July 12 2022

Building resilient education in Ruby Valley

From Rennes to Kharsa: a collaborative project

The beginnings of the project

Karuna-Shechen aims to reveal the altruistic potential of individuals, groups and communities. At the beginning of 2021, a group of young engineering and architecture students in Rennes contacted us to contribute their areas of expertise to Karuna. Through exchanges with local teams and visits to Karuna’s regions of intervention in Nepal, the project to build a school in Kharsa gradually took shape. In 2015, this village, located at an altitude of 2,000 meters in the mountainous region of the Ruby Valley, was hit hard by a series of earthquakes. Although the village’s infrastructure is still poorly developed (no road network, electricity network or access to running water), some homes are equipped with solar panels and the inhabitants have access to the Internet.

 

Ensuring access to education

The challenge for the village is to strengthen the resilience of its infrastructure, in order to contribute to its development, particularly by ensuring the health and safety of its inhabitants. Education is a crucial ingredient  to achieve this. Although tourism and digital access are expanding in the valley, the basic school infrastructure is struggling to develop. Young people learn in crumbling buildings, with an archaic education system that leaves little room for personal development and autonomy. The challenge is to create a school adapted to the weather and geographical conditions of Kharsa, all the while encouraging a space open to creation and new educational methods.

Adapting the school to local challenges

The four architecture students, Victorien, Simon, Pierre and Baptiste, working together with Karuna’s teams (who have been present in the Ruby Valley for a year), the villagers, teachers and local craftsmen have drawn up plans for a school that will meet the village’s needs. The project includes the construction of four classrooms, a playroom, a kitchen and toilets. The construction of a weatherproof building should encourage parents to send their children to school, whereas until now some parents prefer to keep their children at home during the monsoon season because of the risk of mudslides. The architecture team is also determined to using local materials for the construction of the school,  involving local artisans in the process and  keeping the local economy going.

 

A look back at the progress of the work

Since the start of the project in 2021, the  architecture students have completed the site survey and plans for the school. One of the major constraints faced by the students was to create plans that responded to seismic risks, with an adapted and resistant structure and materials.

Sustaining the project

Part of the student team remained in the village of Kharsa to monitor the work and maintain the  contact with the craftsmen involved in the construction. In May 2022, the Karuna Nepal teams visited Simon, who is still on site, to review the progress of the project. The renewal of the village’s municipal team, which took place at this time, is an opportunity to consider an acceleration of the decision-making process and support for the project by the town hall. At present, the monsoon season does not allow construction to begin, but local contractors have begun quarrying stones and fabricating some of the school’s components. The laying of the foundations will start as soon as the monsoon season ends, towards the end of September 2022.

 

Building bridges with local people

The presence of the student group in the village during the project has helped to gradually improve communication with the different stakeholders, and to better understand the cultural context and the language. “They are motivated and always available to help us improve the plans for the school,” Victorien told us during a meeting at Karuna’s offices in Paris. One of the objectives is also to extend the main road to the school, in order to facilitate access, particularly during construction work but also during the monsoon season.

 

Monitoring the work

Throughout the project, Karuna members and the architects made a point of collecting photos, plans and drawings of the project in a guidebook, so that the project could be replicated in other villages in the region. The guide includes recommendations for building schools in line with traditional architecture, using local techniques and materials. From a technical point of view, the manual likewise proposes solutions for constructing earthquake-resistant and environmentally friendly buildings. Once the work begins in September 2022, Rajesh Sthapit, an engineer who has worked with Karuna-Shechen on many schools, will visit Kharsa once a month to monitor the work and advise the craftsmen.

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>> Check out the Instagram page to follow the progress of the project.