Introducing...Menstrupedia Comic Books

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With Upama’s help, CCF is purchasing 120 copies of the new comic book Menstrupedia. Already translated into Nepali, Menstrupedia, in a culturally sensitive way, aims to end the menstruation myth and help girls and their parents develop language to open up the conversation on this often misunderstood topic. CCF is raising $480 to purchase these books and will distribute them to Nepali girls and their mothers in all of our educational projects: at ACP, in the rural high school of Ghabesi and at our rural health care clinic in Baseri. Our goal is to continue to purchase and distribute hundreds of these every year for new girls just entering into our programs. If you want to participate in raising funds for the Power of 5 or to help with purchasing these comics please donate here.

Menstrupedia, in a culturally sensitive way, aims to end the menstruation myth and help girls and their parents develop language to open up the conversation on this often misunderstood topic. CCF will be distributing 120 copies to girls in Nepal this fall!

The First Conscious Connections Foundation Annual Report is here!

Hello All!

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2016 was an action packed 12 months with the small volunteer board of CCF working on many fronts to achieve what initially looked to be impossible. With the help of donors, and many volunteers from both Nepal and the US, Conscious Connections Foundation confronted a huge, unexpected disaster and provided valuable services to help thousands overcome the devastating impact of the April 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. CCF delivered earthquake relief in addition to our “normal” work of providing rural health care and educational opportunities for children who otherwise would not be able to attend school. Together, with your help, we’ve done a lot!

Yet central to CCF’s mission is a dedication to transparency and accountability to all those who have a stake in the programs we carry out. To this end we are proud to announce the unveiling of our new and extensive 2016 report, which describes the work undertaken by CCF over the past year. This report marks the first installation in what will be an annual report describing the work undertaken by Conscious Connections Foundation over the course of the calendar year. Within is a history of the projects undertaken, a description of the impact they have had on the stakeholders involved, and a full description of the next steps which are being taken to ensure sustainability and efficacy of the programs.

Make sure to check out both the full report here!

Many thanks for all of your help and support over this past year, and looking forward to the many that have yet to come!

Namaste from all of us at CCF

Post-Earthquake Humanitarian Aid Evaluation Report

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In September of 2015, CCF began the process of evaluating all of those projects with which it provided humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the April 25th Nepal Earthquake. Now, over seven months later, this evaluation of a dozen Earthquake Relief Projects (ERPs) has been completed and has become CCF’s first Post-Earthquake Humanitarian Aid Evaluation Report. With CCF representatives Denise Attwood, Cameron Conner, Ric Conner, and Grant Gallaher, once again back in Nepal the conclusions and recommendations presented in this report are in the beginning phases of being implemented!

The purpose of this document is utilization: utilization by donors, potential donors, and the Board of Directors. Though there is no doubt that CCF has done wonderful work in the past 11 months, there are certainly areas in which we can improve! These areas go beyond just earthquake relief and include our principle guiding projects as well. Moreover, it is hoped that this evaluation will allow all those who have a stake in the work done by CCF to better understand the effectiveness of the disaster aid provided by the foundation in Nepal. This information will be used to provide greater accountability to CCF stakeholders, including aid recipients, as well as to guide future organizational actions as the relief and rebuilding processes continue.

Though time is scarce in the best of days, I ask that, in those few moments which each of us does have to spare, please think about the questions, ideas, comments, etc. that are evoked by this report. Above all else, we must continue to discuss and question the work that we hope do and how we will do it. From my own perspective, I hope that this project will guide all of us who have been touched by the work of CCF towards the all important element of conversation: the co-creative, leading force that fosters the smallest ideas out of which dreams will flourish.

I would like to thank all of you for continuing to support all of our hard work here with the Conscious Connections Foundation, and I hope that this report provides a helpful insight into what, together, we have been able to do because of this partnership.

Yours,

Cameron Conner

Old Friends and New Adventures

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If you had told me a year ago that I would be traveling to Nepal not just once, but twice, I would have called you crazy. And yet, here I am… back once again amongst the bustle, smog, and always-wonderful people of Kathmandu! After a somewhat grueling 37-hour transit from Seattle to San Francisco to Seoul to Singapore to Kathmandu, Cameron and I finally stepped off the plane onto the tarmac and breathed in that semi-fresh air that signified we were home. Pradeep enthusiastically greeted us at the airport and gave us beautiful flower malas to welcome us, yet his smiling face was really all the welcome we needed.

