Earthbag School Rebuild – Phase I

Shree Shanka Devi Primary School

Pokhari Nebot

Project Status: Complete

Re-opened 23 January 2016

Location: Pokhari Village in Thumi VDC, Nepal
Number of Classrooms: 3
Grades: 1 – 5
Number of Students: 150

Special Thanks to:

THE MAYA FOUNDATION & EARTH AND SUN SUSTAINABLE BUILDERS

Introduction:

People Helping People International’s organization of immediate relief following the 25 April and 12 May 2015 earthquakes was crucial and effective. Before the monsoon season began, PHPI staff constructed a temporary school in Pokhari that would serve the community through the summer. In November, we return to Pokhari to continue our work with village leaders and residents by bolstering sustainable, earthquake-proof building design in the region.

Location:

Northeast from the city of Gorkha (the epicenter of the April earthquake), Pokhari is a small rural village accessible from Gorkha by a five- to six-hour bus ride through windy and mountainous terrain and then by a two- to four-hour hike up a steep and strenuous hillside.

Pokhari contains one primary school that accommodates approximately 60 students. However, because the earthquake destroyed all other schools in this region, schools in Pokhari school will need to accommodate up to 150 students in the near future.

People:

The village and surrounding areas are home to the Gurung ethnic group, whose cultural practices are influenced by those in southern Tibet. Although Hindu and Christian sects populate Pokhari as well, the majority of residents practice Buddhism. Gurung people tend to live on small, self-sustaining, family-run farms, and they grow mostly corn, millet, rice, and legumes. Few other industries exist, and most working-age men find occupation in Kathmandu or abroad. Because of the area’s remoteness, tourism is not popular in Pokhari.

Method:

Organizers, volunteers, and community members will construct the school using earthbag technology, which is environmentally conscious, low cost, and seismic-resistant. Earthbag architecture involves filling recycled 60-pound rice bags with a sand and clay earth mixture. Once tamped and let dry, the bags form bricks that are stacked on top of one another to form an exterior wall. In between the bags are laid two strips of barbed wire, which prevent lateral movement between bricks. Simple roofs are constructed with timber or bamboo, depending on the ecology of the area of construction, and power for buildings is supplied by solar panels distributed to the area by PHPI field team members. Finally, the exterior wall is plastered in the adobe technique and thus maintains an appearance similar to traditional Nepalese stone buildings.

Importantly, earthbag structures built before the earthquake remained sturdy during the earthquake and its aftershocks and did not collapse on people within them or without. The effectiveness of this design is affirmed by PHPI Lead Instructor Kenny Quinn, who has 18 years of experience in sustainable design and construction. He has designed and managed the building process of many alternative structures and identifies the earthbag technique as the most appropriate and efficient building style for the people of Pokhari. Although PHPI organizers plan on a three-month timeline for construction of the school, Quinn has committed to remaining in the village for the entire duration of the project in order to oversee and ensure its success.

The earthbag method of building is extremely labor-intensive, so PHPI organizers estimate that they’ll need 15 volunteers to get the job done. With their help, the help of local community members in Pokhari, Quinn’s expertise, and generous donations from sponsors and supporters, PHPI will accomplish progress that few other organizations have in the past due to the remoteness of the region. Pokhari will gain a school, and Nepali people in the region at large will gain access to building techniques and resource supply chains that will provide a platform for increased seismic-resistant construction in northern Nepal.

Objectives:

In addition to increasing school capacity in Pokhari, PHPI programs will educate village residents about this low-cost technique that they can imitate in other building projects. We hope the earthbag program will influence regional infrastructure so that when the next earthquake strikes, many more schools, community centers, medical clinics, and homes will withstand the geological instability and keep the Nepali population safe.