The EF Global Classroom Foundation has broken ground on a new elementary school in Nepal.
April 25th marked the one-year anniversary of the massive earthquake that devastated central Nepal. Prior to the earthquake, Nepal ranked 145th out of 187 countries on the United Nation’s Human Development Index, earning it the unenviable status of “least developed country.” Burdened with this level of socioeconomic vulnerability before the country’s worst natural disaster in 80 years, Nepal is understandably making very slow gains in a very long recovery process.
The EF Nepal project has not been immune to the ongoing scarcity of fuel, supplies and reliable information that has resulted in nationwide reconstruction delays. Despite this, the team continues to push slowly forward on the Shree Jalapadevi rebuild project. Bridging the knowledge gap between the Nepali National Building Code and the Japanese National Building Code has been very challenging, requiring almost daily clarification meetings conducted in no less than four languages (English, Mandarin, Nepali and Japanese)! Yet more administrative hurdles are still ahead, not the least of which will be wrangling approval from the wary Ministry of Education for more earthquake-resilient–but completely unfamiliar–school designs.
Finally, the team recently presented “Step Into Nepal” at EF Asia headquarters in Shanghai, China. The presentation offered a glimpse of Nepali life as experienced through the eyes of our interpreter Sanoj Shakya and our driver/guide Kiran. It was a wonderful opportunity to share our passion about the project with fellow EF staff as well as provide an update on the project’s progress.
An example of the affects of the earthquake in Nepal
An interview with principal Bishnu Prasad Gauuttamand
The EF Nepal team recently took up residence in a dormitory just a few minutes’ walk from the Shree Jalapadevi campus in order to cultivate a closer connection to the school community. In the first of a series of “getting to know you” interviews with school staff, students, parents and community leaders, EF team member Jonah Muh sat down to talk with Shree Jalapadevi’s principal:
What is your full name? My name is Bishnu Prasad Gauuttamand and I am 45 years old.
Are you originally from Sindhupalchok district? No, I grew up in the Gulmi district of western Nepal.
How long have you worked at Shree Jalapadevi? I have worked at this school for over 23 years!
Tell us a little bit about the school and the students. Shree Jalapadevi has been around for 50 years, maybe even longer. It is the main school for the five nearby villages and also a key school for Melamchi Municipality. The students are from Badegaun VDC, and Melamchi Municipality, especially from wards 8 to 12.
How many teachers and students attend here? We have 23 teachers and 665 enrolled students this year. I guess there will be around 800 students once we have a new campus; they all want a new classroom!
What do you remember about the day of the earthquake [Saturday, April 25, 2015]? School was in session at that time. I was in the school and became an eyewitness to the destruction of our school building and the houses near the school. It was terrible: the school buildings were shaking and one building collapsed. Students and teachers were running everywhere; some students and teachers were injured. Thank God no one died. It was nightmare for me for a long time and we all avoid thinking about it.
What were your primary concerns for the school and the students immediately after the earthquake, and what concerns you most now? We were concerned about the reconstruction of the school buildings and about the psychological condition of our students. We are a public school and we have no money to rebuild our classrooms; we can do nothing but wait for help from government. And as you may know, our government is quite poor and there were so many buildings collapsed, I didn’t think our school was on their list. I nearly lost all hope at that moment. Now, we don’t have enough classrooms, we don’t have a library, science lab or computer lab, and we are lacking sport materials and proper playground. We need earthquake resistant school buildings that will help us run our daily classes in a peaceful environment. Students and teachers suffer greatly while having classes in a temporary steel classroom: it is very hot in summer and super cold in winter. Sometimes we even have to stop class because of bad weather.
What was your initial reaction when EF first approached the school administration about this rebuild project? Many thanks to EF, this is really what we need: safe school buildings for the students and teachers. I cannot imagine what school would be like if no one helped us. We are a village school far from Kathmandu and even further from downtown. No one cares about us; there are no travelers or visitors. I am actually quite surprised you found our school!