We have been staying at Chunta’s home in Thamel for about two days now, and I am already blown away at how different this experience in Nepal already feels compared to last time. Six months ago, when I first arrived in Nepal and was confronted with entirely new people, customs, foods, etc, I was often somewhat overwhelmed in spite of my best efforts to go with the flow as much as possible. This time, however, it feels less like going to a mysterious foreign land and more like returning home. The people know me and welcome me with smiles, the once maze-like streets are now familiar, and the smells and sounds bring back fond memories. Things which would have completely stressed me out last time (our checked bags being lost in transit, for example) are no longer world-ending occurrences, because I know I have people I can count on to help and that everything will work out in the end. Overall, I feel much more comfortable and at peace in Nepal compared to the first time, and I can already tell that that distinction will make this trip even more impactful for me than the last!

Cameron and I will be staying in Nepal for roughly a month and a half this time around supporting current CCF projects and evaluating them as they proceed. First and foremost, we will be returning to Baseri, where the Earthbag model homes are nearing completion and the rebuilding of the health clinic is almost ready to begin. Along with Denise Attwood and Ric Conner, our role will be to aid in construction, engage the community in the process of rebuilding their new clinic, and supervise the process to ensure that it remains true to its purpose and within its budget. After a week or so in Baseri, we will be traveling east to Ghat Besi, where the CCF-funded reconstruction of the village’s primary school is already underway. Our hope is to live in that village for around 10 days, helping with any further work on the school and overall getting to know better the children and community that will benefit from it. Personally, I am extremely excited to be spending this time in Baseri and Ghat Besi, as I have been much more involved with the planning, fundraising, and execution of these recent projects than any of the past ones we evaluated. That increased personal investment makes me all the more eager to see them come to life. Additionally, we will return to Baseri after Ghat Besi and possibly head west from there to trek back to Sertung, a village where CCF has donated clothing and blankets recently and wants to survey for possible future aid projects. It is crucial that we continue to support and foster relationships in all of these villages so that CCF can continue to work effectively and efficiently in proving aid and making a difference in Nepal.

Though we are only spending a month and a half in Nepal this time around, we will not be returning directly back to the United States afterwards. At the beginning of May, Cameron and I will be traveling to Greece to volunteer in Syrian refugee camps with the organization Third Wave Volunteers. Based on constant media updates from Greece and Syria, and in talking with friends and contacts who have spent time in these camps, it is clear that this situation is a massive humanitarian crisis and that volunteers are desperately needed to help with the protection and restoration of dignity of millions of exiled people who were forced to forsake everything they own and flee their war-torn countries. Though we can never fully comprehend the depth of devastation of their situation, Cameron and I hope that we can use the skills we have and, most importantly, our common humanity, to help just a few of these affected people.

Of course, throughout our time in Nepal and Greece we will be documenting and blogging as much as possible so that we can continue to provide an honest picture of these constantly evolving situations around the world. I sincerely thank all of our readers for supporting CCF and our blog – the work we are doing becomes ever more significant if it can also help educate others. Blogging and journaling in general helps me process what I’m doing and draw more meaning out of it, so I am extremely thankful to get to share these experiences with you! More pictures and videos to come as well!

Wishing you all the best from Kathmandu,

Grant Gallaher

The Latest CCF Newsletter!

A Year Well Spent

Congratulations to all on a remarkable year! Not only has Conscious Connections Foundation raised over $180,000 in response to a wide array of Earthquake Relief Projects, but thanks to your help and support of the Power of 5, we were once again able to continue the education of 98 students for this upcoming year and beyond! The 2nd Annual Joy Attwood College Scholarship is soon to be awarded and there are 3 amazing finalists. This means that another girl will have the chance to pursue her dreams into college, and hopefully beyond! Finally, after a successful three months in Nepal, thanks to Vice President Cameron Conner and Research Associate Grant Gallaher, the entire CCF team now has a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of how CCF’s earthquake response should develop in the future.

Now is the time:

Though 2015 saw its share of disaster and setbacks, the winding road to recovery has at last set hope and inspiration at the forefront. This shift in the past months connotes a drastic change in the focus of CCF on earthquake relief, we have made the transition from temporary to permanent aid and have turned the corner from immediate relief to long term recovery. People are ready to rebuild, they want their lives back, and it is all we can do to keep pace with them. The following projects are just a few ways in which we are attempting to do so:

One potential design for the future community center .

