Vail Valley volunteers lend a helping hand in Nepal
Ryan Summerlin January 2, 2013
Editor’s note: This is the first of four articles about local Habitat for Humanity volunteers’ recent trip to Nepal.
EAGLE COUNTY – The excitement of the Habitat for Humanity Everest Build in Nepal was highly anticipated given that my decision to participate was determined in early spring 2012. The trip had finally arrived and “Team Stoke” (consisting of myself and two childhood girlfriends from Alabama) were anxiously ready to begin an experience of a lifetime. We would join a group of 18 other volunteers from the Vail Valley to build two homes in the Kavre Region, located north of Kathmandu. Volunteers from all over the world, including local university students donating a week of their time, arrived in Kathmandu ready to transform the lives of those less privileged.
When we arrived to the build site on Day 1, you can imagine the emotions experienced by everyone as were warmly greeted by the villagers in a procession that included a casual greeting of “namaste,” a lei of yellow carnations for around our neck and the bindi paste on the forehead (a cultural tradition). The local children and adults alike were ecstatic to see us. For the next five days, we would “Change Hearts, Join Hands, Build Homes.” A total of 37 homes were to be built during this week for less fortunate families previously screened by Habitat for Humanity, and selected according to their current living conditions, monthly income and willingness to partner with Habitat. The family selection process is similar all around the world.
When “Vail Team” arrived at one of our assigned houses (No. 19), the brick walls and concrete foundation had already been laid. Together, we were to finish building the walls to the desired height, hand seal them with several coats of mud containing rice husk or cow dung (yes, it’s a specialty), stain and paint the doors and windows and install the tin roof bound by bamboo. Some of us, myself included, had minimal house building skills, however we were all willing and eager to learn. We were prepped in advance that we would build these homes according to Nepal standards, as a respect to their culture, and not to the way we (Westerners) are accustomed to.
A reality check
The family of house No. 19 included a single mother age 60, her two sons and their two wives, each with a baby on the way. Their current living situation consisted of a one room shack-like structure and use of their neighbors living areas. Their monthly income is approximately $50-$90 per month. They farm (corn, millet) off the land, raise goats for milk and cheese and breed chickens for food. They carry water from the nearest water station (a water truck would come through every few days of the week) in a metal urn held above their head. The ladies wash their clothes by hand with soap and a bucket and hang to line dry. Their living conditions are so simple and rustic, yet the Nepalese are some of the happiest, most grateful people I have ever met. Their laughter, smiles and general head wobble was so contagious; it was a true reality check for most of us to never take anything for granted and to be thankful for even the little things in life.
After a few days of construction on our Habitat for Humanity home in Nepal, we appreciated the progress we had made on the home. It was wonderful to see the family, for whom we were building, join forces with the volunteers and work alongside each other, despite the language barrier. As you can imagine, the build days were long, intense hours and each of us from the wonderful “Team Vail” put all our effort into the sweat equity it took to build this home for a family we had just met a few days prior. Between the laughter, the conversations and the jokes made while “making mud” in the mud pit, there was never a dull moment with our crew.
The International Build in Nepal was well organized and prepared in advance. Construction manuals were provided at each home, as well as tools and safety equipment. With the build taking place in a less developed country, health and safety was a huge concern and we were encouraged daily to take rest breaks as needed. Every day, lunchtime would be announced over the loud speakers as “breaking news, breaking news.” All volunteers would congregate at the “Lunch Place,” where we were provided with a tasty hot lunch buffet. Later, we were treated to sodas, bottled water, fresh local fruit, and snacks. All 37 homes had an experienced house leader, as well as a translator, who would provide daily guided instruction and encourage volunteers to adhere to the construction timeline in order to complete most of the build by the last day, aka the home dedication.
Another exciting aspect of an International Build is the opportunity to meet and work alongside volunteers from various places in the U.S. and around the world. Most of us traveled thousands of miles from all around the world, with the same purpose in mind. Anytime there was an opportunity to meet someone from another Habitat affiliate, friendships were immediately created.
As I reflect on the build week in Nepal, I realize how much I have to be grateful for. We are all so blessed to live in this beautiful valley with so many reasons to be thankful. This was my first International Build with Habitat for Humanity, and I know that it will not be my last. If you are looking for an exceptional humanitarian experience, where you can transform the lives of others by providing a safe and secure environment to raise their families, I encourage you to get involved with your local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.
Corrie Crane is the resident manager for East West Resorts.