Author Archives: jaysears

Winnie Yang on a Journey to Build Change

by Team Dayā member Winnie Yang

Arriving from Kathmandu at the Dhangadhi Airport, we were picked up by buildOn. After two days of immersion studies (including visiting a school built three years ago), we drove for two-hour bus ride to Dhayapur – a village one mile from the border of India.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with garlands, music and an entire agenda of introductions, speeches from the mayor, dances, covenant signing and blessings. Since we are building a government school, the mayor of the district came to welcome us and assure his and the community’s sense of ownership to the initiative. We were then introduced to our host family (pictured with our bua).

Our days started at 6am, where the whole community would come together to practice yoga. Led by the guru, each day’s class got a little harder. By the last day, he showed us how to levitate.

Before each morning’s work, we’d get together in a circle; one member from Team Daya and one member from the community spoke briefly about what this build meant to him/ her. Before we would break, the speakers would scream ‘Ha Mi’ (‘we are’ in Nepali), while the rest of us screamed ‘buildOn’, three times – this got us revved up before the day’s work!

Each day we’d build from 8am – 1pm, when the sun became a little too intense.

Day 1 of the build we dug out the foundation. buildOn’s engineers and builders were onsite, directing us to dig varying depths. As an agricultural community, they came prepared with their own shovels and hoes.

Occasionally, we’d hide in the shade and dance (someone brought their boombox).

The next couple of days consisted of forming a lot of human chains to pass dhongas (‘stone’ in Nepali), cement and brick. We also made rebar which is harder than it looks. Rebar helps to safeguard columns and roofs against earthquakes. Previously built schools not required to have rebar risk concaved/ leaking ceilings after an earthquake or general age of the building, forcing schools to be canceled during the monsoon season.

Cultural immersion afternoons were my favorite times of the day. Here we’d have chat circles with the community to discuss gender equality, education disparity, modern day slavery and general day-to-day life. We’d reflect amongst ourselves of the purpose of our voluntourism trip, the concepts of wants versus needs, and what it means to be truly happy.

Grandma is telling us about her arranged marriage, how she came to know about it and live a boisterous life with her husband of now 65 years.

Hospitality is the cornerstone of Nepali culture. Our family welcomed us as their new son and daughter; they gave us their one-bedroom, cooked dal bhat (stewed vegetables from their farm, lentil soup over rice) that we still dream about, as we shared cultural and familial similarities every night. The two boys Niraj (11th grade) and Hitesh (8th grade) went to private schools nearby, they were getting ready to celebrate Diwali.

The dancing continued, along with speeches of gratitude and shared kinship for new friendships bonded. We’re all Facebook friends!

By the time we left, the foundation was about done, and rebar columns were up. A photo received a couple of days ago from the community shows much progress. As part of the signed covenant, the community made a promise to finish construction within 106 days from breaking ground.

Around Dhayapur

Jordan Mitchell on Building a School on the Other Side of the World

by Team Dayā Founding Member Jordan Mitchell

This morning I returned home to Seattle after a 2.5 week trip around the world. The destination was Nepal; where I was so very fortunate to play a small part, with both a fabulous team, generous donors and an incredible community, in building a school to support education and literacy. I’m not sure I will ever find the words to describe the experience (and I tear up when I try), but I hope that everyone I know has a similar experience at some point in their lives.

PHOTO: Upon arrival to Dhayapur, Team Dayā participated in a community ceremony to celebrate and welcome the new three room schoolhouse.

We arrived to the community of Dhayapur to a parade of men, women, children and music — with local dances, garlands, tikka applied to our foreheads, and a ceremony in honor of the school we were about to break ground on. The whole community (I would estimate 100-150 adults, with ~150 children) then signed a covenant to build the school with us, and we put the first shovels in alongside the mayor.

(PHOTO: The school build site in Dhayapur was a beehive of hard work.)