One potential design for the future community center.

The Baseri Clinic

This week CCF representatives in Nepal will gather to finalize the construction design of the Baseri Clinic: the biggest project in the history of our organization will soon be underway, and a goal which so many have striven for over these past nine months will soon be realized! Having raised close to $60,000 for its reconstruction & continued operation, we have the ability to not only rebuild the clinic, but to do so better than ever before. The Baseri Clinic 2.0 will be built with the most earthquake resistant techniques available. Apart from being made to last it will have additional room specifically for maternal health issues, an adjoining exam room, dispensary, office, birthing center, and community room, as well as three full time staff. Better yet, thanks to the hard work and dedication of CCF Board Member Sita Gurung, the Nepalese Government has agreed to pay for the majority of the salaries of these three health workers, with the hope that the success shown by this clinic will serve as a model to others in the area. The Baseri clinic has been reincarnated in many different forms, from its initial one story, three room facility, to a small propped up shack in the months following the earthquake, and now we hope, to this newest vision. Yet no matter what form it has taken, the same spirit has lived on, and we at CCF will do whatever is necessary to allow this spirit to flourish.

Together with our work in Baseri the CCF team has focused on pursing additional projects that have greatly expanded our original horizons, both in terms of geographical reach and our mission to advance “education, healthcare and economic opportunities to marginalized communities and individuals”. Such projects include:

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The Ghatbesi Primary School Reconstruction Project:
Ghatbesi is a vibrant community, one that is passionate about education and the cultivation of its village. Though shaken to its core, they are now trying to rebuild. Willing to volunteer time, energy, materials, and full support, this community has shown dedication to the future of their youth, the only assistance we are providing is that of funding. With the help of concerned individuals in the Spokane community, and in partnership with Aurora NW Rotary Club, Ghatbesi will be one of the first communities in the area to rebuild their school in an earthquake resistant way, hopefully serving as an example to neighboring villages, and emphasizing the importance of education. The school to be rebuilt serves around 82 children from Kindergarten to 3rd Grade and is estimated to cost approximately $7,500.

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Kalikasthan Aid Project:
Just as of last week CCF wired $2,500 to project managers Ram and Pradeep Karki in Nepal with the goal of purchasing and transporting appropriate food supplies to 73 families in the village of Kalikasthan, all of whom were forced to permanently relocate from their home village of Hakku due to the earthquake, with only that which they could carry on their backs. They have no land to return to and must start all over again. These supplies were successfully deliver on the 13th of February!

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Sertung Blanket Project:
With the help of community volunteers, CCF has undertaken the distribution of 200 durable winter blankets to several communities in the V.D.C. of Sertung. These blankets will serve approximately 600 individuals living in villages at high altitudes in the mountains which, due to their extremely remote location, have received little aid in response to the earthquake, and nearly none in preparation for winter. As Setung is a three day walk from the nearest road head, each of these 200 blankets were transported by hand into the mountains and to the villages by local porters. These blankets were delivered successfully on 9th of February!

Now we Look to the Future:

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In March, the same CCF team comprised of Denise, Ric, Cameron, and Grant will return to Nepal for a period of approximately six weeks in order to supervise the construction of the clinic, conclude our work on the Model Home Project, follow up on the aid provided to Tsertung and Kalikasthan, and observe the progress of the Ghat Besi Primary School’s reconstruction. As always our hope is to assist those communities that we can, as best we can, until such assistance is no longer necessary at which point CCF can return to its initial areas of cultivation: primarily increasing access to girl’s education and primary healthcare in remote villages.

Your Role:

Despite the incredible work being done by CCF, countless other organizations, the global community, and most importantly the Nepali people themselves, the country is still struggling, and this will continue no matter what we do. No community can be rebuilt overnight, a single life even less so. To rebuild a country takes years, sometimes decades, and our role in this is not merely to speed the process along, but to be able to look back at the end and see that, together, we have made it better than before! As such, we would ask one thing of you who have already given so much: remember that beyond the concerted attention of the global community, in the shadow of the next international story which the world turns an eye to, Nepal, and countless other countries still face insurmountable odds; just because they are no longer in the news gives them no less right to be held in our hearts.