We [the EF Nepal team] are incredibly grateful – and excited! - to be part of this project. Any feedback for us so far? I am very happy that you have already moved to our village and live with us. Now we have more time with each other and I am sure we can become good friends too.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Any final words for the EFers around the world who are reading this? I have a lot of words to say but the most important thing I want to say is thank you. Welcome to our school and welcome to Nepal!
EF's Jonah Mu interviews the principal of Shree Jalapadevi school, Bishnu Prasad Gauuttamand
A quote by Nelson Mandela painted on the wall of a school in Nepal
The search is over
After weeks of site searching, damage assessments and administrative meetings, EF Team Nepal finally narrowed the field to one location: Shree Liti Mahakal Secondary School. Liti Mahakal is located deep in the hills of Dhading district, 5 to 6 hours from Kathmandu, with the last couple of hours spent on a single-width, heavily rutted dirt road. Both of Liti Mahakal's classroom buildings were severely damaged by the earthquake - apparently due to a new experimental “cost-saving” design - and require complete rebuild. The school serves an economically depressed and isolated community with few financial resources and no donors offering to rebuild the school’s permanent structures.
Unfortunately, this relationship was not meant to be.
Late in the negotiations, Liti Mahakal’s administrators suddenly revealed that a local, well-established NGO was in fact interested in rebuilding the school; it was the same organization that had come up with the original “cost-saving” design! A partnership between EF and the NGO was discussed, but eventually fell apart based on a single issue: the NGO – who apparently planned to rebuild Liti Mahakal with or without EF - would not allow EF to alter their standard design.
Given the choice between building a school that could not withstand another large earthquake, or building earthquake-resilient classrooms for another equally needy school, it was crystal clear: the team would have to select an alternate school. And that school is also located 5 hours from Kathmandu, but in the exact opposite direction: Shree Jalapa Devi Higher Secondary School in Sindhupalchok District.
Jalapa Devi is very similar to Liti Mahakal in terms of student population, terrain, access, and community resources. One of its two classroom buildings has significant wall damage, but the frame remains intact, which means a refurbishment. The other building has already collapsed and would need to be rebuilt from the slab and up. However, unlike Liti Mahakal, Jalapa Devi is truly without external aid: without EF or another donor, the school would have continued using their temporary buildings indefinitely.
So, after a surprising glitch that broadsided the original selection, EF Team Nepal has finally secured a school. Now comes the real challenge: getting it built…and built well!
EF Nepal team member Jonah Mu delights the students of Liti Mahakal in his Santa outfit (with makeshift bag beard)!
EF project leader Hope Ma passes out donated Christmas cookies to the students of Liti Mahakal
Vienna Chen posing with one of the youngest attendees of Liti Mahakal SS
The students and staff of Liti Mahakal gather around the foundation of a demolished building for a glimpse of the Christmas tree
Liti Mahakal students assemble in front of their damaged school for the Christmas celebration
Building a better school
In the immediate aftermath of the devastating April 25th earthquake, the Nepal Engineers Association and hundreds of student volunteers from local engineering schools conducted damage assessments on literally thousands of buildings. As a result of these “rapid visual assessments,” each building was issued a colored placard in green (safe with little to no damage), yellow (significant damage) or red (unsafe for occupation).
Sadly, during EF Team Nepal’s own assessment visits to 56 campuses in the heavily damaged districts of Nuwakot, Dhading and Sindhupalchok, the team witnessed several schools still using buildings with clearly displayed red placards. In addition, some structures with green placards were clearly beyond “a little” damaged.
The unfortunate truth is that damaged schools have very few options. While local and international non-governmental organizations have been providing extensive relief assistance to the financially strapped Nepalese government, a lot of this aid is in the form of emergency supplies or temporary structures such as temporary learning centers (TLCs) rather than permanent buildings. And while there is no argument that TLCs are generally an improvement over learning beneath blazing sun, pouring rain or bitter cold, it is understandable that students and teachers want to return to a permanent school as soon as possible. However, in the absence of choice, some desperate schools have opted to forgo a long and potentially fruitless wait for donation funds, and repaired damaged buildings themselves by using local craftsmen with no training in earthquake technology.
