Field research report and project updates

Dear supporters,

We are excited to provide some major updates regarding the project. It has been just more than a year now since we started this crowdfunding campaign to build warm classrooms for young children in Dho Tarap valley, Dolpo. Through your support, we have been able to conduct detailed research on passive solar technology, vernacular architecture, ways of reducing costs (financial and environmental), and on the needs of the communities in Dho and Tokyu villages. We also prepared an initial campus design for an early childhood development (ECD) center, integrating maternal care, nutrition, day-care, and sanitation facilities for holistic investment in childrens’ development. Meanwhile, work on preparing a curriculum, operational guidelines, and crucially fundraising is ongoing. 

On October 2, our team of designers, architects and engineers went to the valley for an on-site field survey and research on building materials and local architecture. It took us 3 days of bus and jeep rides from Kathmandu to Dunai, and then a further 9 days of walking and waiting (due to flash floods and landslides following a week-long rainfall) to get to Dho. Fortunately, we made it safely crossing the heavily damaged trails and were able to do the work we set out to do. We got feedback on our proposed design for the ECD center from community members, local government representatives, and school staff, students and local teachers. We explored different elements of the traditional architecture in the valley, documented changes in building techniques (for e.g. use of corrugated sheets to counter the increased rainfall due changing climate patterns in the region), surveyed the proposed sites for ECD centers in Tokyu and Dho villages, and research available building materials and costs. 

To summarize briefly, the almost month-long field research trip– made possible by your generous support – was a great success. We had a few major “aha” moments, especially in terms of how we were going to balance affordability with leveraging local construction techniques and available human and construction resources. 

Below you will find a brief summary of some of our major findings, and the next steps for this project. 

Major findings of research 

  1. Community is aware of the needs for all year round education and holistic development for young children, and generally excited by the idea of the development of centers close to villages. They also understand the general concept of greenhouses (which are used by all households to grow vegetables in the summer and as warm spaces during sunny days in the winter), and how passive solar houses could potentially be very comfortable and warm in the winters. But people remain skeptical of their implementation in Dho Tarap as there is no available example in the valley of an effective passive solar heated house.
    • What we learned: Building even a small but effective passive solar room will be vital to enable the community members to experience the warmth and comfort in winters and see and feel how such rooms can really ease their daily lives, especially with regards to needing to continuously burn polluting dung cakes for heating.   
  2. ECD teachers and school administrators are also concerned about meeting the needs of young children in the present, until functioning ECD centers are available in both Dho and Tokyu villages. As we have highlighted before, current ECD classrooms at Crystal Mountain School are not adequate and especially get too cold even for adults by late August. There is a need to improve classrooms for the children for at least 2-4 years until ECD centers are built in each village, and Crystal Mountain School can focus on older children.
    • What we learned: For the prototype passive solar room to test our ideas at a small scale, we can build a classroom at the school premises to serve current needs of ECD teachers (and which can be used by the school in the future as a senior classroom or a meeting hall). This will also enable us to make better estimates of the costs for the ECD centers, especially as we are testing new building techniques. 
  3. Building materials that are available locally and traditionally used consist primarily of stones and wood, both of which are expensive and very hard to source due to huge transportation and labor costs. Other locally available materials like barley straw and wool may be good options as the insulating materials.
    • What we learned: Stones (and a significant amount of wood) can be replaced by earth bricks, as has been done in Ladakh. Incidentally, earth bricks are not foreign to Dolpo either, as they can be seen in Dho Tarap in a few old structures including some old residential houses. For this, research on the composition of soil and an efficient way to make earth bricks (especially in a way that can also help with earthquake resilience) will be needed. Work on this is currently ongoing. 
  4. There is a big risk of the loss of vernacular architecture in the valley due to changing weather patterns and increased rainfall which traditional roofing techniques were not meant to handle. While in the past only government funded building structures (including a few at our school) used corrugated sheets as roofing (this was not necessarily to handle rainfall, but because designs for such buildings are standardized by the government for the whole country despite great geographic diversity), community members are increasingly in favor of such sheets compared to traditional flat earth roofs.
    • What we learned: Certain design considerations like slanted roofs can be a good way to tackle the challenges presented by the changing climate, while protecting elements of vernacular architecture. Earth brick roofs may be another option. 
  5. Most construction labor in the valley consists of workers from other regions of Nepal. As there is very little capacity for supervision at the local level, the quality of workmanship (for instance, in making stone or rammed earth walls) is a big issue even for relatively large construction projects at the local government level. There are also specific challenges due to the short construction season, as winters are not viable for any kind of continuous outdoor physical work.
    • What we learned: Good workmanship is difficult to ensure and labor costs are always rising. There are opportunities for local people to take lead in their own communities. We are currently exploring the use of hand pressed hydraulic earth brick machines to speed up construction, reduce chances of poor workmanship by simplifying the construction process, and encourage local community members to brainstorm entrepreneurial ideas. 

Next Steps and Funding Challenges 

  1. Meet fundraising target of $55,000 (Nov 2022 – Mar 2023)
    1. So far, about $16,000 has been raised (and spent), which has funded most of the research work that we have done over the last year. 
    2. About $30,000 remains to be raised of the target amount.
      1. About $5,000 will be used to partially cover the costs for certain research tasks like lab testing of construction materials and earth bricks, as well as administrative costs for grant writing and funding search for ECD centers.
      2. About $3,500 will be used to purchase a single hand pressed earth brick machine that can produce over 500 bricks per day. 
      3. Remaining amount will be used to cover design, materials, and construction costs for the prototype classroom. 
  2. Construct prototype classroom  (Apr 2023 – Sep 2023)
    1. Compare estimated costs vs actual costs during construction 
  3. Test classroom in winter (Oct 2023 – Mar 2024)
    1. Get daily temperature data (inside vs outside) and test against predicted models

Other Tasks 

  • Another set of local government and community workshops to finalize location of ECD centers, cost contributions, and timeline for construction and operation.
  • Finalization of ECD designs based on feedback and new building materials and construction approach.  
  • Development of legal and community engagement framework to run the centers.
  • Development of a framework for integration and collaboration between CMS (parent school) and ECD centers (feeder schools)

How can you help? 

  • Consider making a donation again by clicking here. The more donations we get the easier it is to reach greater people, which can help our fundraising campaign gather momentum online. 
  • Consider donating monthly. You can find recurring-donation option on our GlobalGiving project page. Continued monthly donations (even small amounts) get matched by GlobalGiving, and also help our fundraising campaign gather momentum. 
  • Share our work. Write to your friends, family, and colleagues. Writing a personal message can be very effective. Sharing also helps drive social media traffic to our posts and increase views of our GlobalGiving project and donation page.  
  • Are you interested in helping us in another way? In making a large donation? Or know someone who might be interested in our work? Connect with us via email at ecd@visiondolpo.org. 
  • We are preparing to send periodic newsletters to our supporters directly via email, as a way of showcasing our work, sharing feedback from local communities, and the impact our supporters are making. If you are interested, send us a quick message at ecd@visiondolpo.org.

** This report was published on GlobalGiving on Nov 28, 2022.

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