The KSP Association (Khumbila Samrakshhan Pratisthan) commenced a Humanitarian program in Aurumn 2015 to start rebuilding homes in one of the many villages affected by the earthquake of 25 April and May 12, 2015. The purpose of these visits was to directly involve visitors and Nepalese villagers around a common project.
Thadi, an authentic village, far away from tourist areas
We chose the village of Thadi, located about 1,800 meters altitude in the Dolakha district in Rolwaling region, NorthEast of Kathmandu, about a day’s walk to the Chinese border. The village is composed of about 1100 inhabitants: 700 adults and 400 young people under 20 years, with 196 attending Fifth year at the primary school of Thadi, and only 15 students attending the college in Jagat (1h30 walk to the collage starting at 2 in the morning and to go up in the evening). The village is not on a trek trail, so it almost never receives foreign travelers.
To go from Kathmandu to Thadi, it takes about 6:30 hours by bus an extremely winding road and then another four hours on a bumpy track and finally two hours walk on a steep mountain trail. All the logistics can only be transferred using porters.
In the village there is no road but only trails that climb from terrace to terrace for farming.
As most villages in the region the Government representatives have done very little to help the villages they were elected from. Unfortunately the same goes for representatives of international NGOs, local NGO’s simply as there the road is not comfortable for them.
The people of Thadi are ethnic Tamang: many centuries ago, during the Sino-Mongolian wars, a part of the Tibetan Cavalry had to flee their country and take refuge in the mountains of Nepal. They kept their language, their traditions, their culture and Buddhist religion. Their only of source of livelihood is farming which they practice on very mall terraces given the slope of the mountainous terrain. They grow wheat, rice, millet, buckwheat, many vegetables and practice some livestock: chickens, goats, sheep, cows, buffaloes.
Thadi’s houses after the earthquake
The village has 116 houses where extended family live under one room and this is the norm. These houses are made of schistose rocks found locally, two or three levels and a roof covered with stone tiles supported by a wooden frame. These houses are not heated or thermally insulated. There is neither running water nor other basic amenities, but some have a few light bulbs powered by a mini hydro-power plant that was funded, there a few years ago by the villagers themselves in a cooperative set up by the village chief. The “comfort” of these houses is extremely austere. They include a fireplace on the floor in the common area where the soil is mostly clay, or sometimes stone slabs. There is no table, no chairs.
The first two earthquakes that have occurred much farther west have not affected the village of Thadi, but the third earthquake, whose epicenter is located few kilometers west of Thadi, accounted for the most damage.
Tons stones are used on the roofs as weights which exerted horizontal force during the earthquake leading to the walls being cracked or collapsed. Especially since it is natural stone masonry are laid on each other with fillings of mud between the stones. Some smooth wooden floors arranged well have rested well, but many have not resisted. Many frames were also broken as a result of vertical vibrations.
The balance of the earthquake is that almost all houses in the village were affected to varying degrees. Some are virtually collapsed. Often the grounds have lesser damage, but the floors are heavily cracked or collapsed completely.
Pending their reconstruction, most of the houses have become uninhabitable or dangerous (the earth continues to tremble regularly) so that their inhabitants crammed into temporary structures made of wooden bollards supporting a cover made of woven bamboo mats and plastic sheets or plates.
Immediately after the earthquake, village solidarity was organized to build, before the arrival of the monsoon, the provisional dwellings currently still being occupied by a large part of the population. Since October, with the end of the monsoon, the reconstruction phase is committed to the following principles:
– Remove blankets of weights on the roofs, which are too heavy and too risky in case of another earthquake (big aftershock), and replacing them with light blankets corrugated iron, for all the houses, including those whose covering stones are still in place on the roofs.
– Reducing the height of the houses: no more than one floor with an attic for storage.
– Demolition of the walls cracked and stockpiling for reusing the stones and timber.
– Reconstruction of stone masonry in the same way as before (still no cement), but trying to build wooden wall ties for reinforcement.
– Reconstruction of the frame by attempting to reuse the pieces of wood of the old frame and by filling them with new wood.
This work is coordinated by the village committee with the chief of the village and his working committee formed within the villagers. This committee has established an inventory of work to be done with an order of priority which is updated fairly and regularly.
The organization: The villagers come in 6-12 persons to lend a hand to the owner of the house with the demolition and reconstruction. Everything is done by hand: the stones are transported and assembled on the floor; mud bricks are placed on mortar in the ground which is moistened and then mounted on excavators.
The house owner in turn has to fed the helpers. During the first four days (which corresponds roughly to the time required to perform the bulk of masonry and frame of a house), they are not paid. They are not until the fifth day if the site takes longer than four days. The rate is then 500 rupees a day (plus meals), or € 4.50 per day.
All this depends on community and voluntary basis.
This kind of support is common in the Tamang traditions which strengthens the olidarity among villagers. The aim is to carry out the reconstruction of all houses in the village within a year.
First immersion stays
It is in this context that in November 2015, two groups of french visitors came to Thadi to help villagers in these demolitions – reconstruction. During this stay, they lived with the locals and shared the work and leisure of the inhabitants of this village whose welcome was very warm. Certainly, the volunteers’ assistance may seem just a minor act as compared to the magnitude of work still left to do, but we know small streams make big rivers! Beyond this material help, the moral support is far greater that shows the villagers that they are not alone and that beyond the solidarity within the village, they can also count on the solidarity of people from different lands.
For this to be possible they were supervised by a Francophone and Anglophone guides, Sambhu, a native of this village, which enabled them to understand the local customs and communicate with the villagers. They were housed in temporary houses built before the monsoon by the villagers.
The living conditions were certainly more difficult than in lodges during treks however it represents the true living conditions of the Nepalese in this area. A different experience and better understanding in a special way of life with the locals.
To help start this project, KSP has donated € 1,000 to the village and the volunteers were also organized by collecting nearly 2000 € amongst them. Village officials and the committee of women decided not to share this sum of around € 3,000 per household but assign it to the whole community by dedicating for the rehabilitation of the water network that supplies the water sources for the whole village (the houses have no running water).