Here is where EF hopes to make significant impact. Given the challenges of limited building technology and poor site conditions, EF committed to providing a safe school environment by hiring a Japanese consultancy with extensive experience in earthquake-resistant construction technology. In December 2015, consultants from the Yoshizawa Structural Design firm arrived in Kathmandu and immediately began their on-site research and preliminary design development. The Japanese team visited potential schools, material markets and quarries, and active construction sites in order to determine the quality of construction materials (generally acceptable), the depth of construction knowledge (shallow), and the resilience of currently available school designs (measured at earthquake resistance of magnitude 3-4).
Yoshizawa will continue to develop the school design once a school is selected, and will eventually train local craftsmen in proper construction techniques and help monitor the build site. In addition, EF Team Nepal plans to align Yoshizawa with the Nepalese government to improve the national standard school design to an earthquake resistance of magnitude 7+. This new standard design, as well as all information EF Team Nepal collects for the project, will be openly shared with any NGO/charity organization involved in Nepal’s rebuild, as part of the global collaboration effort.
Examining a horizontal crack on a classroom column
Yoshizawa engineer discusses construction quality
Examining steel rebar for quality issues
Yoshizawa engineer checks steel frame
Blessings for a safe and successful build project!
Yoshizawa and EF Nepal with school administrators from Jalapadevi HSS
The search is over!
After weeks of site searching and damage assessments on over 50 schools, EF Team Nepal has finally narrowed the field to one location: Shree Liti Mahakal Secondary School. Site selection was a difficult process, as many schools were damaged by the April earthquake. However, Shree Liti Mahakal SS stood out as a school in dire need.
Shree Liti Mahakal SS is located deep in the hills of Dhading district, 5 to 6 hours from Kathmandu, with the last couple of hours spent on a single-width, heavily rutted dirt road. Both of Liti Mahakal's classroom buildings were severely damaged by the earthquake - apparently due to a new experimental “cost-saving” design - and will require complete rebuild.
However, the school serves an economically depressed and isolated community with few financial resources. This means, unlike other sites within more robust villages, Shree Liti Mahakal SS is completely dependent on external aid for reconstruction (which could easily cost double here compared to more easily accessible schools).
Prior to the team’s site visit, there were no other donors offering to rebuild the school’s permanent structures, so EF welcomed the opportunity to help a local community in need.
The next step for EF Team Nepal will be enlisting a Japanese consultancy to develop the school design and train local craftsmen in proper construction techniques. Besides directly benefitting from Japan’s extensive experience in earthquake-resistant construction technology, EF Team Nepal plans to align the Japanese consultants with the Nepalese government to improve the national standard school design to an earthquake resistance of magnitude 7+. This new school design, as well as all information EF Team Nepal collects for the project, will be openly shared with any NGO/charity organization involved in Nepal’s rebuild, as part of the global collaboration effort.
Damaged main building with 10 classrooms at Shree Liti Mahakal SS.
Remains of an earthquake-damaged classroom building at Shree Liti Mahakal SS.
Rear view of the main classroom building at Shree Liti Mahakal SS, showing extensive cracking across the façade
Cracked blackboard inside a Shree Liti Mahakal SS classroom
Canteen and small tea shop at Shree Liti Mahakal SS.
Inspirational education quotations on damaged hallway wall at Shree Liti Mahakal SS.
Temporary Learning Centers at Shree Liti Mahakal SS.
Inside a bamboo Temporary Learning Center at Shree Liti Mahakal SS.
Fueling Winter Turmoil
On November 30th, a stationery shop owner pinned a paper sign to his chest and joined a long row of locals standing outside. That day, hundreds of Nepalese protested the on-going fuel blockade along the shared Indian border by forming a 3 kilometer-long human chain from the capital of Kathmandu to Lalitpur, wearing signs that said "Transit is our right; let's protest the Indian blockade" and "Let's maintain national unity and social harmony."
