In 2015, a violent earthquake caused major damage in Kathmandu and the surrounding area. The Shanti Sewa Griha leprosy relief project, which includes workshops, a hospital, and a small Waldorf-inspired school, was also severely affected - the school building was completely destroyed. The Friends of Waldorf Education launched an immediate call for donations and rebuilding the school became a real possibility. Shanti founder Marianne Großpietsch explains which obstacles had to be overcome.
There it was again - this anxiety that suddenly runs through the whole body. It was only a short, violent jolt, now, on July 6, 2019. I was standing at the cutting table with the dressmakers, admiring their talent for skillfully and quickly cutting children's trousers. It was "only" a quake of magnitude 4.6 on the Richter scale. There was no great destruction, but the emotions of that time came back to life immediately.
At that time, on 25 April 2015, the quake had a magnitude of 7.8 – followed by a similar one on 12 May. Almost 9,000 people died, about 800,000 houses were destroyed, including about 5,000 schools. Many roads were torn open and became impassable, and huge landslides caused further enormous damage.
We are grateful that the quake happened on a Saturday - all our schoolchildren were at home then, because in Nepal Saturday is the day of rest. But our boarding school in Buddhanilkantha, a beautiful nature reserve, and our school there were largely destroyed. We were only able to carefully remove school supplies and furniture from the school and bring it to the main center, 15 kilometers away. This had to happen quickly, because there were aftershocks every day - several hundred in all - and the destroyed buildings collapsed further and further.
The children were now all in our main center at the holy river Bagmati, near the great shrine Pashupatinath. The center there is solidly built– it did not have a single crack. It became very crowded there, but it was safe!
In the following weeks our teachers and students had to show a lot of willingness to compromise, because it was important to us that life should be as normal as it could be, and this as soon as possible. The routine of a regular school day was of course a great help. So we had to create makeshift classrooms. With the help of thin wooden walls we divided up rooms. Two were created in the conference room, three on a floor that we had not yet finished, and one room was divided off from the paper workshop. Into these "classes" we brought everything we had been able to save from the destroyed school: Tables, benches, chairs, blackboards, shelves... Our carpenters repaired what was repairable, and our brave teachers improvised every day.
Of course we had dreamed of building a new, beautiful Waldorf school as soon as possible. But after the earthquakes the price of land had risen so much that we had to give up this dream very quickly. We would have had to pay more than one million euros alone for a piece of land that our children could have reached with our school bus - that was and is completely impossible!
So we decided to not leave the classes in their makeshift state, but to expand them and build "real" classrooms. However, there were difficulties with this setup, which slowed us down for a long time. The government very soon formed a committee to coordinate reconstruction, but the committee could not work effectively because political conflicts with India led to a border blockade lasting several months. Important building materials that do not exist in Nepal could therefore not be imported, such as steel and cement.
The head of this committee has been exchanged several times. In addition, permits had to be obtained for each step in the reconstruction process from dozens of different authorities, whose responsibilities were also constantly exchanged. Thus, our applications were repeatedly delayed and not processed any further. Without official permission, however, we could not start the construction. Otherwise we would have had to pay high fines and dismantle what we had built. A year and another year and a third year went by. New political constellations came to power, and our applications remained on some desk.
Sometimes it was hard not to lose courage in the confusion. So it was helpful for us that the Friends of Waldorf Education and the Software Foundation placed their trust in us - although we always had to ask for indulgence because we were unable to begin construction. In the meantime, more and more children came to attend our school. They have lost their parents to the earthquake and the floods this year and last, and their relatives can no longer feed them.
But now there is a silver lining: friends recommended Prabin Rawal to us, a highly experienced and reliable civil engineer. Up until now, he had been working on several major projects. The first thing he had to do was redraw all the plans of the building on which the classrooms are supposed to be built as a new floor – a cleaner, illiterate, had thrown away all the old plans!
Thanks to his good contacts with the authorities, he has finally been able to obtain the building permit for us. He commissioned competent building contractors and - especially important - supervised the construction himself, for a total fee of only 600 euros!
The shell construction is now finished and we hope to move in soon. The children are eagerly practicing their songs and dances for the opening ceremony!
This project was supported by the urgent call for donations of the Friends of Waldorf Education for the earthquake in Nepal in spring 2015.