Throwback to Nepal 2017

 

Im not usually a big fan of the day by day account of how trips go as it can distort the overall aims. There is usually a lot of time where not much is done and that can be misleading. But maybe this will open some eyes.

The background, I founded a company called Bottle by Bottle who’s aim is to build earthquake proof plastic bottle housing for earthquake victims in Nepal. Check out the page on it :)

DAY 1

So here we go again, another work trip to Nepal but this time with a totally different aim. Bottle by Bottle. A social enterprise that builds earthquake proof housing out of plastic bottles, employing local people and improving livelihoods. But as simple as it sounds in theory, logistically it may just be a nightmare. Already we have multiple partner organisations with many moving cogs and as they are Nepali time works slightly differently.

“Setting up any business is a challenge but try doing it in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, in a place with the highest density of NGOs in the world”

Might not be true but it sounds pretty good. Five of us have ventured into the unknown, with myself being the only one that has been to the developing world. A slight culture shock may follow…

The first day was filled with shocked faces, the first impression of a Nepali slum can be pretty intimidating even to a veteran traveler.  Even just driving past from the airport, the silence in the taxi said it all – what have we got ourselves into.

First funny moment. Kate referring to the plane in the sky as upstairs. Second funny moment. Harry buying a 30 day visa – feel like he wanted to stay longer.

The major highlight of the day had to be seeing Ram from Raleigh International. What. A. Man. Kind, welcoming and encapsulates the Raleigh feeling. Even in his day off, today was Nepali new year, he came and showed us around the office.

Day finished at Downtown – food. No one lost or killed. Success.

DAY 2

What a night. What a storm. Holy S#*T.

Today was an interesting day for me, showing my friends around a city that I love that at times isn’t particularly lovable. The looks of awe and discuss almost within minuets of each other showed then the stark reality of a developing country. Massive expansive temples next to a man that can’t afford to buy shoes. A begged with no feet next having his picture being taken by a tourist with a £5000 camera. All these interactions are so surreal yet so common. How does someone who has never experienced it even process that? And what can I do to make it easier?

Highlights:

Hindu temple, Pashupatinath

Buddhist temple, Bouddhanath

Thamel, the girls buying everything they could.

So many taxis.

Organised out meetings for tomorrow.

DAY 3

Heather likes to explore cavities  ;)

We also did some meetings but they weren’t as funny. The day started with the group plotting into two so that we could cover more ground. One half went to see HCI and myself/heather went to see Ram Raja at Panchakanya, what a legend. A man who would move the world to help someone out. We had some great outcomes for the meeting and hopefully the connection will push bottle by bottle forward! But I think in this account of the trip I’m more interested on how everyone else is interacting rather than the events themselves.

“trust!?”

What struck me today is something I use to do a lot in meetings, Rush. Meetings in the developed world are all about hitting targets and generating outcomes. Where business comes before people, business disassociated people, personality and likability. Here that is not the case, business is done on how someone feels. Whether you trust them. Do they look you in the eye when you speak. Do they know what kind of person you are. George (mate on the last trip) was fantastic at it, shaping a conversation about who someone is, what they do then finally how it relates to your life and finally the business.

The meetings that were a success today consisted of 50% useless information for bottle by bottle. But 100% information which is useful in getting to know the person and what makes them tick.

It is hard to get that balance, sometimes the fastest way to achieve what we want is by going totally in the opposite direction for a significant period of time. The team struggles with that, but hopefully that will change. They might need a nudge….

DAY 4

Zero to 100 in less than an hour. Today was a weird one, our meetings were at 3 and 4 so the morning was spent chilling out, doing some finances and having a bit of chill time.

So interesting things about today, there were two major lessons. The first, that business men in Nepal have limited morality. When faced with a project that costs slightly more but gives stable employment in the community and a project that costs less but is totally made by his company. Of course he chooses the cheapest option. With only a ,ins for money it’s hard to make sustainable change. Who is he, on his high tower overlooking masses, to make that judgment. But from bad comes good and good definitely came of that international.