The blockade, caused by violent political unrest on the Nepalese side of border checkpoints, is entering its third month. Although China has signed an agreement to donate over a million liters of fuel to Nepal, the crisis is only deepening. In addition to cooking gas and petrol, there is now a critical shortage in medications, as all three commodities are normally sourced from India. If the blockade does not end or ease in the next couple of weeks, the swiftly coming winter is expected to take a deadly toll on those already vulnerable from the April earthquake: the poor, the young, the old and the infirm.
Nepalese protesters line up along Pulchowk Road in Lalitpur, Kathmandu
A shop owner and his wife proudly show their protest signs
Protesters with Nepalese flags walk up the protest route
Buses coming from India damaged by rock-throwing protesters at the Indo-Nepali border
A man bicycles past the kilometers-long queue of motorcycles and taxis, waiting for petrol
Thank you for all of the donations and contributions we have already received from members of the EF community.
1. Lucy Liu from EFEC RED team donated Shanghai White Rabbit candy (a favorite of local children);
2. EFEC Regional General Managers Stella Zhuang, Christie Chen and Lucy Liu donated butter biscuits (also a local favorite) for Christmas;
3. EFEC Beijing team donated t-shirts;
4. Educational Tours in the US donated backpacks and t-shirts;
5. Sam Cheung from ET and Michelle Leung from Hult Asia will contribute sports uniforms for students at our selected school.
Hope distributes donated White Rabbit candy to students at Shree Liti Mahakal Secondary School, Dhading District.
A young student from Shree Liti Mahakal Secondary School, Dhading District, gives EF a thumbs-up!
Selfies in Nepal
During their many school site visits, EF Team Nepal had ample opportunity to interact with and photograph students. Most children living in economically developed countries are pretty inured to the presence of a camera; they have lived with smart phones or Go Pros or other digital imaging format for most - or even all - their lives. But for rural children, a selfie may mean seeing themselves, crisp and undistorted, for the first time. Their raw excitement at watching themselves being captured in photo, or being photographed and seeing the result instantly, could convert even the die-hard selfie hater. Seriously, who can resist that kind of joy?
Vienna with students
Edengrace with students at Adarsha Higher Secondary School, Dhading District
Girls from Shree Machhindra Upper Secondary School, Dhading District
Young students from Shree Jan Kalyan Lower Secondary School, Dhading District, line up for a photo by Vienna
Edengrace with students from Shree Machhindra Upper Secondary School, Dhading District
Students from Shree Jan Kalyan Lower Secondary School, Dhading District.
Giggling girls from Adarsha Higher Secondary School, Dhading District pose for the camera.
Edengrace with students at Jaleshwary School, Nuwakot District
Durbar Square: Kathmandu then and now
Prior to May 2008, Nepal was governed by kings. For centuries these ruling royalty and their families lived in the Hanuman Dhoka palace complex in central Kathmandu. The former royal residence and surrounding temple-filled courtyards are collectively known as the Kathmandu Durbar Square and continue to be an important religious, cultural and social site for the Nepalese (in addition to being one of Nepal's four UNESCO World Heritage locations).
EF Team Nepal visited Kathmandu Durbar Square soon after the first school trips. It was both sobering and encouraging. Despite obvious reminders of the April earthquake – prominent temples reduced to just their stepped bases; cracked walls supported by wood beams; taped-off safety zones – the daily rituals of Nepalese life bring back the sense of normalcy.
All three Durbar Squares (Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur) will eventually be rebuilt as part of the nation's long-term "Build Back Better" reconstruction plan. However, it is understood that that will be a very long road to recovery, easily a decade in the making, and easily derailed by competing interests.
