Nepal 2015

Nepal1

In the autumn of 2015, I traveled to Nepal to volunteer with my friends and many other volunteers in the village of Takure, Sindhupalchok, Nepal. I spent about 6 and a half weeks in the village, and several days in Kathmandu. Below are 2 videos I compiled together of our incredible, incredible time there working and living alongside the community members.

See map for exact location:

Video #1 (~2 mins)

What is Conscious Impact? Conscious Impact is many things. It is community. It is love and kindness. And compassionate, selfless service. Courageous and beautifully, wholehearted goodness. Watch this video and hear more reasons why you should ‪#‎ComeToNepal‬ and join this wonderful movement for positive social change on our planet. Sign up today at consciousimpact.org/volunteer

Video #2 (~8 mins)

This is it. Conscious Impact volunteer and community showcase video, by yours truly. The first of a number of videos to be created. This one goes out to all past, current, and upcoming volunteers. Shout out and gratitude to everyone – and I mean EVERYone – who has made this production possible. An absolute joy to work alongside and to photo/videograph all that we have done and experienced together. This video truly only depicts a small chunk of the full experience, in my humble opinion. Beautiful original music by Scott Hansen, Kael Shipman and Ryan Serrano. Additional credits – amazing volunteers, interpreters, partners, and community members of Takure.

More content to be added. In the meantime, below are related posts from the blog:

December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas all! I’ve got some exciting news and updates to share.

Since the last update on Indiegogo, the volunteer team and community members have been churning out compressed stabilized earth blocks with the freshly-arrived brick press with all local materials and labor. They are producing up to ~75 bricks a day now, with the eventual goal of reaching 100/day.

Thanks to many of you, I am proud and joyed to have taken part in the creation of the brick and training center, and now that production is underway, it makes me so, so happy to see that we have raised $5865* in just 15 days. *correction: $5965 by the time I am hitting the ‘Publish’ button!

Our goal of $8000 (~16,000 bricks) is getting closer and closer. That will be enough to rebuild the first school, which serves approximately 85 students. Consider gifting the community of Takure and our selfless volunteers there the ability to keep the production going.

Read more & pitch in at: https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/bricks-for-nepal

Photos by Michael Libis

At the bottom of this post are images from the upper school of Takure, where I spent much time with other volunteers and local kids as we were setting up an afterschool program to play, create art, sing, and learn English.

Also, if you are in the Seattle area or know somebody in the region who would be interested, I will be co-hosting a presentation with Allen Gula, one of the co-founders of Conscious Impact, at the Seattle REI on Tuesday December 29th at 7pm. We will have the latest updates from the project, new media, and perhaps most importantly, how folks can contribute and/or volunteer in the coming year. This presentation also serves as a follow-up to the event that I hosted at the Beacon Food Forest back in August.

More details and RSVP via: https://www.facebook.com/events/1517245291907059/

Thank you. Namaste.
Bonus: photos of the upper school in Takure from Sept/Oct.


November 24, 2015

My brothers Luke Namer + Sebastian Buffa, the duo behind Redefined films, worked alongside the Conscious Impact team, dozens of volunteers, and yours truly in Nepal throughout October and beyond. This is a fresh-out-of-the-oven teaser of their upcoming short documentary on Nepal and specifically, of our dai Dheeraj Mishra of YUWA Unity Nepal, in his home village Takure and family land. Trust me, this will be a treat. Turn up the sound, and enjoy these 128 seconds. I cannot wait to screen the full feature next year.

A story unfolds beyond the numbers. Into deeper understanding, the human and the global community merge. To evolve as workers of a mutual cause, and to relinquish passive viewership.

Redefined: The Second Contemplation.

Screenings this May.

November 6, 2015

Greetings from Central America! I write this on a bus heading to Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica, where my high school friend Steven’s wedding is happening this weekend.

