Trekking to Dharka can be an eye-opening experience for someone not used to the extreme living conditions in Nepal villages. When Danny Chaffin first hiked up to Dharka with his friend Rajan Shimkahada, he had no idea this would be the start of his fledgling NGO, HANDS in Nepal. Rajan wanted to show his American friend what the “real” Nepal was like-and that meant a land of no roads, no infrastructure and where people terraced into hillsides to farm and build their homes. They farmed their land growing rice, corn and other crops, subsisting off the land, out of touch with “modern” life. But the villagers knew one thing to be true-their children needed an education to be successful, and to have a better life then they had. Danny was asked to build a school in the remote village of Dharka because the children there had only one very worn down hut to crowd into-the roof leaked and the adobe walls were disintegrating. To attend any other school meant walking steep trails for miles. After meeting with village elders, and listening to their requests, Danny returned to America with a dream-build a school for Dharka. How do you build a school in Nepal’s Himalayas? Raising money for the building was a small part of the task-the bigger issue was how to bring materials up to the village where goods and supplies could only be brought by mules or human porter. And wood is a rarity in this part of Nepal, where “no cut” forests are heavily protected by laws. That left traditional building with rocks and cement. Tin would be used for the roof, but that had to be bought in the nearest city, then trucked and carried on the backs of porters. Any furniture, such as desks and benches, would also need to be made by craftsmen in Dhading Besi-the seat of the district and only place where supplies could be found-a good all-day hike and then drive from Dharka. It was not going to be easy. After a series of meetings with a translator, Danny and the villagers outlined a plan for the new school. It would be 4 classrooms long, with one room for a teacher office and storage place. The school would be built by volunteers in the village. The village would form a committee to manage and maintain the building. HANDS would supply money for building material, and educational supplies such as chalkboards and books once the school was finished. Everyone in the village pitched in for that first HANDS school-and this became the model for the next school in Phulkharka, and the libraries that soon followed. Villagers needed to donate land, schools needed to be engineered for safety, everyone had to volunteer labor, and HANDS would provided money for materials and educational supplies. It was a successful plan that we follow to this day, some 10 years after that first school in Dharka.
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