanath Stupa is the largest Stupa in Nepal, was built in the 14th century, is a Unesco World Heritage site and is considered the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet.

Anyway, we got there pretty early (about 8am) and it was bustling, with lots of people circling the Stupa as part of their morning prayers.

 

I actually really loved the Bauddha area that surrounds the Stupa, and wished we had more time there. Perhaps it was just the presence of so many, doing their Buddhist prayers, or the early morning light, calmness and freshness in the air, but it felt very peaceful and serene. I also really liked the aesthetic of the buildings creating a large circle around the Stupa…I found it reminiscent of Siena (one of my favorite cities in Italy).

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Of course, anywhere there’s pigeons, there’s someone there exploiting their presence by selling feed.

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As we were heading back to the van to head to the airport, Roxy spotted this scene down an alleyway.

And soon we were on our way to India….a LONG TIME DREAM for Roxy and I!

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Our Air India flight.

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Himilayan foothills with low lying fog in the valleys.

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The Himalayas as seen through a VERY dirty airplane window.

An Unexpected Stop

Fortunately, on the morning that we left the village (with heavy hearts) our Trek leaders had planned a stop in a nearby village where another group built a school last March, and that visit ended up lifting our spirits greatly after our emotional goodbyes with our host families. Again, we were given a warm welcome by the locals and fortunately had the opportunity to visit each of the classes in the three-room school. The first class we visited was the women’s adult literacy/education program. This consists of an 18 month program for the participating women, where they get 2 hours of reading, writing and math per week day. We got to meet the women and sit with them to see what they were studying. Even though going to Nepal to build a school had always seemed to be all about the children that it would benefit, meeting these woman and seeing their smiling faces and hearing about the changes and opportunities that it would provide in their life, gave a whole new benefit to our endeavors.

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Then we headed to the kids classrooms…..and again, the kids were so cute and sweet and eager to show us what English they had learned!

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And Lastly, we all got together outside for a group photo in front of the school, before our departure, and the everyone that was there, saw us on to our bus and on our way.

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Given we wouldn’t be around to see the completion of our village’s school (on this trip at least), we were grateful to see this BuildOn school in action and experience the value that it brings to the entire community. We’re happy to know that the local BuildOn team will continue to work with our villagers and share photos with us every couple of weeks, so we can see the progression of our school build.

Our Departure from The Village

It was our final mornin in the village and time to head back to Dhangadhi Airport where we would be catching our flight back to Kathmandu.

We were asked to meet the group at 7:00am for breakfast so we could get an early start. So we woke up again in the dark (even though we set alarms our families always acted as our wake up call!), grabbed all of our bags and headed over to breakfast. After a quick bite I (Desmond) headed back to take advantage of my last opportunity to take photos in the village. Unfortunately, It was extremely foggy that morning, but as had been the case every other morning (when I had my camera out at the end of Yoga), there was a small entourage of boys that would follow me around, sticking very close, and asking to see what photos I was taking. Being that it was so foggy and dark, I decided to just take some portraits of the boys that had been a part of my morning each day. What surprised me most was they changed from being silly, energetic and boisterous when following me around, to suddenly being serious and stoic when posing for a photo.

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This is my posey

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Another one of my posey before I shot their portraits

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When I returned to the breakfast area, the mood was very somber, as everyone was feeling very emotional. Roxy and her host mom (the sweetest woman ever!) shared quite a few tears throughout the morning, and all of the families had escorted each of their guests to breakfast and hung around until it was time for us to get on the bus. There were LOTS of tears being shed and I don’t think anyone expected there to be such a strong bond built with our host families in such a short time, especially since many of us couldn’t even speak the same language. But the ties clearly go beyond a shared language.

Before getting on the bus though, I really wanted to pull our group back over to the spot I had just photographed the boys in, for an individual portrait of each of us.

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After the portraits, we went back over to the bus and our waiting families. Some more goodbyes and tears were shed and soon we were driving away with heavy, yet full hearts.

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Helen took this photo and as she said…”Beauty in the breakdown”

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I don’t know what’s in the water in this village, but there was a LOT of natural beauty and perfect, white teeth

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Our farewell committee as we drive off

 

 

Our Farewell Ceremony in The Village!