After my extended stay in Nepal, I caught a sore throat and fever that unfortunately made the journey home quite uncomfortable. Thankfully, I spent 4 days in between the 2 journeys in quality company of old friends and housemates. My body has been restored completely now. A strong dose of nature, rest, good food, even better company, and wanderlust have been perfect cures. Right before departing Kathmandu, I finished a 8-minute film showcasing our work as volunteers and the community of Takure. It is intended to be shown to upcoming and prospective volunteers of Conscious Impact & YUWA, and of course serve as a tribute to all the incredible experiences and progress made collectively in Sept and Oct. I am proud to show this to all the supporters and donors to my fundraiser. Definitely worth noting that all 3 songs were sung and recorded in Takure, and 2 of the songs are original pieces inspired by our time in the village. Turn the sound up!

Upon returning to the U.S. later in Nov, I will continue to organize, edit, and publish content captured in Takure & Nepal. Orion and Juliette have been posting many of my photographs on their personal Facebook profiles as well the Conscious Impact FB page. Luke + Sebastian from Redefined Films were great to work with, and they too will be producing content in the coming weeks/months. One of their videos will showcase Dheeraj, the co-founder of YUWA Unity Nepal and a resident of Takure. It’s looking to be really good. I will keep you all posted with links. I had some sincere, heartfelt conversations with Orion and Allen while in Nepal, and the current intention is for me to return Feb 2016 to pick things up once more. By that time the brick press(es) will be set and producing compressed stabilized earth blocks daily, and thus the reconstruction of the school(s) ought to be well under way. I am so looking forward to it! Attached are some favorites from my last 2 weeks in Nepal. For folks who have selected a print or photo book as perks, we shall be in touch later in November in regards to making all the happen. 🙂 With much gratitude for your support, in whatever quantity and manner, to have made this journey and project, for myself and for so many others I have crossed paths with, not only possible but truly, deeply enriching.

Namaste.

October 14, 2015

The ambient light diffusing into my tent gently woke me up. It was roughly 6 am. The air was damp, but not muggy. I remembered it had rained last night. I remembered being pulled out of a deep sleep as the rain drops spattered onto the nylon rainfly less than a meter above. The rain was light though, soothing. I teleported back into dreamland within seconds. I have slept well almost every night. This rain was particularly welcomed. It hadn’t rained for nearly a week. The transition out of the monsoon season has been quite drastic in these past 5 weeks. The frequency of rain has dropped noticeably, and so has the evening temperatures. Autumn is definitely upon us.

The volunteer camp in the village of Takure in the district of Sindhupalchok has been my home for nearly the past 6 weeks. I have lived out of a small tent, waking up early to the sun everyday to learn, work, and live alongside dozens of volunteers from across the globe. In some weeks there have been only about 15-25 of us. Others 40-55+. We eat a vegetarian, plant-based diet. We drink, shower, and clean with water from a spring further up the hill. Natural resources such as bamboo, wood, sand, clay, and stone are collected from around the community, and if needed, purchased from nearby stores to support local businesses. The diversity of the characters this camp and project has attracted here is truly immense. Equally immense is the hospitality and warmth of the Nepalis, specifically the community members of Takure. We’ve been welcomed into a number of families’ homes and served tea, milk, and sometimes even fresh harvests such as cucumbers with chili salt. Their stories, openness, and humility humble us each and everyday. Describing the essence thus far with any one or even combination of adjectives doesn’t even begin to articulate the full spectrum of humbling and enlightening human experiences I (we) have had.

Today we bid farewell to the 10-day October rebuild volunteers. Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you have worked, laughed, sang, cooked, sweated, learned, and shared experiences with around the clock day after day. We share the collective vision for global learning and understanding. We seek connections beyond geographical and political boundaries. We are drawn closer by our similarities rather than being divided by our differences in beliefs, genders, and interests. We celebrate the unique journeys and skill sets which we are all on and have. It makes for quite the special bonds. I have certainly made a number of friends for life.

In the following several days, we will be completing the main structure of the training center. The training center is going to be where community members of Takure and folks from all around the region can come and learn about an alternative building material which will be produced on-site. Compressed earth blocks, or CEB for short, is the main product. These blocks are to be made from nearly all local materials, are ecologically and financially sustainable, and very importantly, earthquake-proof. The CEB will first be utilized in rebuilding the 2 local schools, a project which both Conscious Impact​ and YUWA Unity Nepal​ are fully committed to and foresee starting later in November. The vision is to have this training center to be a knowledge-sharing space and marketplace run by villagers of Takure to offer lessons, discussions, and have the earth blocks for sale at a significantly lower cost (as well as ecological footprint) compared to conventional building materials and methods.