Maju Deval Temple (2010)
Maju Deval Temple (August 2015)
Trilokya Mohan Narayan Temple (2010)
Trilokya Mohan Narayan Temple (August 2015)
Narayan Temple (2010)
Narayan Temple (August 2015)
Gaddhi Baithak (2010)
Gaddhi Baithak (August 2015)
The Pratap Malla column (in front of Jagannath Temple) lost its sculpture top in the April earthquake
Extensive damage to Basantpur Temple and exterior of Hanuman Dhoka complex
The crew and criteria for finding the right school
When we decided that a major initiative under the EF Global Classroom Foundation was to rebuild a school damaged by the devastating earthquake in Nepal, our first order of business was ensuring we had the right team and standards in place. This would guarantee we’d be providing help for those truly in need and assist in the long-term recovery of Nepal.
MEET THE TEAM:
To lead the team on the ground, Hope Ma was up for the task. As the Project Leader, Hope oversees the team on the ground, and has spent the past couple months in Nepal visiting damaged schools to find one to be rebuilt. With Hope are:
Edengrace Cayosa—Edengrace is a project manager in charge of building construction and also leads internal communication in English.
Vienna Chen—Vienna is a project manager in charge of construction consulting affairs as well as internal communication in Chinese.
Jonah Mu—Jonah is a project manager in charge of construction supervision, logistics, accommodations, on-site management, local relationships and maintenance.
Together, this team of four will be on the ground in Nepal, helping oversee the rebuilding of the school. They will send progress updates throughout the process.
Hope Ma - Team Leader
Vienna Chen - Project Manager
Jonah Mu - Project Manager
Edengrace Cayosa (middle)- Project Manager
EF Team Nepal on a typical Nepalese footbridge
THE SCHOOL STANDARDS
Finding the right school isn’t easy. Hope and his team have visited more than 50 schools, assessing the damage to each location. The final selection will be a school that is:
1. A public school
2. Open to both boys and girls
3. A village school
4. Damaged by the recent earthquake
5. Not receiving recovery assistance from another NGO or local government
WHEN THE SEARCH IS OVER
Construction is set to begin at the start of the New Year. We will also share all of our school analysis and building designs with other organizations to further help with Nepal’s recovery.
Learn more about the community where we’re building, the school itself, and to follow our progress by checking in every few weeks.
Rebuilding an elementary school in Nepal
Education is at the heart of what EF believes in. Opening the world through education is the center pillar of our philosophy and of everything we do.
To help further that philosophy, the Hult family started the EF Global Classroom Foundation, with the goal to create better educational opportunities for those who need it most, as well as aid in disaster relief.
In April 2015, Nepal was hit with a horrible earthquake that affected thousands of families. EF decided that a major initiative under the Global Classroom Foundation was to assist in the long-term recovery of Nepal, and we committed to building a new elementary school in one of the areas most affected by the earthquake.
We’re excited to announce that the project officially started this month, and construction should be completed in one year, where, upon completion, the local administration will take over.
As we continue work on building the new school, we look forward to sharing monthly updates on our progress.
Stay tuned for more to come.
EF Nepal team doing school visits
Student in Nepal doing school work in a temporary school structure
Damage to a structure in Nepal after the earthquake
A letter from Bertil
The school will be built to adhere to the earthquake-resistant construction standards.
Dear EF community,
The terrible disaster in Nepal has affected many of us. Our hearts and thoughts go out to the thousands of victims of the earthquake and their families. All of us are looking for ways to help.
We know that in addition to the immediate devastation of any natural disaster of this magnitude, what follows are very difficult years of rebuilding and recovering. Homes, schools, offices, sanitation and other infrastructure must be rebuilt.
To that end, EF will contribute to the long-term recovery of Nepal by committing to help in the area we understand and know best—education. We will aid in the future education of some of the children of Nepal by building a new elementary school in one of the areas most affected by the earthquake. Construction will begin in just a few short months.
In times like this, the global community comes together, and the EF community is no different. We are grateful that we can contribute at least a little bit to Nepal’s recovery.