BY SHAMANDEEP SINGH
Sikhi Awareness Foundation, Canada
TWO of Sikhi Awareness Foundation’s sevadaars left Canada for Nepal on May 12. It was decided by our organization to focus on rebuilding houses. Fundraisers were done at the local gurdwaras in Vancouver and $24,000 was raised by the sangat. While SAF’s Canada team was doing surveys of different area and villages of Nepal, SAF’s India team was busy distributing blankets, daal (lentils), rice, tents, etc. all over Nepal.
Finally a village was chosen about 45 km from Kathmandu, which was badly damaged. It was home to lower caste people who are considered untouchables. The biggest challenge of rebuilding was a lot of paperwork and approvals which needed to be dealt with different levels of government.
The village of Ojetar in district of Kavrepalanchok was selected on May 15, but it took four days for two men of our team to sort out all the paperwork and order materials. Finally, on May 19, our entire team of 16 men, including six men from Nepal’s Aryan College of Engineering, arrived in the village. We set up our tent and unloaded all of our groceries. While some of the men started cooking food for dinner, half of us started the work right away. On our first day, we levelled the ground for 10 houses.
Our first official day of work started on May 20 and work continued until June 5. Our team helped rebuild homes along with volunteers from the village. It was long hours every single day with hard physical labour in the sun. We drank five to seven litres of water every day due to the extreme heat.
TO the best of our knowledge, we are the only organization that used a special type of material for the roofing called cement fibre, which we imported from India. It is partially insulated to take away the heat that people get using the normal steel roof-top. It also doesn’t make a sound when rain falls on it or when birds land on it. We spent a lot of extra money on them but it was well worth it, and the villagers were very much happy to see that special type of roofing. On the walls, we choose the local materials, bamboos and bricks. On the bottom 2.5 feet of the wall, we used bricks and for the rest of the walls we used bamboos.
According to the team of engineers that was with us throughout the time, the average lifespan of these semi-permanent houses is about 10 years. And most of the villagers that gave their testimonials said they plan to live in these for more than two to three years until they can build their houses.
EVERY day was challenging and we finished 240 bottles of water in just 2.5 days. Drinking water was a big problem in that village as well as sanitization. It felt as if we were back in the Guru Sahib’s time with no toilets (open fields every day), no washroom for showers (dirty river water), handpicked daily vegetables, no cars (no car came there, unless it was a 4×4), etc. There was no clean water to bathe with; people in the village used a pond to wash clothes and then used the same water to clean their cooking utensils. The villagers loved the Singhs so much that we would get water fetched by the villagers (the pond was very far downhill).
NO one knew what / who Sikhs are. Because they all watch Hindi movies (which portray Sikhs as jokers) they all said “balle balle” when they saw us. They all believed that Punjabi is our religion. Whenever we held a general meeting with the villagers, we started discussing about Sikhism with them at the end.
We talked about Sikhism, Nishan Sahib, Selfless Service concept started by Guru Nanak Sahib Jee. We even prepared ‘deg’ on the Shaheedi purb of Guru Arjun Dev jee on May 22 and explained to everyone about the importance of that day to Sikhs. Each day we spent in Nepal, our goal was to teach the villagers about the Sikh way of life and how this is a religion not only for us but for entire mankind.