I am so proud of my friends’ work in this beautiful, special place. I am filled with awe at the progress we have made in the past month and a half. When you first walk around this village, you may only see physical devastation. Yet as all of us have discovered and experienced, the people living in the temporary structures rebuilt from scrap materials from their fallen homes are more often filled with resilience, joy, and hope. Amazingly, despite having had all but one structure collapse from the earthquakes in April and May, there is not one human casualty in Takure. Rupak​, one of the local young men who has been working with us as well as serve as our interpreter, remarked that this is such a special place that Shiva himself has protected the village. This resonates well with the spirit we have felt through the visits to homes and schools. The community members are thankful for this life and are ready to rebuild better and stronger than before.

The dwindling internet access here at camp has made uploading content and staying connected limited and difficult at best. I apologize for the lack of updates especially these past couple weeks as our internet access went from limited to barely existent. As I (reluctantly) emerge out of the woods from this special place, I will undoubtedly be adding content to this fundraising campaign and on social media. There is so, so much to be shared.

Due to the complex and escalated political and social issues in Nepal these past few weeks, many resources including petro has been a rare commodity throughout the country. Many flights out of Kathmandu have been canceled, including my own. After several days of uncertainty (and some frustration), my departure date has been postponed to October 23 — 6 days later than originally scheduled. This delay allows much-welcomed downtime, further envisioning with Allen​ and Orion​ for what the next year holds for us, in addition to the films we will be able to produce with Luke​ and Sebastian​, the good folks behind Redefined​ Films.

There is 2 and a half days left in the fundraiser. We are so close to the goal. I am overwhelmed by the incredible support from friends and family across over 5 different time zones. I hope you find or have found value in the work that not only I have been doing here in Takure, but we collectively as a conscious movement doing what we all feel is morally and socially the right thing to do. The impact we have made, will continue to here in Nepal and far beyond throughout our lives and those we touch shall spread like ripples on a tranquil pond. I have no doubt this is only the beginning of the greater good we are able to co-create within ourselves and those we touch.

Looking forward, and always enjoying the present moment.With love and gratitude from Takure,
Jonathan

Indiegogo fundraiser LINK: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rebuilding-learning-and-storytelling-in-nepal/

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October 11, 2015

My flight out of Kathmandu on October 17th with China Eastern has been cancelled. It appears to be directly connected to the current political situation in Nepal and massive fuel (and many other resources) shortage in the capital city. The Orbitz phone rep told me the next available flight is Oct 27th. Haven’t confirmed yet but at the moment it appears I’m staying in Nepal and specifically in Takure a bit longer. Currently the arrival back to N America cuts it too close for comfort — 13 hours between arriving in Vancouver BC to get back to Seattle, repack, and get to the airport again. American Airlines was utterly worthless in working with me to change the dates for the flight to Nicaragua. Looking to work out with Orbitz/China Eastern to work something out soon.
A bit more background and thoughts – the border with India is still closed, perhaps with special exceptions. Our compressed earth block brick press has been stuck there, unfortunately. That border is also where Nepal gets much of its imports, including oil. Drivers, motos, and taxis have been waiting days and in lines several km’s long for just a few liters of fuel. Roads in and around Kathmandu are lined with parked cars. Services, business, and public transport are severely affected. Even with our internet situation going from mostly usable to barely existing now, we in the village are buffered from the chaos of Kathmandu and are doing significantly better, almost ironically. Living on the land directly and using a high majority of local resources and food gives us resilience to a prime example of a failing system that is entirely dependent on dirty fossil fuels. We are supporting the local economy here by purchasing from the small shops in town. In the last few days we have broken ground at the agriculture site to start growing edible trees and plants. It’ll take months if not longer to reach, however the simple yet important goal is to have the volunteer camp to not only be as self-sustaining as possible but also regenerate the land as these secondary and tertiary forests surrounding the rice and millet terraces mature. Despite the challenges and hold backs, all 50+ of us volunteers here are in high spirits as we continue to improve our camp, build the training center, and be immersed in the local culture with daily family visits, community events, and school programs with 1st to 6th graders. What an immense time it has been here.

