Women's Community Center
UNM students, faculty, volunteers and laborers from the community work on the earthbag walls of a new Women's Community Center in Bahunipati, Nepal.
Credit: Courtesy of Alok Bohara

For the last two weeks, six University of New Mexico students, three faculty members, two volunteers from New Mexico and 14 local laborers have been working on a new women’s community center in Bahunipati, Nepal. Two local coordinators and a junior engineer have been valuable in helping get the project off the ground.

The village of Bahunipati is in an area hard hit by the 2015 earthquake. It already hosts a women's micro finance program affiliated with the Nepal Study Center at UNM. That made it a natural site for the "One Clinic, One School, and One Temple" theme NPS is using as a social capital rebuilding activity.

This effort is driven by UNM students who had visited and worked in Nepal before the earthquake. They formed a local group UNM4Nepal and are supported by faculty members, Department of Economics Professor and director of NPS Alok Bohara and Associate Professor of Civil Engineering Mark Stone, who had been working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation when the earthquake struck. Working with Biraj Karmacharya of Kathmandu University, the UNM team was determined to assist the local community in some meaningful way.

Stone helped the students research a way to rebuild earthquake resistant buildings in Nepal. After some experimentation they decided to use bags filled with earth stacked and stabilized. The project was an interdisciplinary civil engineering class under the direction of Stone over the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters.

“We wanted to build with local products that can be replaced fairly easily in the event of another earthquake,” said Stone. “We are hoping to use the Women’s Community Center to demonstrate the building technique and to teach people in the community how to use the earth bags to rebuild homes and other structures.

The team has now been on site for two weeks. They have completed site assessment and preparation, gathered tools and supplies, including the earth bags, and have been excavating and completing the foundation. The walls are now about one third complete.

UNM students, faculty, friends and local volunteers working on building the Women's Community Center.
UNM students, faculty, friends and local volunteers working on building the Women's Community Center.

Local partners PNMF and Kathmandu University have helped with coordination. The Bahunipati Health Clinic has helped with lodging and cooking delicious and healthy meals for the team.

The UNM students, with support from faculty, have initiated an English language class after work each day. Students include four Nepali women from the construction team and four local girls. Stone said, “These students bring great enthusiasm to the makeshift class and we can hardly get them to end class after an hour. PNMF has provided learning materials for the class including a dry erase board, pencils, and notebooks.”

Bohara and Stone are meeting with various Nepali groups including faculty from Nepal Engineering College and Kathmandu University, the Vice Chancellor of Kathamdu University, and the Nepal Department of Electricity Development. Currently, both of them are in Bhairahawa where they are holding meetings at the Pratiman-Neema Memorial Foundation Health Institute (PNMF-HI). PNMF-HI houses the newly established Lumbini Center for Sustainability. Bohara and Stone are founding members of the center as they prepare a research program for long-term work. Much of the coordination with entities in Nepal has been through the auspices of the Nepal Study Center at UNM.

Collaborators on the project include UNM4Nepal, Kathmandu University, Dhulikhel Hospital Kathmandu University Hospital, Pratiman-Neema Memorial Foundation (PNMF), the UNM Department of Civil Engineering, and the Nepal Study Center at UNM.

It hasn’t been all work and no play. In addition to the construction activities, the group put together a community soccer match that included several of the young Nepali women working on the project. Bohara said, "The essence of this project was to merge the social capital them from economics with the contruction of physical capital from engineering." The NSC plans to evaluation the impact of the construction in the near future.