For the better part of October, we spent our time volunteering with All Hands Volunteers Nepal Earthquake Response. We were stationed in Trishuli where we spent the month assisting with the construction of a new school for over five hundred children. Trishuli is a small city located in the rural Nuwakot district of Nepal, about a four hour bus ride from Kathmandu (granted the road is in tact — one fellow volunteer reported a 16 hour bus ride as a mudslide had taken out a portion of the road and the entire bus sat and waited until the road had been ‘repaired’).
Although we didn’t know quite what was in store coming to work with All Hands Volunteers, we naturally held some expectations as we had undertaken quite a bit of research into the many NGO and non-profit organizations working to provide post-earthquake relief to Nepal. What we found upon arrival was an eclectic group of people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the world, all there for the same purpose — to dedicate themselves to the service of others in need. Given the fact that this was a building and construction-based volunteership, there were quite a few architects in the group but this was by no means a pre-requisite. A majority of the volunteer staff actually had little to no construction experience. Yet one of the most impressive aspects of the All Hands Volunteers organization is their ability to coordinate the ever-changing ebb and flow of a largely unskilled volunteer labor force into an effective team that will get the work done. As long as you are willing to learn, sweat, get dirty and share one bedroom and three bathrooms with 50 other volunteers and a plethora of critters, you are on the team.
Our day to day quickly became routine as we assumed our position on the job site each day. With my prior experience in construction, I was quickly tasked with leading a team of volunteers. I spent most of the time we were there assisting local masons with assembling formwork in preparation for pouring the first and second level floor structure of one of the two buildings being constructed on site. Karla quickly found her shovel muscles, jumping from one task to the next each day depending on where extra labor was needed. I have to say there were times I felt bad when I would watch Karla shoveling gravel in the hot sun from the comfort of my shaded carpentry tent where I was assembling concrete forms with little more than a drop of sweat on my brow. By the end of the month, the work we had completed and the relationships we had forged were tangible and gratifying. With still quite of bit of work to get done, the school is slated to be completed by the end of December, although as with every construction project I’ve ever experienced, I’ll believe it when I see it! Nonetheless, I will say that if anyone can do it it’s the volunteers at All Hands!
On the eve of your departure from base, each volunteer is required to stand up at the nightly meeting and give a brief speech to the group, a bit of a farewell if you will. Karla decided to write a poem about her experience and read it aloud. She received a big ovation. Here’s what she wrote:
All Hands Nepal
This trip for me was about conquering fears
What I’ve experienced these weeks will stay with me for years
It was quite an adventure on a bus Nepali
I was squeezed in the back next to a big lady
I was separated from my giant pack
And I didn’t know if I’d ever get it back
When I first arrived to our little shed
Creepy things crawled around my bed
Creature comforts filled my little head
And thoughts of being elsewhere instead
Living in so communal a place
Was hard for someone who likes personal space
When I’d meet a new friend
The next day they’d pack
We’d link up on Facebook
And they’d be gone in a flash
I wondered at work if my efforts were in vain
And I’d wake up each morning with a new muscle in pain
But I began to adapt as each day went by
To shower quite quickly and to rapidly dry
I learned to wake early and make breakfast with haste
And to run to the bathroom at a much quicker pace
And after going far to the mountains to roam
Coming back to the base felt like coming home
My bed was now 1 of 36 sharing a floor
And to my utter surprise, not one person did snore!
I kept working hard in the hot morning sun
Till the doughnuts were ready and ‘Tea Time’ had come
If my boots were muddy and my shirt was a mess
Then I knew that the day had been a success
I’ve met wonderful people from faraway lands
They have beautiful accents and inspiring plans
Every day meeting new volunteers from new places
Now I have lots of friends who were at first new faces
How beautiful to begin each new day
Greeted by children whispering, “Namaste”
I feel humbled to have helped build their school
Their homes may have little, but their hearts are full
Every minute, every dollar
every brick and batch of masala
Will help the children to read and to write
So that their futures may be very bright
Thanks to the staff for your kindness and patience
And to the bus drivers, chefs, and the masons
The greatest thing about fulfilling this dream
Has been being a part of a selfless team
Whether de-nailing all day or moving the sands
In the end it’s about making use of All Hands.
A big thank you to all of our friends and family who donated to this cause. We appreciate all of your support. For more information on All Hands Volunteers and the work that they’re doing around the globe, please visit www.hands.org.
Below are a few brief videos created by two fellow volunteers, Aiden and Natalie, during our time on the project.