My work in Melamchi-Ghyang
On 3rd November 2016, a day before my 51st birthday, Kate and I arrived in Melamchi-Ghyang, a village that was entirely devastated by the 2015 earthquake, to start our volunteer work.
My job was mostly to help with school and community plumbing work, but also to lend a hand with general maintenance and other tasks if needed. It soon became clear that conditions in the village would be very different from my usual super-efficient working life at home!
A few of the hurdles to overcome:
1 There is no PlumBase just down the road. With the nearest hardware store a day’s travel by precarious bus ride away it was vital to assess what was needed as carefully and accurately as possible before making the trip to purchase the required parts.
2 Everything is decided by committee, meaning lots and lots of talking, mostly in Nepali and Yolmo (the local Tibetan dialect), before agreements are reached and anything can be started.
3 Work in the village is done to Nepali time, which is the impressive big brother of our Cornish “Dreckly”!
4 Bodging and recycling are necessary evils – there’s lots of make do and mend.
5 Pipes and fittings are different from what I’m used to working with in the U.K.
6 Lunch isn’t a meal deal from the local shop, it’s freshly cooked on open fires by the workers.
My special thanks goes to PlumBase, Truro for generously donating tools for me to use whilst in the village and for the community to use now we’ve left.
And so to work.
My first plumbing task was to assess the extent of problems with the community water supply and offer my advice. Shortly after we arrived the government announced that by mid 2017 communities affected by the earthquake would have a drinking water supply pipe installed by the government. The devil was in the detail and it later became apparent that in Melamchi-Ghyang this meant just one stand-pipe for 10 houses. This was not what the villagers wanted and so for my time in the village at least the project was on hold.
There had been intermittent problems with the school water supply. Originally installed by American volunteers it was damaged during the earthquake, but had since been repaired. The recent Monsoon season had taken its toll and so remedial work was needed to ensure a constant supply. Consequently I spent a number of days working with a few villagers deep in the jungle (on an old Tibetan salt trading route) fixing the existing water tanks, building a new one near the source and mending the pipe in various places.
The locals also delighted in catching frogs which are considered a delicacy in the village. I didn’t fancy fried frog for dinner so left them to it!
The School showers consist of 5 cubicles, each had a hot tap, a cold tap and a bucket. Known aptly as a bucket shower the practice was to fill the bucket with water and then wash yourself. With the help of my glamorous assistant and any number of willing, but less able onlookers I installed 5 new showers which were much appreciated by pupils and staff alike.
There were a number of leaks in the water supply to and from the solar hot water collectors, these were fixed and the pipes insulated which was quite a task. The only insulation available were giant rolls of 5mm thick foam which had to be cut, rolled around the pipes, tied in place, covered with clear polythene (also cut from a roll) and finally tied again with string to secure it. What would have taken a couple of hours at home took me a week to do here.
I enjoyed a fun afternoon with the Year 8 students taking them on an environmental science field trip into the forest to show them the water system.
Dawa, a teacher at the school, helped me fix a problem with insufficient hot water being supplied to the girls showers. When the boys put their showers on, the girls water went cold – something I imagine the lads found rather funny, I know I would have done at their age! A new pipe was run from the main water tank to the solar hot water collectors, problem solved – boys fun ruined!
Once accepted as being vaguely competent by the community I was approached to help with some of their plumbing problems including installions of solar hot water systems, fitting showers and fixing leaks.
Two of the school toilets were without water supply, which I sorted with salvaged pipe and fittings. The only new parts used were the two taps.
Caritas, a worldwide Catholic charity, had committed to supplying a new, more robust water supply to the school, from a different source to the existing one. I assisted them in surveying the route through the jungle and into the village with a view to piggy backing the new community water supply with the school’s pipeline. Caritas’ charity didn’t stretch to allowing the community to use the same pipe as the school and so an additional pipe was needed.
There were somethings I couldn’t fix…
There were somethings I wouldn’t fix…
There were somethings that didn’t need fixing…
Such as the compost toilet and bucket shower where we were living!
Until recently the road ended just after entering the village. The 2 charities funding the rebuilding of the school, CAN the boarding hostels and Caritas the classrooms, insisted that the road was extended to the other side of the village where the school is situated to make delivery of materials easier and cheaper. About a dozen people owned land that was needed for this new stretch of road which was to run along an existing footpath. The Village Development Committee set their powers of persuasion into motion to cajole these people into donating the required land free of charge (we couldn’t see that happening back home!!!). Eventually, after much discussion the road was sanctioned and work started on building it during our last few days there – weeks later than originally planned. Just before we left I helped adjust some of the water supply pipes to the community that the new road affected.
The new Health Post funded and run by CAN is the only building in the village currently built to recent earthquake resistant regulations. The toilet and bidet hose needed a little work and both were fixed with salvaged materials and a bit of ingenuity.
My other duties in the village.
I mended the school microscopes damaged in the earthquake, installed electrical light sockets in classrooms, taught practical science lessons, put up shelves, took sports lessons, prepared radishes for drying, but most importantly of all…
I made Raksi!