SPECIALChangemakers' ambition : Let's build the society Disasters cannot beat.

Nepal Japan

icoOne Year After : Rebuilding in Nepal

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In the highest mountain villages, the best approach to rebuilding is to teach people how to build.

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It takes two hours from Kathmandu, traveling by Jeep up narrow mountain roads, to arrive at Dhungkharka, a village in rural mountainous area not far from the epicenter of the April 25, 2015 Nepal earthquake.

Dhungkarka is the site of the weekly market for the area, making it an ideal showcase for Build Change, an NGO that designs disaster-resistant houses and schools in emerging nations and trains builders, homeowners, engineers, and government officials to build them.

Visitors to the market will soon see a “model house” built by local villagers using safe construction materials such as cement, stones and concrete. “That’s the best kind of promotion for our program,” says Mr. Noll Tufani, the country director for Build Change.

In Nepal’s mountain villages, the traditional home was built using heaped-up stones cemented with mud. During the April 2015 earthquake, far too many of those homes collapsed. Of the houses that did remain standing, most are now used only as sheds and barns due to major structural weaknesses that make them unfit for habitation.

In collaboration with the Nepal government, Build Change is offering training programs that teach how to build earthquake-safe houses using safer construction techniques such as cement mortar and stone, or concrete blocks to replace traditional materials.


From temporary housing to permanent homes

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“First, I heard a sound like a bus engine roaring. Then, it turned into a heavy sound, as if a helicopter were crashing on the ground. I turned around and saw heavy dust rising from the village.”

This account, from one of the villagers, describes the moment the earthquake hit — and those sights and sounds were caused by the heaped stones of collapsing houses.

The government recently completed reconstruction guidelines, but the work is behind schedule.

Meanwhile, the villagers are living in temporary housing, and it’s a painful experience to live in a wooden shack with poor insulation through the freezing mountain winter.

“Half a million houses were destroyed and 250,000 more were severely damaged,” says Noll. “It’s primordial that the people of Nepal be taught to build back safer to prevent losses of lives and economic destruction in any future earthquake.”

“You can build a robust house with stones if you do it right and have strong walls and good connections using cement and reinforced concrete” notes Noll. “That’s why, to reduce the damage of a future earthquake, we educate people on the importance of a safe, well-built house – and then show people how to build them.”


Raising awareness toward disaster defense

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In addition to teaching people to build homes, Build Change also conducts educational outreach to generate widespread community interest in building safer homes. Rebuilding requires more than just training on construction techniques.

For the program to be accepted fully by the community, it’s essential to gain the participation and understanding of the entire village – including the women.
However, this poses a challenge given Nepal’s conservative culture, in which most men work away from home and women usually stay home.

In response, female staff members have been active members of the Build Change organization with high visibility during market days, fostering easier conversations and wider acceptance in the community.

Live performance has universal appeal to audiences old and young, and that’s why Build Change put on a show combining humor and education to raise awareness about disaster prevention. Following the show, staff members hand out an illustrated pamphlet for audience members describing the 10 key elements of a safe home.

Even with these efforts, change will take time. “In our experience, it takes an average of five years for a country to recover from a disaster,” says Noll. “Although we are currently providing technical assistance in recovering from disaster and preparing for the future, our real goal is not just disaster prevention, but rather enabling everyone to live in a safe home.”

Build Change volunteers walk mountain roads and work with villagers to establish lasting changes, rooted in traditional practices.

“We always respect local needs and procedures,” says Noll. “We work hard every day to reach our goals as soon as possible, sharing widely our technologies and knowledge.”

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  • Founder and CEO of Build Change
  • Elizabeth Hausler

Safe houses for everybody.

“In going to devastated areas all over the world, what I always keep in mind is that people should be able to live in houses that are strong enough to withstand natural disasters. To make that possible, we provide economic and technological support to let people build safe houses on their own.

“Rebuilding is not putting things back together to what they were. We are dedicated to spreading the idea of disaster prevention, helping people to withstand future disasters.

“It will take time for Nepal to complete rebuilding, and even while we rebuild, we will continue with disaster prevention.

“Nepali are very patient people. Nepali staff are doing a wonderful job for their homeland.

“We will continue building houses that we hope will endure natural disasters for generations to come.

“I would like to thank ANA BLUE WING for their generous support, and we greatly appreciate the ongoing resources for rebuilding Nepal and preventing the tragedies that the next natural disaster might bring.”

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