Just four months after breaking ground in Dhayapur, Nepal, the local community, in conjunction with Team Dayā and its supporters, and our non-profit partner buildOn, has completed the construction of a beautiful yellow, maroon and white three-room schoolhouse. The students and teachers are already at work in the school.
On behalf of Dhayapur, buildOn and Team Dayā, we want to send a very big Dhan’yavāda (thank you in Nepali) to all our supporters. Doing this was a dream before we began the group in November 2018, and now we can point to our first successful school completion.
When Team Dayā left Dhayapur this past October, we had successfully completed the school groundbreaking, working with the community to dig the foundation and organize various materials (stone, brick, rebar) that would be used for the school construction.
The Dhayapur community, along with skilled labor provided by our non profit partner buildOn, has made amazing progress on the three room school house and the accompanying girls and boys latrine since the October groundbreaking. Here are a few photos of the work through the first week of January.
If you scroll down below this new album, you can see a few photos on what things looked like in October during the ground breaking, just 90 days ago. We expect the community will complete the school between now and the end of February or so. We’ll continue to provide updates.
PHOTO, below: Team Dayā member Jordan Mitchell at the groundbreaking ceremony in October.
PHOTO, below: The first days of activity were a lot of intense, manual labor – all the foundation was excavated by hand using hoes and shovels.
PHOTO, below: After the first week of work, the foundation was excavated and the footing and column work was underway.
I knew it would be remarkable. Still, nothing properly prepared me.
The six of us traveled a long way to finally arrive in the village of Dhayapur in the remote lowland Terai region of Nepal. We arrived to great celebration ahead of the school groundbreaking that would happen the next morning. The community celebration included three hours of music, dancing and speeches. And the signing of the covenant.
We had been told about the covenant signing–an agreement between our NGO partner buildOn and the community that memorializes the commitments of all parties. Community members agree to provide all the manual labor needed to build the school house, as well as equal school access for girls and boys.
Illiteracy rates are strikingly high in areas such as this. Many, especially women, are unable to sign their own name and instead use an ink pad to leave a thumb print as a signature. People line up to sign the covenant and then you see it–women leaving their thumb prints, agreeing to put their own sweat equity to build a school house that will break a cycle of illiteracy and poverty for their daughters, sons and community.
The next morning we were shoulder to shoulder with those same women, digging the foundation of the new school house.
If you are looking for evidence of hope, optimism and conviction the future can be a better place, go look in Dhayapur, Nepal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.