Over the rest of the week, we connected deeply within the community. We stayed in their homes, walked through their fields, harvested and ate their rice, played with their children, danced to Nepali music, and above all we WORKED. Days started at 6am with yoga to stretch and warm our bodies for the hard, physical work in the hot, humid sun. Along with about 100 helpers from the community, and a handful of skilled laborers, we dug the foundation by hand, laid gravel and rocks by hand, bent rebar by hand, and mixed concrete by hand. We wore gloves and earned blisters, while the community worked with their bare hands (with no blisters).

Each night our aama (mother within the homestay) cooked us dinner. All our meals were prepared over an open fire, and eaten, within a hut made of cow-dung, mud and sticks. We ate with our hands while sitting on a straw mat. There was a single light bulb which frequently went out, along with the power for the entire community.

PHOTO: Team Dayā members were adopted by host families in Dhayapur during the school build. October 2019.

Our homestay was surrounded by rice fields and had 3 generations within it already, though they generously opened up one of the two rooms for me and my two friends Jay Sears and Hasan Arik to sleep in. Baje (grandfather) and baji (grandmother) wedded 65 years ago when she was just 10 and he 15; she explained that marriage prior to menstruation was known to bring good fortune to the parents. When I explained one evening around the fire (using a translator) that we came from the other side of the world, where the sun had not risen yet in my home even though it had already set there at theirs, they seemed confused — they didn’t know the world was round. (I didn’t bother showing them Google maps at that point, choosing to simply enjoy their company and talk about the porridge they were cooking for the family cow.)

There were two huge takeaways for me personally. First, the Nepali women were unbelievably impressive — I will never forget their warmth, strength and inner beauty. They out-worked every man there, wore brilliant colors, and were the critical glue holding together the community and farms while the men often travelled elsewhere for work. They taught us Nepali words, and laughed and danced while we all worked. Gender equality there is …. well, let’s just say it’s still early in development.

This said, the second key takeaway was a solemn reminder that civilization, “progress”, money and material things do not bring happiness. This community had very few things, yet they had everything they needed and were very happy. One afternoon we asked a group of them what’s the ONE thing they don’t have which they wish they did … it wasn’t a new cell phone, money, a stove, refrigeration, tractor or building tools; all of them answered “education”. What an honor and privilege it was to help build them a school, where both adults and children could learn to read and write!

Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes. Again the whole community came together and many tears were shed with the words that separated short, happy Nepali dance sessions. Team Daya will always be welcome there, and many of us plan to return some day. We left forever changed, all feeling so incredibly fortunate to have had the experience, while also knowing that they too will remember our visit for the rest of their lives.

Team Dayā Breaks Ground on First School Next Week

We are just a week away from the groundbreaking of our first school, and we want to say thank you.

Once we return in November, we’ll be posting updates & photos of the school build and our 2020 plans on A reminder, we are planning two additional school builds next year and are looking for additional team members. If you or a friend might have an interest traveling to a school build, please let us know.

Also–please hold Wednesday, December 11th for our first annual holiday cocktail fundraiser in New York City. We’ll send more details to all of you in November.

Next week we head to the Kanchanpur district in the Terai (lowlands) of Nepal. The Terai is generally a forgotten area of Nepal, located far from the major hubs for non-profits–Kathmandu and Pokhara. Many working age males travel across the nearby border into India and send remittances back to their families, leaving women to tend fields and take care of the home. The Terai holds a dark history of Kamaiya, bonded laborers who were not officially liberated until the early 2000s.

We will break ground for a new school building in Dhayapur, population 2,500 with a school population of 165 (50 boys and 115 girls). The community is mixed caste and ethnicity of Brahmin, Chhetri, Dalit and Tharu. The community has an existing school serving eight grade levels and an early childhood development class but some of the classroom buildings are in poor condition including leaking ceilings, making it a challenging environment, especially in the rainy (monsoon) season. Your investment will help build a new building with three classrooms as well as separate boys and girls restrooms.

The community is remote enough you will not find it on Google maps–hard for many of us to think of this. Our connectivity will be limited during the trip but Team Dayā will return with many stories and photos. We hope the work will inspire your continued investment, and that some of you will consider traveling on a future school build.

Grateful for your support and belief in our work,

Founder, Team Dayā