Childreach Nepal was that good. Urgen, a man passionate about social enterprise a man who believes that for charity try to work the beneficiaries must give something in return. A sustainable model! That is the mindset that will change lives, a mindset that all need to have if this development game is to succeed. Definitely someone to get in touch with in September, and possibly some work? All in all an interesting day with highs and lows, as every day had, but at the end of this one we may have our first employee.

As a side note, $400 a month for one of the rooms at PATANsquared.

DAY 5

Project Beneficiary Impact

New business model, thoughts of the day to follow:

  • Training 30 people in the bottle filling technique, same way ASF did with the compressed bricks
  • Selling the bottles to our qualified builders, have a contract for a number of houses a year?
  • Building 30 houses a year, making enough profit to build one for so,some who doesn’t qualify for the government grants
  • How many bottles can we fill a year?

So back to the thoughts of the day. To give some context we got up at a time only normally known to infant children, definitely not students, and made our way to Panchkhal – the municipality where out site is.

Today we met our beneficiary, Parvati Neupane, a woman who has been rejected by society, has a son who drinks and doesn’t look after her, on government benefits and only works 1 month a year. A pretty desperate case, who is so under the poverty line that she does not qualify for the government grant to rebuild her home.

What was more interesting than her situation was the way in which each person on the team reacted. There was a sense of disbelief that people exist in those conditions in the world that they coenhabit. A realisation that the lives they live are ones of wealth yet, are they more happy than the people who have nothing. An interesting definition of poverty, is someone with a roof over their head and food on their place really in poverty? They may be poor, but isn’t poor relative? The man who eats meat every day in their community is seen as rich in their eyes, so then what does that make us? Lucky? Or unhappy?

All questions that have no real answer, poverty is relative, wealth is just a number and happiness is dependent on neither.

Where does that leave me and how I feel. Sadly enough today was none out of the ordinary for a day in Nepal. Does that mean that I have been desensitised to the shock or is it that I have accepted it and am prepared to live that life in a pursuit of a better world. I don’t know, both perhaps. But at no time should I be allowed to accept it as normal, people need basic hygiene and education. That’s not just me in my ivory tower playing god, no matter how happy you are being dead at 50 isn’t part of the plan.

After a couple of evening dramas involving the girls not wanting to stay in the cheap accommodation, hmm, and a beer to calm the frustration day 5 was done. Fuck. How is it only day 5.

 

DAY 6

Sustainable Building technologies in Nepal

Today again was another interesting one regarding the social interactions of the group. Disappointing I think is the word of the day. A group of people who are unable to accept the local customs, not wash and all eat chips because ‘that wasn’t the way I was brought up’.

Work wise the day was a success, meeting with PASSA members, seeing sites at various stages of construction and wandering around the community that we are going to build in. Topped off with us being approached at our hotel by a man who has build over 400 houses, who was already trained in the earth bag method, wanting to be trained in our bottle technology.

So with this new found knowledge of what really makes up the members of my team how do I ensure that this project is a success? The tough love leadership approach of Ben Robinson won’t work here. How do I change my approach to mould the characters into what they need to be. Short answer. I don’t know. Long answer. Absolutely no idea.

There has been a lot of togetherness over the last week and I think a day off would help. But if I don’t mention anything I will just nag/be passive aggressive, the solutions remains out of reach. I hope it will occur naturally and all this is just a way of adjusting to a culture that is widely difference. That’s the best case. The worst, they never accept it. That would equal failed project. Fuck.

Last few days seem to end with that word…

DAY 7

Crisis averted, I didn’t lose my sunglasses. Phew.

The troubles of the last few days seem to have settled down but I’m afraid the wrong side of the line. Rejection of culture. Running for showers rather than saying hi to people, not wanting to travel on local transport. It makes my heart sink.

