First published by Nepali Times
Sanogaun, a small Newar settlement on the southern fringes of Kathmandu was flattened by the earthquake last year. Now, the community is using an innovative technology to rebuild all its 49 homes so they are cheaper and resistant to future quakes.
The interlocking brick technique developed by Nepali inventor Gyanendra R Sthapit at the Habitech Center of the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand combines the strengths of rammed earth and compressed blocks. It has been used in post-tsunami reconstruction in Thailand in 2008 and after Cyclone Nargis ravaged Burma in 2010 to build more than 1,000 homes, schools, and health clinics. In Bhutan, over 100 quake-proof houses and schools have been built using the technology.
Leading the rebuilding efforts are the women of Sanogaun who were trained to make the compressed bricks. The interlocking, sun dried bricks are made of one part sand, one part cement and up to eight parts clay. The bricks are compressed manually using a machine. Each brick weighs 9kg, is a fraction of the price of traditional baked bricks, and have been proven to be twice as strong.
The women have been working since December and have made over 80,000 bricks on construction sites with support from Act Alliance and Grassroots Movement in Nepal (GMIN). However, the need for post-quake reconstruction is so great that there is still a long way to go.
“The work is difficult but we know that if we want to rebuild our homes, we have to keep going,” says 52-year-old Purneshwori Shrestha, one of the brick makers.
GMIN’s Urgyen Sherpa says Sanogaun was chosen because of its community spirit and commitment to rebuilding better together. Through volunteers and fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, the project has received $1,500 per house. Act Alliance member Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Nepal has also committed a grant of Rs 200,000 per family.
LWF Nepal’s field worker Madhu Sunam, who moved to Sanogaun soon after the earthquake, says brickmaking has helped unite the community and empowered the women: “When I first came here, women were reluctant to speak during meetings. Now they are comfortable taking charge and engaging in discussions.”
Kabita Shrestha, 32, one of the brick makers, agrees. “I used to believe it was dangerous for women to talk to strangers, and hid when outsiders came to the village. Nowadays I enjoy working outside and expressing what goes on inside me,” she says.
GMIN hopes to continue its work in Sanogaun after it is rebuilt. “We aim to support the community, provide livelihood and other facilities,” says Sherpa, who sees potential for homestay tourism in the village. “There are thousands of houses that need to be rebuilt and a quarter of them can use this method, which means these women can get jobs in other projects too.”