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Enhancing construction skills to help Nepali earthquake victims ‘build back better’

Bhagwati Tamang lays bricks to construct a house in the village of Majimtar, Dhading district, Nepal. She is one of many local masons who receive disaster-resilient construction training with EU funds. © Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015 not only resulted in a devastating loss of life, but also reduced countless homes to rubble. To enable the affected communities to get back on their feet, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) funded the 'Nepal Earthquake Recovery Project'. To promote safer building techniques through the ‘Build Back Better’ approach, training on disaster-resilient construction was provided to local masons and carpenters in targeted areas to allow them to build quake-proof homes. Women were also encouraged to partake.

Sweta Baniya, Communications, Learning and Documentation Officer, DanChurchAid @DanChurchAid

Bhagwati Tamang was busy making mortar and working with stone when we first arrived in Majimtar in Dhading, a central district located approximately 50 kilometres northwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. It was amongst the areas worst hit by the earthquake.

Tamang is the only female mason in a group of bricklayers working tirelessly to rebuild the community’s decimated properties. Despite working in a male-dominated field, she is proud of the essential role she plays in improving her neighbours’ lives.

When Tamang first decided to become a mason, many questioned her ability, but she ignored all the negative comments and continued to develop her masonry skills.

If women can fly airplanes in the sky, I can also do this masonry work as I have the skills and determination”- Tamang.

She proved those who criticised her wrong and became a skilled mason. 

After the earthquake, the 34-year-old and her skillset became an invaluable asset to the village. Thanks to her expertise, she could construct temporary shelters for many of the neighbours whose houses were flattened by the strong tremor. Although Tamang could have earned a good income, she refused to collect any fees from the villagers who had already borne the bitter brunt of the earthquake.

To further enhance her skills, she attended the training on masonry and carpentry launched as part of an EU-funded project, implemented by a DanChurchAid-led consortium of humanitarian organisations. The course aimed to equip local masons and carpenters with earthquake-resilient construction techniques, such as ABCDE (Anchorage, Bracing, Continuity, Ductility and Enhancement). The objective was to provide the participants with knowledge on how to repair shelters or construct houses that are able to cope with recurring earthquakes. Both theoretical and practical lessons were given to trainees.

After participating in the training, Tamang, who had been working as a mason for more than 12 years, said that the course had been invaluable in improving her construction skills and would undoubtedly improve her career prospects.

 “If we incorporate these new techniques in the traditional construction methods, our houses will be strong enough to resist future earthquakes” – Tamang. 

Tamang added that she would also be teaching the new techniques to other masons in her hometown.

I can now implement the new techniques and ideas in my village, thanks to the training. I will also motivate other families to reconstruct their houses using these techniques so they can also build an earthquake-resilient home.”

Besides Bhagwati Tamang and her fellow stonemasons in Majimtar village, training was also provided to almost 100 other bricklayers and carpenters in four highly-affected districts, namely Dhading, Makwanpur, Rasuwa and Sindhupalchowk. After this, they will be able to build stronger homes that would remain standing after an earthquake strikes.