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main blog0005 : almost there...

krishna shah august 12, 2015; wednesday 23:30 nst (nepal standard time)

it's been a while since i last wrote, but a lot has happened over the last 6+ weeks since my last entry, " blog0004: thulo dhading makes its decision (and a look at foreign aid) ", and today i primarily have two words to say: almost there...

but where do i even begin?

pre-requisites for this blog entry to make sense (please read if you have not already):

  • blog0002: first visit to the attarpur and thulo dhading schools

  • blog0003: attarpur makes its decision

  • blog0004: thulo dhading makes its decision (and a look at foreign aid)

the first half of the last six weeks involved a quick trip to the u.s. for networking (and a break from the aftershocks), while the locals at attarpur and thulo dhading collected their thoughts and held more meetings as a village, to unanimously support the new hoste hainse non-profit free-for-all community schools that we plan to build. better to hold these meetings/talks up front so that there is less chance of dissent in the future. the three weeks also gave attarpur and thulo dhading time to put together proposals, which is part of local involvement, as we believe that we need to have as much local involvement as possible, regardless of capacity and capabilities. the latter half involved finalization of a lot of open issues with both attarpur as well as thulo dhading with respect to working out modalities, signing contracts, and what have you.

quick trip to the u.s. for networking

first, an update on the networking trip. went with my wife and 8-year old daughter. spent most of our time in the east coast, primarily the washington dc metro area, where we used to live till mid 2014. therefore, most of both our personal as well as professional network lies there. apart from the one-on-one or small group meetings, had two major networking events, the first one hosted graciously by jiwan giri in maryland at his residence, and the second one entertainingly by bhavna shrestha in virginia at her residence. "graciously" in maryland because the event was originally planned to be an off-site happy hour event, but jiwan dai felt that it would be more effective in his own home, which it did end up being; "entertainingly" in virginia because the event was not only for grown-ups, but also children, who bhavna didi kept entertained while the grown-ups talked about post-earthquake rebuilding activities.

the networking events were an opportunity for us to make a connection between hoste hainse and the nepali diaspora, who whole-heartedly reached out to their motherland in her time of need (right after april 25th), and who still want to do more in the upcoming months/years. "bideshiyeka nepali" (translation: nepalis living abroad) jiwan giri and bhavna shrestha along with her sister, kamana shrestha, are prime examples of how powerful nepalis living abroad can be, and what they can bring to the table. for example, within ten days of the earthquake, jiwan dai landed in nepal with a group of medical doctors (12 of them) from harvard medical school, to provide relief in earthquake-stricken areas. this is how i got to know jiwan dai, via a common friend, abin kunwar, who had asked me if i could arrange for logistics during their arrival (the 12 harvard doctors (who ended up travelling to jiri as well as other villages) are a separate blog entry altogether which i will most probably do in the future with a back-dated entry). sisters bhavna and kamana, along with countless other nepalis living abroad, ran fundraisers and awareness campaigns, and put together relief packages (both monetary and non-monetary) which were rushed to nepal in no time. kamana didi spent countless hours on the telephone with paypal, the company we use to accept online donations, to persuade them to waive their transaction fees, under the circumstances, and after weeks of persistence, she was finally successful -- paypal waived their fees for donations collected the entire month of may 2015. and may was the month we collected the bulk of our donations, which at this point in time almost touch $100,000. full transparency details @

networking session @ jiwan giri's:

networking session @ bhavna shrestha's:

i sensed that a lot of "bideshiyeka nepali" want to continue to help nepal, but don't necessarily know how, or don't know what the most effective way is. donating to the prime minister relief fund is a quick and dirty way, but with nepal's track record with respect to corruption, i rest my case. in my last blog entry, " blog0004: thulo dhading makes its decision (and a look at foreign aid) ", i have made my thought process quite clear that i believe your dollar is better spent if it goes directly to local organizations, as opposed to being passed down via international aid organizations, who end up passing down only a fraction of your dollar. in the defence of international aid organizations, countries and governments allocate aid funds to international aid organizations and they already are busy enough with their roadmaps and internal political agenda. therefore, individuals and smaller organizations can directly give to/work with local organizations in nepal. that was one of my prime messages during the networking events. although we did primarily promote hoste hainse, we made it clear that there are quite a few good local nepali organizations with an international presence that "bideshiyeka nepali" can give preference to over the larger international aid organizations. for example, help nepal network, committed: community members interested, and kehi garaun, to name a few.

