Construction work instead of beach tan Nepal: Volunteering above the clouds

Construction work instead of beach tan Nepal: Volunteering above the clouds

13/01/2017 0 By Juli

Although I didn’t plan much for this trip, one thing was clear: I wanted to escape the cold. Working somewhere in a beach bar, eating lots of ice cream, Learning how to surf, swimming in the ocean and working on a beautiful tan. I would never have dreamed that I would buy a down jacket and thermals in Nepal. Even better: I sleep in a tent, use an outhouse, shower with ice-cold water and work without pay on a construction site. How the hell did that happen?

Through a Facebook post, I learned of All Hands, a non-profit organization that provides disaster relief worldwide. In Nepal, All Hands builds schools in areas affected by the earthquake in 2015. In terms of clothes and equipment, I wasn’t prepared for Nepal at all, but the thought didn’t let me go anymore. I really wanted to do it and faded out all the buts to make it happen. Four weeks later I found myself in Kathmandu. I bought work boots, work gloves, a sleeping bag, some warm clothes and a water bottle. After a few days I was ready to go and super excited. I didn’t know what to expect, but I coudn’t wait.
The All Hands base is located approximately 143 km northwest of Kathmandu in the district of Nuwakot. It is relatively easy to reach by 4-hour bus ride and 40 minutes walk. In addition to the base, which is located in an old guesthouse, there are 3 mobile sites. The conditions are a lot more simple than in the base and initially camping was out of the question for me, but it didn’t take much to convince me. In fact, it was just a single photo showing a small plateau with tents above the clouds and mountains in the background: Kalyani Devi! Sold!

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Five days after arriving at the main base, and a pretty rough 2 hour drive uphill, I was standing in front of the small tent city in the middle of the mountains. The view was breathtaking and I felt so free. I still coudn’t believe that I was actually in Nepal. It looked and felt so unreal! On clear days, you can even see Tibet. I already knew that the next five weeks will be incredible. And indeed it will be one of the best experiences of my life.

The life up here is simple, adventurous and at the same time so satisfying. I can’t stop thinking about the german song “Above the clouds”. Reinhard Mey was right. I feel boundless and carefree. There is not much to worry about. It is primarily about satisfying my basic needs. That means three meals a day, water, a toilet (outhouse) and a cold, homemade shower, a “roof” over my head and staying relatively warm. 6 days a week we work 6.5 hours daily and in the evening we sit around the campfire drinking beer (yes there are a few small shops that sell snacks, beer and cigarettes) or the locally made spirit raksi (tastes disgusting, but 4.30 € for 5 liters is a very convincing argument), play cards or ping pong, we read in our tents or watch the stars and shooting stars. We wash our clothes in buckets. Cut down to the essentials, there is not much to worry about. And then there is the amazing presence of the mountians around us and this stunning view, which can extremely change, depending on the weather. Priceless! I just can’t get enough of it and Keep on taking pictures. It’s always the same view, but hundreds of different looks. I hardly think of anything other than our little camp and our mission. Time seems to stand still in our small, peaceful bubble.

Our camp consists of 15-19 volunteers from around the world aged 20-51 years. It feels like a little family. Anyone who arrives up here does not want to leave, so there is not a big change in our team. We spend a lot of time together and usually stay for several weeks or months. Everyone contributes to the “family life” and we have a common mission that unites us.

A workday in Kalyani Devi

My alarm rings at 6 o’clock in the morning. Despite being 5 degrees outside, my sleeping bag is usually nice and warm. I don’t want to go out into the cold, but my mission, the hunger and curiosity of what our mountains may look like today drives me out of my tent. For breakfast we get fed with oatmeal, bananas, eggs, peanut butter, coffee and tea. Until 7 o’clock we sit in the camp and enjoy the sunrise. It’s cold, but the view makes up for it.

At 7 o’clock we gather at the construction site. Although the school survived the earthquake, the facade, walls, floors etc. were damaged. Our job is to repair the cracks and damages, to make the building earthquake-proof, and to build a new staircase and sanitary facilities. For the most part, this means for me hammering chicken wire into the walls and facades and painting. But I am also involved in the construction of the stairs, where we build a foundation made of chipboard and reinforcing steel, then fill it with concrete and remove the chipboard. For two entire days, I am busy bending 120 reinforcing steel pieces into a specific shape so that we can use them later to stabilize the steps. We mix the concrete by hand, because we don’t have the luxury mixing machine.

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Seeing a staircase emerging from nothing and being involved in it, is an incredible feeling. Especially if, like me, you can count on one hand how many times you’ve held a hammer in your life so far. With two carpenters in my family, I’m pretty spoiled in this regard. Unfortunately, it took me 29 years to find out how much I enjoy working on construction.

 

While we work at the school, lessons continue to take place. Often, a whole bunch of teachers and students stand around us and watch what we are doing. Many classes sit on blankets in the yard, children run around and scream all day long. There seems to be no such thing as fixed timetables and breaks, or at least I haven’t been able to figure out a regularity in the five weeks I’ve stayed there.

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Local community

The contact with the children and villagers is probably one of the nicest parts of this project. Only a handful of families live close to the school, but a total of 500 children from the surrounding houses and villages visit Kalyani Devi. Many children and teachers have a long way to the school and walk several hours a day. We are known here and people are very grateful for what we do. One of the families caters for lunch and another one cooks dinner for us. Whether dal bhat (lentils, rice and vegetables), fried rice or chow mein (pasta), momos (dumplings), burgers, roti or rice pudding, everything is always delicious and fresh. As soon as the plate is empty, we get another load. As much as we want.

Some families in the villages live in for us unbelievable conditions. Very simple houses made of tin or clay, rarely made of concrete. A small kitchen, beds, tables and chairs. No running water, gas bottles, electricity is limited. Women of all ages carry huge rice bags or baskets on their backs up and down the mountain every day. But they all have one thing in common: they seem happy and satisfied and so kind and friendly. Their smile is genuine and honest. I almost envy them. It’s so fascinating to watch the kids play with stones and sticks for hours.

The excess of material things in the western world makes it easy to forget what matters in life. My time here once again taught me to be grateful for everything in my life.


Quick tips:

  • All Hands Website: www.hands.org
  • Visa for Nepal on Arrival at the airport: 25 US$ for 15 days, 40 US$ for 30 days and 100 US$ for 90 days (Extension for up to 150 days per year possible, don’t forget a photo und cash!)
  • Everything you need for Nepal or volunteering can be easily purchased in Kathmandu