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Hello world, from Lamjung

So it’s been a few weeks and I have a great tan after many hours of walking around the hills of western Lamjung.  My top priority this first month has been making good use of our relief fund.  I started by going to the district headquarters where I met the big agencies working on housing.  I agreed, pretty unreasonably, to take on 100 houses in two villages that border the heaviest hit regions in Lamjung, where none of the larger NGOs have made commitments because the percentage of damage is lower.  The two villages are called Archalbot and Bharte, and I spent a good bit of time trying to figure out exactly what we should do and then realized there was no time to do anything except get started as best we could.   
I've been thinking a lot about the lower percentage of damage.  In Archalbot and Bharte, hundreds of unlivable houses look more or less fine, until you slow down and start inspecting the lines on the walls, which don’t look like cracks until you realize that’s what they are.  Others have a single canyon running up a corner joint in an otherwise undamaged room, or all ill-fitting window frame wedged in to an altered opening - and it seems like it might be a bad idea to be in there, but you’re not really sure, and it’s hard to figure out what you’d do other than live there because it’s your house.  Is the other choice to pick up a sledge hammer and start destroying it?  (You can't call the demolition company, in case that seems like an option.  You’ll have to do it yourself.)  
Then there are the people like Bal Kumari, a widow with two school age sons who lives up on a ridge in Bharte that took me hours to reach, whose house completely collapsed.  It’s one of only a few dozen homes in Bharte to be leveled - a single dot in a far flung spot, on a map of destruction that has solid brush strokes just a few dozen kilometers to the east. But it’s 100% of Bal Kumari’s life.
What I’ve begun to realize is that there’s a spectrum of isolation and uncertainty that is almost exactly the reverse of the spectrum of damage.  Those whose houses didn’t fall in the earthquake are going to have to fell these homes themselves.  While the heavily affected areas have international agencies literally competing for territory to deliver aid, the people whose communities are intact have nobody flocking to help. They are a rounding error in the data.  
I’ve learned that there is a great deal of theater in this sort of disaster.  Journalists take photos of the one crumbled house in a village of invisibly cracked houses.  Relief workers gravitate toward the concentrated destruction not only because it is more financially efficient, it is more psychologically efficient.  It’s a lot of work to get to Bal Kumari and the five houses near her, and in the end, you’ve only helped five families instead of five hundred.  I’ve find myself constantly tempted to do both of these things.  Not only for my own sake, but because I realize how much the rest of the world expects me to report back on the drama, and I want the satisfaction of delivering.
But I’ve come to understand that the gift that Eva Nepal can bring to this moment is to embrace the lower percentage of damage.  We don’t have the funds to blanket a wide area with the best average strategy, which is what large organizations do well, and that's what we need these large agencies and public systems for.  I know that a lot of the corrugated tin they deliver will be used for walls instead of roofs, saving people the trouble of collecting wood or stones and building using traditional styles.  But each piece of tin we deliver needs to go directly over somebody’s head.  And what we can do that others can't or won’t is not only reach Bal Kumari, but learn her name.

Because of this, we came to adopt a housing strategy that’s the exact reverse of the official national policy. Government and large NGOs are delivering tin roofing sheets and building kits to affected families, allowing them to build walls using local materials and techniques.  We've done the opposite: visit our communities empty-handed, meet people, and ask them to start building.  We keep in touch with a few local organizers so people know we haven’t disappeared on them.  We ask residents to use natural building materials as much as possible for their walls, rather than old repurposed tin, because houses made from bamboo, stone, and wood will be much more comfortable and long-lasting.  Once they have a frame, we provide the tin roof, and because we provide it at the end, people are more incentivized to build traditional, organic homes.  Some people, like Bal Kumari, had already completely rebuilt their houses from rubble before we arrived, and all we have to do is replace their leaking tin roofs with new tin roofs.

Bal Kumari
I’ve been documenting the incredible, frustrating, beautiful experience of working in Archalbot and Bharte on my blog.  Many of you are following it already so I know you’re getting the posts as they come out.  I was surprised to see that traffic has really spiked, and I’m getting follows and even email from people I don’t know!  One of my posts, The Heart of the Matterabout some hard lessons we learned on our first tin delivery (which eventually led to the strategy we’re using now) somehow got out in to cyber-land and continues to get dozens of reads per day.
Mean time, I spent a day planting millet, and our Gaky’s Light Fellows graduated this week.  Instead of making a day trip for a picnic, we bought and served snacks for refugees from Gorkha who are staying at a group shelter in Pokhara.  I took one of my all time favorite photos (below) - the woman in the white shirt kept laughing each time I tried to count to three in Gurung language, and watching her through the viewfinder made me laugh, and that made her laugh harder, which made me laugh harder, and eventually this entire group of people couldn’t stop laughing.  I don’t know I stayed still long enough to capture this beauty.
There are way too many stories for me to tell here, but I’ll leave you with this photo from our first bamboo building project.  We stayed in Archalbot and did some community mobilization around this Dalit (i.e. marginalized) family that was living under tarps and rusty tin with a two month old baby.  They build two bamboo houses themselves with the help of their neighbors, while we ran around in the background pushing people to organize and help.  I will see the finished product in a few days - but the mid-way point was pretty rewarding.
The heavy rains are already beginning, and tomorrow Dilmaya and I will spend our day riding around on a tractor, delivering roofs to 53 homes that are already built and waiting for us.  That’s about 245 people who will sleep under a proper roof by tomorrow night.  Thank you all so much for making it possible for us to do this.
Here’s to the higher percentage of good uses of tin!

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