This was made clear to us when we came to the valley to talk to the local people to assess what their most urgent needs were after the disaster. Accordingly, we put together a plan to rebuild one primary school that was to be both earth-quake proof and eco-friendly.
The Nepali government requirement for a primary school is a building with six classrooms, one staff room, several separate toilets for girls and boys, and a small library.
After extensive research we consulted with various architects both in Nepal and abroad, and after much discussion chose an architectural firm whom we could trust. Then, an architect and a civil engineer from the firm came with us to Tipling village to survey the area. As a result of this ten-day expedition, they put together a site-specific school design and building plan. The estimated cost of the building came to $55000. Bringing any outside supplies or commodities to the village involves one full day of travel from Kathmandu by truck, after which goods have to be carried for two or three days by mules or porters to reach their final destination. As such, almost 20 percent of the total project’s budget needed to be set aside for transportation.
Because we were lacking funds to build the school we came into agreement
We submitted our plans to the Nepali government for their approval, but like every other NGO that had applied with similar plans to reconstruct schools at that time, we were thwarted in our efforts and our design was not approved. We were devastated. We had wasted four months going again and again to the Department of Education with our architects, where we spend hours at a time talking, explaining, and persuading, following which we made endless changes to our design in order to meet government officials’ criteria, only to be promised each time that approval would be granted after yet another week. We also wasted a lot of money paying the architectural firm during this whole process. We were told to wait because the government was supposed to release new regulations for the reconstruction of schools throughout the country soon. All our plans, it seemed, had come to naught.
About a month later the regulations came out. Unfortunately, these only really made sense for the construction of schools in urban areas or for larger schools in villages connected by road. They did not seem to take into account the realities on the ground in remote areas, and the need for smaller schools there. For example, according to the new mandatory regulations, classrooms had to be built to accommodate 40 students. This is normal in urban areas or boarding schools, but generally speaking classes in mountain villages tend to be much, much smaller, as more and more villagers have opted to send their kids to these larger, urban boarding schools for better quality education. At present, on average there are 20 students per class in the villages, and some classes in Tipling school even have as few as 8-9 kids! Another example – all schools have to be build to be wheelchair friendly. This is a great idea in theory, but remote mountain villages more often than not are already days away from any main road, and even once inside the villages the sheer nature of the terrain makes any use of a wheelchair entirely impossible. To adhere to these new government regulations would cause our previous estimate to increase almost threefold – from $55 000 to $150 000!