support does not have to be limited to financial support. yes, company matching is better than not having any matching at all, and since hoste hainse is also registered in the united states as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, it's even easier for companies to match donations (please keep this in mind for next time if you already used another company for your matching). but the inconspicuous long-term effects of expertise sharing are often overlooked. nepalese in different walks of life outside nepal each carry their own expertise and may think, "what can i alone do that may be of significance to nepal?" this is where networking comes in. just letting each other know what you do is the first step in networking for collaboration. tomorrow, there will come a day where someone will remember what that something you do is and it will make a world of difference. the other prime message that i was harping over the networking events. i also invited people to use hoste hainse as a collaborating platform to get their questions answered. if you don't even try, how are you going to find out if you will succeed (or fail)?

but the nepalese diaspora was not the only group of people that we met with. the goodweave foundation (formerly known as rugmark) and formation carpets (sister organization of hoste hainse which was started in tandem with hoste hainse) have been working together for the last 20+ years. with its offices in washington dc, a meeting with the founding executive director, nina smith, came naturally. after meeting with the entire goodweave team and exchanging thoughts with business development director, scott welker, who knows exactly where in nepal child labor is still prevalent (and also what goodweave is doing to eradicate it), we went out to lunch with nina. nina had invited folks from the global fund to end slavery to join us. what we talked about perhaps deserves a separate blog entry altogether, but the focus of the discussion was how we are planning on opening not only a school in attarpur and/or thulo dhading, but also a carpet factory in parallel, which i had hinted on in my blog entry, " blog0002: first visit to the attarpur and thulo dhading schools ". proximity-wise, if the carpet factory and the school can be close enough, we can literally replace the daycare of the factory with the school (as a carpet factory has a daycare anyway). the children of attarpur/thulo dhading go to school while the parents go to work at the carpet factory. employment creation; income generation; the onset of a self-sustaining carpet village - this concept is another blog entry in itself, not to mention a proposal, but is not the focus of this blog entry, and so i will let go of it here.

since i have been in touch with the desk officer for nepal at the state department, david dreilinger, we met him for coffee as well. it was david who made an eye opening remark after listening to our story. he said, "you're essentially working on education reform." the more i think about it, the more truth i find in it. the whole concept of a non-profit free-for-all community school which is run by an institution (hoste hainse) with local support, but can get financial aid from the government is something that is not prevalent in the education sector in nepal. i had explained this model in blog entry, " blog0004: thulo dhading makes its decision (and a look at foreign aid) ". it's usually the other way around -- government schools get aid from non-governmental organizations, but that's a model which over the last couple of decades still yields in only a 20% overall slc pass rate (in comparison, the hoste hainse schools in sarlahi have been churning out 90%+ slc pass rates since inception). the numbers speak for themselves.

david got us in touch with a couple of other folks at the state department (the power of networking). we ended up meeting with the public diplomacy desk officer for nepal, namita biggins, and the outreach advisor for south asian affairs, merium khan. they have, in turn, gotten us in touch with more folks. again, like i keep on saying, if one does not explore these opportunities of networking, one will never find out whether synergies come out of them as a result. we also had a prospective meeting at usaid lined up in washington dc, but we ran out of time and could not make it happen. just to let you know of our schedule, the evening we flew out of dulles international airport, that very morning/afternoon we were still at the state department meeting with namita and merium.

meanwhile, back at the ranch

due diligence was in full effect with respect to building schools post earthquake. we have always been building disaster resilient buildings, but now "bhukampa pratirodhi" (translation: earthquake resistant) has become a buzz word, and obviously more stress is given to building "bhukampa pratirodhi" structures. we now have the "bhawan nirmard nirdeshika" (translation: building construction directive) as well as the "bhukampa pratirodhi bhawan nirmard nirdeshika" (translation: earthquake resistant building construction directive), both published by the government, in our office. none of the guidelines that these directives publish are ones that we have not been in compliance with, but it is always good to cross all your t's and dot all your i's.

information gathering/collection takes time. but i am pleased to say that we now have guidelines/proposals on our table ranging from how to build schools the traditional jica-way, to a more recently published method that involves pre-fab structures. again, constant due diligence. the key is to leave no stone unturned, so that we do not pre-maturely rush towards a certain decision, without exploring options, especially post earthquake, when options and directives have mushroomed like there is no tomorrow.