We traveled back from Panchkhal today, saw a bottle temple. Somewhat more bamboo than bottle but still beautiful. Durbar Square Patan was also on the list however the girls were more preoccupied with finding Pringles than enjoying a world heritage site, the ‘can we come back here to do shopping’ question was also asked. Walking around looking at their feet, such a shame. Again heart sinking. What do I do?

Western food for dinner, pizza… ‘Sigh’

DAY 8

Friday, almost the weekend. Wait. It’s Nepal! There is no weekend! Saying that we did have a chill day though, a unsuccessful trip for sand, an unsuccessful journey to Clean Up Nepal but a good brownie and some quality alone time. Definitely needed. Time to get my thoughts together, plan a few cookstove meeting and prepare for the nuns.

The nuns. The White Gumba. The place dreams are made, and fierce women making real change in the world. Empowering themselves so that they can help others.

No real change in the life of the princesses, shouldn’t really call them that…

DAY 9

Sustainable Development Bottle

The nuns. Where do I start. Well with Yeshe. Initially a shy, quiet person but by the end a woman who is passionate about what she does and committed to spreading the teachings of his holiness. Live. To. Love. A simple message that if believed by everyone would solve the global poverty crisis, stop wars, build friendships and destroy hate. But on top of that they all believe that there is a massive diversity of people and religions in the world but that does not matter, the message transcends those boundaries. It more than religion or culture, it’s a philosophy. In my eyes it is one that is crucial to the survival of the human race. In the end we are a world of extremes, let’s hope the alternative extreme is not one we have to face.

Live to love International. His Holiness. Yeshe. A platform for greatness.

Besides the incredible philosophy of these nuns is an extraordinary work ethic and a wicked sense of humour. They filled plastic bottles like machines and to a standard that we have never achieved. Bottle filling created a social atmosphere with laughter, giggles and a sense of fun. They wanted to fill 2000 bottles by may! September was our goal. On top of everything they are also going to source the bottles from local communities, cleaning up plastic waste around the gumba!

And unbelievable day, unbelievable people and hopefully an army of plastic bottle builders in the future!

DAY 10

Sustainable Projects in Nepal employee

Our Employee. Our F$%#ING Employee.

But first, a walk down memory lane through a meeting with Netra and Bansha Tamang. Turns out the L2L project was successful and there are still people using the Rocket Stoves, quite a result.

HCI. Bottle by Bottle Employee. I mean what more is there to say, Beyond Waste seems like a long time ago. I was handed a failing enterprise and look where we are now. Hopefully the next year is as successful, and I don’t have to have that much input…

DAY 11

Beautiful nepal mountains

A day out with HCI. To a community that I can’t remember the name of. Roughly 45 mins north of Kathmandu.

One of our members was ill but I think that it was more of a front as she thought it would be like Panchkhal, interesting mindset for someone who is passionate about social emterprise that is trying to help people in remote areas.

It was a beautiful day with a fair amount of sunburn but thoughts and feelings wise it ways quite ordinary. An ordinary day strolling through the beautiful countryside of Nepal.

DAY 12

“40,000 bottles a day!”

Inspiring the next generation. Today’s aim was a small one. Along with our employee, Deepesh, it was time to teach students on the national volunteering program to fill plastic bottles with sand at HCI’s Plastic Bottle Recycling Centre. A place where HCI give employment to victimised women. At this centre they collect 40,000 bottles a day! With 22 students signing up I guess that is what you call a success. Little do they know the perils of bottle filling. The long hours and slow work. The blisters. But I hope that they sick it out long enough to finish! Then we have our bottles, a site, plans, and hopefully a house. Bottle by Bottle will be off to a flyer.

Sustainable Plastic Bottle Recycling Centre plastic bottle filling sustainable technologies sustainable building technologies

Café Soma for dinner, burgers, me what do you know it made one of the girls ill. I wish they would at least listen…

DAY 13

GMIN. Fire and Ice. That is all. Bottle by Bottle out.

DAY 14

Okay we had one more day, but a 7am start and 10.30am flights ended our time in Nepal really quite quickly.