We first visited Phulkarka during our one-week village bash with the Naropa professor Debbie Young working on our Community Development skills all the while, every where we went. We spent some time in Darkha, the village we originally spent time working with and building a school in, and then we hiked the nine hours, and crossed the four valleys that brought us to the village of Phulkarka. Still in the same district of Dhading that Darkha is, and even in the same Northern province, it was relatively close when compared with the days it would take to hike other places. This village was introduced to us in an interesting way. While working in Darkha the word of what we were up to of course spread through the region. Then by chance a family from Minnesota, the Dworaks, decided to fulfill a promise they had made to a trekking guide in Kathmandu named Bhupendra, who was from the village of Phulkarka and recommended to the Dworaks that they contact a non-profit group called HANDS in Nepal. They did and we were so excited at the prospect of being their “donor consultants,” the field representatives who will go and make sure things happen as they should with the building of a school in the village.
That first trip we made only last one night due to our short time constraints but in that time we were treated to an array of festivities around the nearly completed school. Their were singing and dance shows, elaborate lines of hand-shaking and flower leis and katas being piled around our necks. They made a serious impression and we really wanted to return for a longer stay to get to know the area better. A few weeks later, after dealing with some bad illnesses and ill-timed strikes, we were able to get on a bus that was going to take us all the way to Phulkarka. Our travel party consisted of myself, Bree, Tsering (my long-time Tibetan brother), Jangmu (our newly befriended and hired translator, a Sherpa girl of 24, fluent in casual, even slang-influenced English) and Bhupendra’s brother and wife and kids, and his own wife and kids. He was due to join us in two days time, on May 17th which was going to be a big festival.
We arrived at his home on the 15th and that gave us two full days of getting to know the local folks before the big festival. And then we planned to stay for that and leave after, the 18th to Darkha. The first day we had a big meeting in the school and we’re shown in detail all the work that had been completed up to that point. The 3-rooms looked so beautiful, a top-notch, grade A performance on the work they did, through and through. All the important walls were fully plastered which means very smooth and clean looking. The only one that wasn’t fully plastered was the back wall which is up against a dirt hillside and not really visible, but even that one was plastered about a 3rd of the way up for water protection. The ceilings/roof were of tin and very high so felt very spacious inside, and one panel from each roof was a clear plastic piece which let a lot of nice light pour in. They were small rooms but bright, clean, and conducive for a learning environment, we were so impressed with the overall quality of the building.
The land it was built on was donated by the village community and was well situated apart from any houses or roads. The land had been leveled by hand and that work was down as volunteer contributions from the village community. Bhupendra, who organized all the details of the work, was keen on making a large portion of the work volunteer labor and recording it all to show the amount of money saved. Even with that though, our budget of $7,000 did not quite cover everything needed. Extra expenses were estimated at around $2,500 for the finishing of the bathroom and a water system.
During our meeting we discovered the incredible experience that is working with an experienced translator. An immense language barrier was broken down and suddenly we were in discussion and conversation with the amazing community of Phulkarka. We explained, after discussing the usual topics of progress and needs that make up our community development meetings, that we wanted to spend each night we had in their community in a different families house. They loved the idea and were so appreciative that we cared so much to learn from them like that. We ended up doing exactly this, spending each day going to a new area, and each night interviewing a new family. Our crew of Tsering, Jangmu, Bree and I became the best of friends through these experiences, and the families we stayed with took us in with excited generosity and willingly spoke at length about their lives, and answered all questions to the best of their ability. After these experiences, on our last day, we held a big meeting again in the new school and asked them about what they thought of us, foreigners coming to spend time in their home and get involved with their lives, and also what they thought about the possibility of sending other volunteers/tourists to this area to do similar things we were. Their response was incredible to us. They couldn’t express enough how appreciative they were for us to listen to their lives, problems and learn from them about what they face every day. They told us very bluntly that they didn’t want tourists, because they just come to hike, see the sights, have their fun and then leave. On the other hand they were really supportive of us sending more people like us to interview, help work with new ideas, create more sustainable projects, and Volunteer in their village. They were also really interested in teacher trainings and classroom workshops.