back in nepal

we hit the ground running once back in nepal. meetings with both attarpur as well as thulo dhading commenced, with more frequency, to hash out the open issues in an amicable manner. just to give you an idea, our first school in sarlahi started in the year 2000. but talks started in 1998. so, these initial dialogues, fact-finding missions, due diligence periods, decision sinking-in stages, etc., take time. am not saying that we're going to take two years in sidhupalchowk, but we're trying to do in two months what we did in two years in sarlahi.

one of the first things we pushed was the hiring of new teachers for grades 9 and 10 at both attarpur as well as thulo dhading, so that we do not have a "nil" result again in this academic year's slc. read blog entry " blog0003: attarpur makes its decision " for context. i am pleased to say that the agreement with attarpur has already been signed:

on a side note (as well as note to self), we need to change our letterhead. that's another front i need to work on when i have time, although it is most probably going to sit on the back burner. with a 25-year old organization, we have a lot of legacy artifacts still in our closets, like this letterhead. we need to "upgrade" it to portray our new logo and theme.

the thulo dhading agreement will follow suit soon, as we have given the locals some more time to think about how they would like to go about the hiring process. i have recommended them to have a joint hiring process, since the villages are only about two hours apart, but the locals probably know what's best in their environments. but the bottom line is that support has started. the smaller, immediate support is the support for teachers, which comes out to be about $5,000 per school per year, which i have personally pledged, so that the children do not suffer a "nil" slc result like they did last year due to the absenteeism of teachers. the bigger, long-term support is the building of a new school.

empowering locals, regardless of their capacity and capabilities, can be interesting. we do advocate it, but at times we need to push back when the result that we end up with turns out to be inadequate or incomplete. this was the case with the building proposals that we received from both attarpur as well as thulo dhading. let's first talk numbers. we have a lot of experience constructing school buildings and the last one which we just constructed in sarlahi, the plains in the south of nepal, is a 2-storey building, which cost us about rs. 65,00,000 (approx. $65,000):

now, we can guess that constructing the same building in the hills of sindhupalchowk is going to be more expensive, as everything needs to be trucked into the hills. but, i would guess, up to 25% more should do the trick, which pushes costs up to about $80,000. the proposals we received from attarpur and thulo dhading were $125,000 and $315,000 respectively. now, i am not going to jump to conclusions and have negative thoughts about this, as i was the one who invited them to submit proposals in the first place. but what we ended up doing was sit down for another meeting and politely say, "thank you for submitting your proposals, but with your permission we would like our own team to also prepare a proposal for schools in your district." they agreed.

our own team is the team that has been constructing school buildings in sarlahi, the plains in the south. why did we not have our own team start on this from the get-go? because developing proposals costs money, not to mention time. and if the locals did have the capability to churn out a reasonable proposal, i would have adopted it. but it was not only the numbers, it was also the presentation, as well as the technologies/features that the buildings employed (or the lack thereof). our buildings, in collaboration with minergy, are buildings that are environment friendly, cost-effective and which employ local resources to generate livelihoods, and not to mention are disaster resilient (earthquake resilient). rainwater harvesting, the trapping of natural light so that less electricity is used for lighting, the direction of the building with respect to air flow, so that the building remains cool in the summer and warm in the winter (the technical term is "thermal comfort"), are just a few of the features that are integrated into the building. solar power, which has already become quite commonplace in nepal, does not even need to be mentioned anymore; it is understood. but perhaps the most important aspect of our proposal is -- what resources and skills are available locally? i believe, in sindhupalchowk, it is going to be wood, as the hills (as opposed to the plains) have a lot of trees. keeping in mind deforestation, the utilization of wood will not only aid the local economy, but will also lower our overall building cost. on disaster resilience, our earthquake-bands are quite visible in our school buildings, and now post-earthquake, we plan to paint them yellow, so that when people see our buildings, they will ask the question, "what are those yellow strips?" and we will proudly say, "those are earthquake-bands, earthquake-resistance technology, built into our buildings."

i believe the positive takeaway from this exercise was that we did not go in with our own solution from the beginning. we let the locals explore and let them come up with a proposal, which they later agreed that we would not use based upon reasoning above. this is called local involvement. in local involvement, you sometimes give a little, and you sometimes take a little. but the tone has been set -- we will not do everything for you; we will need your involvement every step of the way. the proposal is only the tip of the iceberg. uncountable synergies are yet to be explored.

so where do we stand timeline wise? this blog entry is getting long, and i am probably beginning to lose your attention (if i have not lost it already). here is the latest email i received from minergy:

From: "Shayu Prajapati" <>
To: "Shah, Krishna" <>,
"Hoste Hainse Office" <>
Cc: "Liva Shrestha" <>,
"Suyesh Prajapati" <>,
"Sanu Babu Dangol" <>
Subject: RE: me: liva] Fw: RE: Fw: school building in attarpur, sindhupalchowk
Date: Tue, 11 Aug 2015 15:01:47 +0545

Dear Krishna ji,

Let me first thank you for trusting MinErgy once again for your future project.

