Kami Water Project

Kami Water Project.  March – April 2016

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Kamigaun (N28°11’00,66″, E85°06’00,95″) is a cluster of houses on the lower edge of the ridge just below Tipling village. Before the earthquake it consisted of 16 households, with the population numbering 103 people. Today all houses in the village are badly damaged and neither of the two previously existing water taps are functioning. As a result of the earthquake the original water source was obstructed by landslides and dried up.

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Since the disaster people have to walk for 30 minutes up the steep slope to the nearest spring where it takes them about 20 minutes to fill up just one bucket from a small trickle of water. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the Kami (blacksmith) people who inhabit Kamigaun are traditionally considered a lower caste, and as such have problems in using water resources that are located above higher caste water supplies. Accordingly, water has been the primary focus of our project in Kamigaun.

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When the people from Kamigaun approached us with their request, it looked impossible with our budget. However, after a detailed site survey we found out that the ruins of the old water supply system were mostly intact, though the source was buried and the pipes broken or missing in many places. Fortunately, the huge collecting tank was only partially damaged and the concrete foundations for the taps were still in place. After consulting local experts we concluded that the system could be repaired and did not need to be built anew. But a new source had to be used, and after repairs to the Tipling plumbing system were completed such a source was at hand.

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We were concerned that the Tipling villagers might object to ‘their’ water being shared with the village of the low-caste blacksmiths. In addition to literally looking down on the Kami the Tipling people could have also looked down on them figuratively.

But when the Kami people requested our help for a water supply, the Tipling villagers had already developed some sort of trust in us. They believed us when we assured them that their water supply would not suffer. They readily agreed to share their own supply – on the condition that FI would also maintain the piping for their main tank.

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Even a small project in such a remote place requires a lot of money due to the complicated logistics inevitably involved. Since we had already diverted some of the school construction funds to the Tipling water project, we felt uncomfortable about using the funds yet again for another project. Fortunately, several days after finishing the previous project, Roman met Mick Sullivan, an Australian tour guide who runs a relief project called “Remote Village”, on a high pass enroute to Tipling.

Mick was the first foreigner not affiliated with FI who visited the valley during the period when Roman was there. Naturally their conversation revolved around the needs of Tipling and the surrounding villages. Mick wanted to fund a small water project. Roman had just such a project in mind. Right there, sitting by the fire in a smoke-filled kitchen of a tiny lodge they discussed the possibility of cooperation. Then they parted ways. Roman went down towards Kathmandu, Mick continued the climb up to Tipling. A week later in Kathmandu we signed an agreement: Remote Village offered to pay for the materials, while FI was to take care of the technical supervision, local labour, volunteers and transportation expenses (the cost of which is often greater than the cost of materials themselves). We gratefully accepted Mick’s contribution. We were once again able to make use of our camp and a small workshop which we had already paid for and which we had hauled up the mountains. We were also able to contribute our understanding of the local situation accumulated in the previous months – a very valuable asset which we had lacked at the start of our work in Tipling.

The transportation of the metal pipes into the valley was not easy. The trail to Kamigaun is often very narrow and dangerous, and it was difficult to find porters willing to carry these 6 meter long pipes. The initial plan was to repair the existing water pipes, but eventually a whole new system was created because the villagers realised that this was a much better solution. They suggested it themselves and contributed most of the needed plastic pipes. Pipes are a valuable commodity and the people’s willingness to donate them indicates how desperate they were for water. They also volunteered to dig the 650m long trench.

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The adults were too busy with their daily chores, so it was mainly teenagers who dug the trench, and even small kids tried to help too.

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Our long-term volunteer, American builder Rick Sherry, who had helped a lot on the Tipling project, proved to be extremely skilful not only with different tools but also with supervising and motivating a big group of teenagers. Everybody was aware that Roman’s visa was running out and he had a very short time to complete the project so the people agreed to work until after dark on a daily basis. The few hired skilled workers from Tipling who had joined us on the project, continued working with us in Kamigaun. All of them – Blase Tamang, Chandra Lama and Bim Thapa Tamang – gradually became our good friends.

Through them we got invaluable insight into how their village society functions, and they in turn could learn from Roman how to maintain the water system and to repair it in the future, if needed. They playfully complained that they had never worked so hard as during those 16 days in Kamigaun. There was so much to be accomplished each day that the team was frequently forced to eat their lunch during work hours.

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In two weeks the trench was ready and the pipe had been laid out and buried. Unrepairable stretches of piping were replaced and numerous leaks on the lines leading to and from the main Tipling water tank fixed.

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The last stumbling block was the cleaning of the water tank. The washout pipe of the tank was blocked by the decomposing rat corpses. The stench was overwhelming. This work seemed to be too dirty and caste inappropriate even for the low caste villagers. Roman and Chandra saw no other option than to take on the onerous task of cleaning and disinfecting the inside of the tank themselves. Later it was not easy to persuade the villagers to start drinking the water from it, but the personal example eventually convinced everybody. Danish volunteers, the father and son duo of Stephan Larsen and Mads not only laboured hard but also contributed funds (raised by Danish Roskilde Festival) toward unexpected expenses.

In the past, the Kami villagers were accused by their higher caste neighbours of being dirty, but truth be told, it’s hardly possible to maintain personal hygiene without water – and a big laundry operation started as soon as water arrived. Kami people are beautiful, cheerful and warmhearted. They have a lively intelligence and a great sense of humour. To celebrate the completion of the project a communal feast was organised. A goat chosen and killed and 30 kg of rice ordered to make enough stew for everybody.

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Everyone, regardless of caste, came together to eat, dance and sing. A special song was composed for all those outsiders who laboured hard to bring water to the village. The Kami sang: “You brought us the water in a big pipe, and your name will be big now too”.

The success of these water projects has the potential to be replicated in other villages of the valley and beyond. The participation of the villagers in the initial planning, and their willingness to provide some of the labour required, will hopefully ensure that they feel they have a stake in the project, and that they will maintain this water infrastructure.

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We at Fantastic Initiative are incredibly happy that we were able to execute these small project which immediately made a big difference to the lives of those villagers.

We are deeply grateful to all of those around the world who trusted us with their money. We are also thankful to all the foreign volunteers who generously contributed their time, skills and hard work. Please keep coming back and bring your friends along! We feel inspired to continue with our work in the region, in whatever form it may take, and wherever it may lead us.

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