Building a new brick home for someone who lives in a bamboo or tin shelter or rebuilding a family’s home after losing it through a natural disaster appreciation can be a rewarding experience, as can be building new classrooms for school children with limited space or a makeshift outdoor classroom.
We have heard some funny stories where foreigners who barely know how to use a hammer and nail attempt to rebuild poor villagers homes for them, only to have the villagers pull it apart and redo it after the volunteers have left, so as not to offend them!
Not long after the earthquake in May 2015 that destroyed around 500,000 homes, some of the SCAI team were walking through a village a few hours out of Kathmandu and saw groups of healthy people sitting around while others were busy trying to reconstruct their homes. When asked if they too had started rebuilding their homes they said they were expecting a group of foreigners to arrive in a day or so to do it for them. Similarly, when offering to build classrooms at a local school, remember there is a lot of manpower available in the local community that could work with you.
We are not suggesting to not help people build or rebuild homes or classrooms, but one should know their limitations about how much they are genuinely helping, and try and include the local people as much as possible, so they take some ownership of the project, however large or small. Skills in earthquake resistant design and construction, carpentry and other useful skills may be genuinely beneficial, but in many cases, the local people probably have a far better idea how to utilise their local resources to build basic village homes. For people with no building experience, it may be better just to admit you are going to learn how to build a house in an innovative local way!
For a more professional experience or for higher quality homes and schools, it may be worth engaging with local experts and work with them, as there are several organisations and companies in Nepal with adequate knowledge about earthquake resistant design and construction and environmentally friendly build methods.