As for the questionnaire, we will send it to you by Thursday evening. We hope to receive the site details on coming Monday or Tuesday. Please note that we will be able to work on developing concept note only after receiving the details from the site (Questionnaire). Hence, we will be able to provide you with the concept note only on 26th of August by earliest.

In the concept note, we will provide:

1. General design concept/features to be incorporated for proposed school building
2. Tentative cost estimation
3. Technical service cost

Kind Regards,

august 26th is the date to note. once we receive the concept note from minergy, we will encapsulate it into our overall proposal and make it available for public consumption. i understand this is four months from the date of the earthquake (april 25th), but allow me to remind you that it took us two years to get our successful schools started in sarlahi in the terai. this time, our goal is to have at least one school up and running in sindhupalchowk, either attarpur or thulo dhading, or if funds permit, both schools, by april 2016, the onset of the next academic year. for this to happen, we need to start construction by around november 2015. thank you for your patience and your support. what we do not want to do is rush to build something without having done adequate homework which may hamper the longevity of the project.

so many facets i have not even touched upon in this blog entry. i am just going to blurt them out as bullet points for now:

  • carpet factory in attarpur - what we are doing on that front; the carpet factory is most probably going to come into operation before the school.

  • collaboration with medep - undp's micro enterprise development programme; the carpet village concept is picking up steam.

  • site visits to see development by partner ngo's - visited gurung gau in bhotenamlang last weekend (a 4-hour drive followed by a 2-hour walk) to see tlc's constructed there.

  • spike in volunteer applications - we have three international volunteers coming to hoste hainse this fall; people want to help. thank you!

this sunday, i am making my next overnight trip to sindhupalchowk -- both attarpur as well as thulo dhading. and this time am taking my long-time friend, abin kunwar, and his family - wife and 6-year old son. he is visiting from america and was instrumental in coordinating earthquake relief efforts from abroad. he is the one that got me in touch with jiwan dai who brought the harvard doctors to nepal. and he is an example of the new breed of "bideshiyeka nepali" who choose to go to attarpur instead of pokhara (a popular tourist destination) when in nepal on vacation. he knows that we may get stuck in attarpur because we are going in the monsoon, as there are risks of landslides, and that we are going to have to walk through forests full of leeches (and his wife and son may have the experience of their lifetime). it is going to be the opposite of pokhara, but it is going to be fulfilling. i don't want to sound like i am tooting my own horn, but i believe this trip is a direct result of the networking that was done in the u.s. about a month ago. i welcome more folks to come and explore nepal in the "raw" as opposed to only the tourist destinations.

the site visit i made last weekend to gurung gau, bhotenamlang in sindhupalchowk gave me a preview of what road conditions are like. here is a preview for you to see what it is like to drive through an area hit by a landslide:

more pictures of this trip can be viewed on my facebook page:

next wednesday, i am going to sarlahi, along with our german donor/supporter, guenter sprenger, and his family (wife/daughter). i have not written much about sarlahi on the blog, but i hope to do so soon -- there are a lot of success stories about sarlahi. but for this trip -- again, we are going to the south in the summer, where we're going to experience two things: heat and rain. rivers are going to swell up and will determine whether we can cross them or not (as there is a lack of bridges). we will need to adapt. the way i see it -- it is free adventure during aid work. :)

the two upcoming trips above deserve two separate blog entries, which will most probably happen, either fresh, or back-dated. we'll see. in the mean time, though, i hope i was able to convey the "almost there" message (and the title of this blog entry) with respect to the schools in sindhupalchowk, as i know a lot of you have been waiting for an official proposal to mobilize your funds. we have been extremely busy, and the entire team has been working very hard to put all the pieces together. there is a lot happening, and i hope by the end of this month we will have a public facing document ready, which can act as the basis of your next steps.

if you have any questions or comments or feedback on any of the things i have written in this blog entry, please feel free to contact me: krishna.shah @ and my mobile number is +977-98080-65300.

thanks for reading. write to you again soon! and now i need to go record my weekly radio show, pralaya sessions:

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