September 22, 2015

Teej festival in Takure, Sindupalchok district.

Photos and captions by Hannah Markoff.

This is Hannah, here she is receiving a tikka on her forehead. Today is the Teej festival, a day to celebrate women.  A blessing for good health from Shiva was given by one of the local women.

This is Hannah, here she is receiving a tikka on her forehead. Today is the Teej festival, a day to celebrate women. A blessing for good health from Shiva was given by one of the local women.

This is Chelsea, a back bone force of Yuwa Unity and big supporter of Conscious Impact. Pictured here dressed in traditional braman sari for the Teag festival. Red all round.

This is Chelsea, a back bone force of Yuwa Unity and big supporter of Conscious Impact. Pictured here dressed in traditional braman sari for the Teag festival. Red all round.

This is Nita, one of the regular superstar cooks in the conscious impact kitchen. Pictured here with her cousin, dressed up for the Teej Festival.

This is Nita, one of the regular superstar cooks in the conscious impact kitchen. Pictured here with her cousin, dressed up for the Teej Festival.

Pictured here are two of our passionate volunteers, Beth and Sue.

Pictured here are two of our passionate volunteers, Beth and Sue.

This is Mel, one of our rasta loving sydney based volunteers. Pictured here in Nepali dress, playing around with one of the local children at the festival, Santos.

This is Mel, one of our rasta loving sydney based volunteers. Pictured here in Nepali dress, playing around with one of the local children at the festival, Santos.

The women across many communities spent the day inviting us to dance traditional Nepali style with them!

The women across many communities spent the day inviting us to dance traditional Nepali style with them!

This is Rupa, one of the local girls in the village. Most days she ties together leaves in a ball and plays hackie sack better than any of the boys!

This is Rupa, one of the local girls in the village. Most days she ties together leaves in a ball and plays hackie sack better than any of the boys!

This is a snap shot of the closessness that the men in the community share. Male villagers are more affectionate than the women are with each other. It is powerful and beautiful to witness.

This is a snap shot of the closessness that the men in the community share. Male villagers are more affectionate than the women are with each other. It is powerful and beautiful to witness.

This man spent the day drumming for the ladies of the village to sing and dance to in celebration of Teej.

This man spent the day drumming for the ladies of the village to sing and dance to in celebration of Teej.

This is Saati, an indian princess who is giving up her time to volunteer with us. She spent the day sharing stories with us  about the love between Hindu gods Shiva and Paravati.

This is Saati, an indian princess who is giving up her time to volunteer with us. She spent the day sharing stories with us about the love between Hindu gods Shiva and Paravati.

September 21, 2015

My second photo story in working with Conscious Impact and YUWA Unity Nepal in the village of Takure in Sindupalchok district. A few of us joined Dheeraj, one of the co-directors of YUWA Unity Nepal, for a walk around the village to see the edible crops grown here, how food is managed and harvested, and how we can work towards creating an ag site near the volunteer camp to provide local nutrition.

Photos by yours truly. Captions by Erin Smith and I.

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Dheeraj explains the local bamboos- two types used in village – thick for building temporary structures; thin “weaver’s bamboo” used for basket making. Large bamboo takes 3-5 years of growth for structural maturity.

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Dried rice plant – stored and used for making floor mats. Rice is eaten by families and rice husks can be fed to cows to increase milk production.

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Goats- female goats kept with family; male goats sold for meat after one year.

Goats provide milk, meat, as well as useful manure to create compost for plants.

Goats provide milk, meat, as well as useful manure to create compost for plants.

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Okra and Chili Peppers at the Mishra residence. They have many edible plants and utilize every plantable space horizontal and vertical space in the vicinity of their home.

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We crossed paths with dede near her home as she was harvesting. She stopped her chores and went to cut up a cucumber with served it to us with salt mixed with chili powder.

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Dheeraj standing by the coffee tree that he planted when he was 7 years old.

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Coffee beans on the tree that Dheeraj planted. About 1-2 months from harvesting. Typical harvest months are November-December.

