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Even When the Landslide Came, the Villagers Continued to Build

June 18, 2015

Schools are scarce in rural Nepal and those that do exist are often in severe disrepair and unsafe for children. The village of Pinda was determined to build a new school when the rains swept away part of the only road to the construction site. It was now impossible to reach.

“When they approached us in March, it was only a few months before the rainy season,” recalls Arjun Thapa, a sub-engineer in Room to Read’s Nuwakot field office. He’s referring to the visitors who had come from the isolated village of Pinda in the Dhading district of Nepal, hoping to build a new school.

It’s hard enough to travel through the region where Pinda is located in the dry season, given the lack of roads and vehicles. When the rainy season turns everything to mud, logistics become nearly impossible.

“But the community was eager to begin construction despite the coming rains,” says Thapa. “We became so impressed by their persistence that we decided to partner with them.”

A clean, well-lighted place

Schools are scarce in low income countries, especially in rural areas, and those that do exist are often older buildings in severe disrepair that are unsafe for children.

“We had very dark and dilapidated classes,” says second grader Sanju, recalling the dingy, cave-like rooms of Pinda’s old Shree Pindeswori Lower Secondary School. With its crumbling walls, rickety furniture and caving roof, it was hard for the students to focus on the reason they were there: to learn.

The old Shree Pindeswori Lower Secondary School

Key to Room to Read’s Literacy Program is the construction of bright, child-friendly learning environments that ensure, for instance, adequate light and ventilation, good quality blackboards, and a library — improvements studies have shown increase learning outcomes.

Our challenge grant model acts as a sort of charter, creating a partnership between Room to Read and the community to bring about these improvements. The grant requires communities and local governments to contribute to building’s construction and ensure its upkeep. We’ve found this inspires communities to become more invested — not just in the success of the building but in education in general.

When letters look like ants

Most villagers in Pinda, many who struggle as subsistence farmers, are illiterate. “At times we do not even know how to read brand names or price tags when buying seeds or fertilizers,” says villager Manbahadur Chepang. “We often get deceived.”

Letters look like ants to Chepang, but he was determined the children in his village would learn to read

For Chepang the importance of literacy hit him the day he was asked to write about a trip he took to learn advanced farming techniques. His mind went blank at the prospect. “Letters to me look like ants,” he says. “I really don’t get them.”

That’s when the villagers knew they wanted their future generations to be able to read and write — that this was necessary for their community to survive. But how was that possible given that their school was falling apart? “Without a good school, [literacy] is not possible,” says Chepang.

The villagers agreed: they had to build a new school. Having heard about Room to Read, a group of them made their way to Thapa’s office, convinced that this was the answer.

Then the road disappeared
As a key step in receiving a challenge grant, the community formed a School Construction Committee to oversee their contribution, with villagers donating wood, cement and labor as well as transportation and clean water.

“I sold my goat to contribute to the construction,” says villager Krishna Bahadur Tamang, goats being a valuable source of food and income for the villagers.

Then the rains came down, pounding into the vulnerable hillside. Suddenly the terrain collapsed and a landslide swept away part of the road the villagers were using to transport materials to the construction site — it was now impossible to reach. Still the community refused to stop.

“I stayed overnight to oversee the construction,” said Durga Bahadur Tamang, 84. “As the eldest of all, people listen to me.” Meanwhile villagers banded together to rebuild the road by shovel, by spade, by anything they could put their hands on. They had exactly one truck to haul construction materials to the site. With the road half gone, it took seven days for the truck to make it there.

The School Construction Committee that refused to give up, despite the landslide

Incredibly, the villagers of Pinda raised the building in record time, becoming Room to Read’s second completed construction project of the year. You could practically hear their cheers across the mountainside.

Landslide victory

Morning rays reflect off of the freshly painted walls of the new school building. Rows of windows open up to the sun, letting fresh air and light stream into the classrooms.
“This is one of the most highly motivated communities I have worked with during my entire time at Room to Read,” says Thapa, reflecting on the villagers’ remarkable effort.

Key to Room to Read’s Literacy Program is building bright, safe, child-friendly learning environments. The new Shree Pindeswori Lower Secondary School.

The new classrooms of Shree Pindeswori Lower Secondary School are the pride of Pinda with people visiting from neighboring villages to admire the building and hear the remarkable story of how it was built. Since May 31, when the new school officially opened its doors, eight local teachers have been welcoming 311 students to its colorful classrooms and library filled with books. The community members say this is a key step towards development and they are expecting more positive changes in their community.

“I love the new building,” little Sanju says with a big smile. “Now it looks brighter. I love going to school.”

Second-grader Sanju says, “I love going to school.”

A series of powerful earthquakes have ravaged the fragile infrastructure of Nepal since the reporting of this story. The affected area is home to many Room to Read staff members and program communities. Our sub-engineers and staff continue to assess the condition of all of our partner schools and communities, providing support where it is needed most. We’re very happy to report that the earthquake did not affect the newly constructed Shree Pindeswori Lower Secondary School building, featured in this story, which was built to earthquake resistant standards and remains in excellent condition. However, the old school structure this new building replaces was completely destroyed by the shaking. To support our team in Nepal, please donate to our Nepal General Fund. This allows us to quickly respond to the efforts that need our immediate support and attention.

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