We were told that the villagers were hosting another celebration for us to celebrate our last night in the village. What we didn’t fully realize is that everyone was being dressed up in traditional clothing and make up, including the men. For Roxy and Ella, it was so much fun to be surrounded by nearly a dozen women (our mother, sister, cousins and neighbors) who helped us get dressed and ready. It almost felt like getting ready for a wedding! Desmond and Evan were also dressed up and came over to Roxy and Ella’s home! We ended up taking turns taking photos with our families and each other. This experience is definitely one of our favorites during our time in the village, and one we will remember for a very long time.

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Getting ready for the big celebration!

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Our BuildOn family

Of course, we were running way behind schedule and had to rush over to meet our group. Fortunately it seemed everyone else was in the same boat and running late. So at around 3:00 pm we headed over to the same spot where the welcome ceremony was held. Again, there were several speeches thanking us and bidding us farewell, and several more performances. There were beautiful dances and songs, and one of our favorite performances, which was two of the men doing traditional Nepalese dancing (at least that’s what we were told!) set to Western music. Turns out these two guys were the comedians of the village and their dance was hilarious!

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Heading to the site of the celebration

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We never stopped marveling at the beauty of the villagers!

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Evan and Ella presenting some gifts to the school principal

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The awesome and hilarious village comedians!

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Before the end, a group of men came on with their traditional instruments (and their Manchester United warm up suits), and we were soon being “encouraged” by another group of villagers to dance with them. This will also go down as one of our favorite experiences! Roxy later commented that the style of music and the dancing very much reminded her of the style from the Southern village in Iran where her family is from. So it felt a bit extra special for her!

Once again, MANY selfies were taken. Evan and Ella were grabbed left and right by the local teenagers (and some adults too!) for photos. Actually, all of us were asked to pose for photos and this would prove to be our final experience with local celebrity status.

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After the celebration, we headed back to our homes for our final dinner with our families. We were told by the BuildOn staff to not give our host families the gifts we brought for them until they had a chance to come around and translate for us. It ended up being an emotional time, because we (and they) knew our time in the village was ending. They were very grateful for our gifts, which included a framed family photo of us (as suggested by BuildOn), games, art supplies and a soccer ball for their children, and the solar lanterns, work gloves and water bottles that we brought. Each of our families also presented us with several gifts that were traditional handicraft work. Roxy and Ella’s ‘’sister” made them several handmade small tapestries. Again, we were so grateful for their warmth and hospitality and actually dreaded having to say goodbye in the morning.

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Roxy’s host family, grandparents on the left and host mom on right.

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Roxy and her host mother shared a special bond, even in such a short time.

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Our Final Day On The Work Site

By our last full day in the village, the foundation was completely dug out and it was time to start moving the large rocks from a huge pile off to the side of the site, into the holes we had dug. These rocks varied between about 10 and 80 pounds and once again we were amazed and humbled to watch how the women of the village would carry some of these huge and heavy rocks on their heads. For a long while Desmond was picking up the stones to put on the women’s heads and they would sometimes laugh at him if he offered them too small of a rock (and these “too small” rocks might have weighed 20+ pounds). They would then point at a significantly larger stone that he could barely lift to get up on their head. If he didn’t have a large enough stone handy to offer them, they’d often stack 2 or 3 stones on their head instead.

We were sweaty, dirty and exhausted, while the Nepalese women, still dressed beautifully by the way, made it all look so easy. Their strength was truly inspiring. We wondered why there were so few men working with us, but then realized it was because many of the men were away working outside of the village (and often the country) to earn more money. So the hard work was left to the woman!

We finished our work day as usual, with a final circle of our group. Our Trek guides would always ask if anyone had any questions or comments to share, and usually several people spoke up. This time it was two different villagers, thanking us again for coming to them, working alongside them and helping them build a proper school for their children. Once again, tears were shed and we did our final cheer with many emotions running high.

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Such strength!

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Before heading away from the work site to go have lunch with our Build-on team, we made sure to get a team photo with all the village woman that had set the work bar so high!

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Our BuildOn gang and the amazing village women!

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As we were walking from the work site, back in to the village, we passed the current school and the school kids screamed to us from their classrooms, so of COURSE we needed to get a photo of ALL these beautiful kids that would be taking advantage of the new school that we were building.

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After that, we walked back in to the village and had a quick final lunch (again, we were totally spoiled with the fresh and delicious food made for us!) before heading back to our homes to shower and get ready for the Goodbye celebration, which was scheduled at 2:00pm.