Student project to help rebuild Nepal

Originally published in The on June 28, 2016 By Gary Warth
Student project to help rebuild NepalArchitect students display their conceptual renderings of a shiva/community center to be be built in Nepal. From left are: Heba Alqallaf, Carlos Casas, Guy Hartwig and Aishah Alshatti. Their class project is to help the Nepalese learn how to rebuild to more durable standards after last year’s devastating earthquake. © Nancee E. Lewis / Nancee Lewis Photography.
 Local architecture class hopes to teach building skills to earthquake victims
A classroom project at the NewSchool of Architecture & Design in downtown San Diego could help thousands of people in Nepal rebuild homes that were lost in a devastating earthquake last year.
Nine students in professor Joseph Kennedy’s class collaborated on a plan to build a center to teach building skills in the Nepalese city Panauti, about 20 miles southeast from the capital city of Kathmandu.
Fundraising for the project will come from the San Diego-based nonprofit Bishwa Seva Foundation, which already has raised money to send low-income children in Nepal to school. Work on the site could begin in September, with a completion date about three years away.
“Nepal is a very mountainous country,” Kennedy said. “If the foundations aren’t built well, it will just slide down a hill.”
That’s what happened to many buildings on April 25, 2015, when an 8-magnitude earthquake killed more than 8,000 people in Nepal, destroyed many ancient temples and leveled about 750,000 homes.
Rebuilding all the homes is too great a task for any relief agency, so the class project instead is focused on creating an education center that will teach affordable and durable building technicians to people who will rebuild their own homes, Kennedy said.
People who take classes at the center are expected to then teach the skills they learned to others in their villages, he said. Kennedy already has done international relief work as a co-founder of Builders Without Borders and was an editor of the books “Building Without Borders: Sustainable Construction for the Global Village” and “The Art of Natural Building.”
It was a chance meeting that got him in touch with Bishwa Seva. After telling a local builder about an unrelated Builders Without Borders projects in, Kennedy said his friend suggested he got in touch with the local nonprofit.
“The timing was perfect, so I said, ‘Let’s go for this,’” Kennedy said.
Kennedy worked on the project with Deep Deoja, 32, of Bishwa Seva. Deoja, a Vista resident who helps raise money for the nonprofit through sound meditation classes in Encinitas, is from Nepal and still returns to visit family.
“When I went to Nepal this year, I saw people didn’t have any idea how they could rebuild,” he said.
Biswha Seva formed in 2009 and supported five poor children in Nepal in its first year. This year it is supporting 52, and Deoja said it has expanded its mission to help earthquake victims.
The project also has been supported by Brian Dunn, who formerly worked in Silicon Valley and helped developed anti-piracy software for Hollywood. Now with Builders Without Borders, Dunn said he provided $10,000 to put together a submission to the Nepalese government for the project.
More than a year after the earthquake, Dunn said skepticism is growing about the government’s relief effort. Media outlets have reported on government red tape stalling the distribution of relief items and of overall delays in any reconstruction.
Dunn said the collaboration among Builders Without Borders, the NewSchool and Biswha Seva could shame the government into action by showing what independent groups can do.
“We felt Bishwa Seva provided feet on the ground,” he said about the group’s connections with people in Nepal. “We had connections with NGOs (non-government organizations) and the government, but it was stalling. Let’s get it done by going directly to the people.”
The project will include a temple, estimated to cost between $200,000 and $400,000, a learning center and four model homes that will demonstrate different durable building techniques.
Kennedy said the timing was perfect because professors have the freedom to pick any project for their class in the final quarter of their students’ senior year.
Student Brandon Creasy, who worked on design the temple with fellow student Guy Hartwig, said the project originally was going to last until midterm, but the class wanted to see it through.
In research the design of the temple, Creasy said he and Hartwig talked with Deoja and interviewed a priest at a Hindu temple off Miramar Road for two hours.
“Our design ascetically was to reflect the culture and tradition while incorporating materials that were there, like bamboo, and using them in a slightly different way to give the best of both worlds, between modern and traditional,” he said. “To create a space for people to go elevate their mind and their spirit,” he said.
Creasy said he had never done any humanitarian work before, but felt inspired by the project.
“It’s something I think would be immensely rewarding and a great way to give back,” he said.
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Gary Warth
Gary Warth has covered a variety of beats in North County since 1989 and now covers higher education and homeless issues. A San Diego resident since the 1970s, he earned a journalism degree from San Diego State University and has won numerous awards for his work.