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Tree tomatoes. Other edible trees include walnut, fig, plum, coffee, orange, dwarf lemon, guava, mango, plum, peach, and grapefruit.

Millet is commonly seen in Takore district (terraces) used as a flour in a variety of dishes, most commonly in a simple water mixture that is then drank. Requires less water than rice. Can also be used as a substitution for wheat flour in any recipe.

Millet – Most commonly seen in Takore district (terraces) used as a flour in a variety of dishes, most commonly in a simple water mixture that is then drank. Requires less water than rice. Can also be used as a substitution for wheat flour in any recipe. Rice is grown later in the year after the millet has been harvested.

Auntie carries grasses for animal food. Locals spend much of their time collecting food for the animals and carrying it back to their homes. Animals cannot be herded to the fields, as they would indiscriminately eat plants meant for human consumption.

Auntie carries grasses for animal food. Locals spend much of their time collecting food for the animals and carrying it back to their homes. Animals cannot be herded to the fields, as they would indiscriminately eat plants meant for human consumption.

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Phakash explains to us the mechanism and creation of bio gas from cow, buffalo, and even human manure.

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Deraj’s friend- Suresh- studied together since first grade- using his land to cultivate different plants which he in turn sells to local villagers to transplant into their own gardens.

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Squash – needs extra support from supplementary plants and structures; a trellace, neighboring tree, or barn structure housing a water buffalo are examples of where squash can be seen climbing and organically growing to large sizes (Seen on Deraj’s land amidst various trees and foliage including a blackberry bush, tomatoes, corn) – all examples of layering plants and utilizing the land efficiently and sustainably.

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Water buffaloes. A major part in grain production and source of useful manure for compost. Adults as well as children spend much time collecting food for the animals and carrying it back to their homes. Animals cannot be herded to the fields, as they would indiscriminately eat plants meant for human consumption. Notice the squash plant overtaking the rooftop.

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Stinging nettles along the side of the road. Nepalis use nettles, however we did not see it grown in visible quantities.

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Eggplant.

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The mother of Deraj’s childhood friend- he describes her like a second mother and calls her “Amma” – She learns that the Conscious Impact volunteers have discovered and appreciate the local bitter gourd delight and climbs onto her roof to harvest all the ripe pieces for Deraj to take to the volunteer camp.

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Tulsi. Considered a sacred plant by Nepalis. Often planted in front of families’ homes.

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This auntie welcomed us into their home and served us sweet black tea.

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Dheeraj in his elements.

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Before earthquake corn was dried inside homes in “corn houses”. Without the space post-earthquake families now dry corn by hanging outside on lines. This was the traditional practice farmers were able to revert back to.

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Corn is used for both animal and human consumption- family eats the best of the harvest and the rest is made into a powder and fed to animals.

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Surplus isn’t common, but can be sold if available. Dried corn is roasted to produce something like popcorn, but it can also be roasted before drying and eaten from the cob.

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Auntie and her family brought out a dish of freshly grilled corn for us to enjoy as we helped peel the dried corn cobs. Cheers!

Learn more about the work that I, Conscious Impact, and YUWA Unity Nepal are doing:
www.consciousimpact.org
www.yuwaunitynepal.org

Also on Facebook “Conscious Impact” and “YUWA Unity Nepal” and Instagram (@consciousimpact, @subtledream).

I am currently running a fundraiser for my work with these great organizations, and you would be able to support all of our work and get prints of my photographs in Nepal through it. Please check out https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rebuilding-learning-and-storytelling-in-nepal/ to find out.

September 18, 2015

My first photo story in working with Conscious Impact and YUWA Unity Nepal in the village of Takure in Sindupalchok district. 5 volunteers including myself and our interpreter visited the Mishra family about a week ago. Here is their story.
“Our family was eating dal baht (lunch) when the earthquake happened. We ran to our open field/terrace and watched our home crumble. I injured my foot while trying to run. We lived under a tarp for 1 month while we built a new (temporary) house of wood and other scrap materials. The earthquake collapsed our animals shed and 6 of our goats died. We found the cow stuck under the collapsed roof and helped her get out. She was not badly injured and was still able to give birth not long after. Most of our crop land was also ruined but we had some crop survive.”
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Sanjana, our Nepali interpreter from Kathmandu, provides essential translation and interpretation for us and the Mishra family.

 

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Mama Mishra stands at the one of the front doors of the new temporary home they built after the April/May 2015 earthquake. She owns and runs a tailor shop where she makes 3 to 4 dresses a day.

 

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Mama and granddaughter Mishra was visiting the family in Takure for the Teej festival. They usually live and work in Kathmandu, and come to Takure for various festivals throughout the year.

 

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Grandmother Mishra joyfully describing us about the Teej festival the following day (Sept 16) and all the dancing and singing that will be involved at home and at the temple.

 

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The Teej festival is a celebration that takes place in western and northern India as well as Nepal primarily by girls and women in dedication to Goddess Parvati and her union with Lord Shiva. The Mishra family is already in their festival dresses and jewelry and is getting into the festive mood. Grandma Mishra is telling us about the good food that they’ll have today since most women fast during the Teej festival day in hopes for the long life of their (future) husband.

 

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Steph, one of the Conscious Impact & YUWA Unity Nepal volunteers, with auntie Kamala and Astha.

 

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Astha, the 9-year old granddaughter of the Mishra family, lives and goes to school in Kathmandu. Although shy and reserved at first, she speaks great English and eventually got talking with us about what she likes to do and studies in school. At several points, she event helped translate what her mother and grandmother was saying.

 

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3 generations of Mishra women in front of their almost-5 month-old temporary home built from scarp wood and other materials they were able to salvage from their fallen house. It is Conscious Impact and YUWA Unity Nepal’s priority goal at the moment to build a training center where compressed earth blocks (CEB) will be made and distributed to families here and beyond to rebuild.

Learn more about the work that I, Conscious Impact, and YUWA Unity Nepal are doing:
www.consciousimpact.org
www.yuwaunitynepal.org
Also on Facebook “Conscious Impact” and “YUWA Unity Nepal” and Instagram (@consciousimpact, @subtledream).

I am currently running a fundraiser for my work with these great organizations, and you would be able to support all of our work and get prints of my photographs in Nepal through it. Please check out https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rebuilding-learning-and-storytelling-in-nepal/ to find out.

September 10, 2015

Hello directly from the village of Takure! I’ve been here for 5 days. We are currently about 20 people from the US, Australia, Britain, Bulgaria, Italy, and New Zealand. We have architects, builders, botanists, logistics experts, educators, university students, and many more with various skills and passions in the group. Everyone is working together with YUWA Unity Nepal plus members from the community of Takure to create and improve our volunteer camp and the foundations of the future training center (and later, the school). The training center is going to serve as a hub for villagers as well as visitors to learn, co-create, and develop ideas to build and maintain structures with compressed earth blocks and other environmentally sustainable and economically viable methods.

In a couple days, 5-6 more volunteers will join us, while from September 16-25, there will be another 12 or so volunteers converging to really get the momentum going on the training center. It is a very exciting time to be here learning, collaborating, and regenerating the spirit of the people and the structures in the years to come.

One of my roles has been to help out with various physical tasks, such as leveling the ground to build a composting latrine and garden space, gathering stones from a collapsed roof of a nearby house to be reused for other projects. It’s noteworthy that 245 out of 245 houses in Takure sustained minor or major damage.

The other task has been to become familiarized with the local environment and culture while documenting the cross-cultural collaboration as we move forward. The physical damages are very apparent even nearly 5 months after the initial shake, but the spirit of the people here and all around Nepal appear to be strong and hopeful. Rice continues to thrive in the rice paddy fields, goats keep munching on foliage, while day to day business rolls on and kids play on the streets.

I am feeling extremely grateful to BE here surrounded by such eagerness, positivity, and diversity of folks to have this synergistic experience. With over a month left in the fundraiser and less than half way to the goal, I have no doubt that we will reach it and beyond. Thank YOU for every contribution and effort to bring this into reality for myself and so many others here in Takure, and more. I am (we are) so, so appreciative of your support in any form.

In the meantime, please enjoy the attached photos since landing in Nepal.

Kathmandu

Melamchi

Takure

 

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