On behalf of all of us at CCF, I would like to thank each and every one of you for the incredible support you have shown us and our friends in Nepal over the past year. The road has been shaky and uncertain, yet you have endured the ride along side us with unbelievable generosity and compassion; it is due to this strength of community and remarkable network of conscious connections that I am truly excited to see what the future holds.

Thank you all for your help and support.

Yours truly,

Cameron Conner

Nova Himalayan Megaquake Documentary

NOVA aired a really well-done documentary on the 2015 Nepal earthquake tonight which I would highly recommend checking out!

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Cameron and I were watching it together and were shocked to find that they had filmed in one of the exact places that we had trekked through in October! Around 21:17, there are several shots of a GPS station/earthquake sensor surrounded by a wooden fence. As we were hiking out of the 10,000 ft village of Nagthali, we walked past that exact station (the sudden appearance of technology stood out compared to the pristine mountains around us). There are even GPS coordinates in the segment that take you directly to Nagthali! So cool and serendipitous to see that!

There is also a segment talking about earthquake resistant building which features Randolph Langenbach, a man who we have been in contact with about “Gabion Band” technology for building homes.

Check this documentary out if you get the chance!

-Grant

Miles from Nowhere

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Our apologies for being somewhat remit on our blogging lately! Our intentions, I assure you, where not to keep you in the dark, and our recent online absence was certainly not due to a lack of entertaining and important material. On the contrary, in the past several months we have encountered enough strange, thrilling, stressful, and outrageous, scenarios to fill an entire book!

Hindsight, as always, reveals many consequential mistakes, and unobserved details here and there which, had they been utilized, would have eased our way. Looking back now, it still amazes me that everything more or less came together in the end. The future may show that other, less forgiving mistakes were made, yet, at this moment and with my current perspective, I am incredibly proud of the work which our amazing CCF team has relentlessly put into its projects. Moreover, the success we have to show for this work is truly astounding. But I’m getting ahead of myself… before I dive into the process of our re entry and the chaos since, this work and the subsequent results warrant a detailed description in themselves.

To begin, let me give a little background: As those of you who attentively follow our blog will know, in the end of October, Denise Attwood, Ric Conner, Sita Gurung, Grant, and I all converged in the village of Dadagaun: home of Baseri Clinic. In our brief visit, it became clear how important the clinic was to the villagers of not only Dadagaun, but those from Majuwa, Bhudathum, Dadje, Barlang, and Kattike as well. Seeing the emotional attachment and ownership that these people clearly felt towards their clinic was remarkable, it left no doubt that the Baseri Clinic would have to be rebuilt, and rebuilt but better than ever before. Yet in doing so, we would have to begin from square one: new land would have to be purchased, new supplies obtained, and a new clinic built with an earthquake resistant method.

In recent months, through the superhuman effort of Sita Gurung, and in yet another volume’s worth of trials and tribulations, CCF successfully obtained a beautiful 8183.8 Square foot plot of land which will serve to house the Baseri Clinic 2.0! Our initial thought had been to reconstruct the Clinic out of a new, earth friendly and earthquake resistant alternative building technique known as earthbag. Over the course of the past two and a half months, we had talked with experts, attended classes, and even spent close to ten days studying this method of construction on site, all to the point where the entire Board of CCF was chomping at the bit to see this earthbag in action. However, before we committed to something as drastic as the construction of a seven room primary health care facility, we needed to know that this was a viable building method for a village as remote as Baseri. To put this question to the test, it was decided that CCF would fund the construction of two model homes in Baseri out of earthbag, running it through the proverbial gauntlet so to speak. Our goals with this project were threefold1, to provide two young families with a safe and comfortable home, fit for village life. 2, to provide the villagers from Baseri and neighboring villages the chance to practice building, and potentially imitate, a reliable, earthquake resistant construction method3, to determine the viability and cost of earthbag as a building material in remote locations such as Baseri and thus determine its applicability as the construction method for our clinic.

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Although Grant and I had spent a modest amount of time working with earthbag, we were nowhere near qualified to supervise the construction of two entire buildings. As such, we decided to partner with the U.S. based non-profit Good Earth Nepal (GEN) -an organization that specializes in earthbag construction- to oversee this project. Our agreement was this: that we would provide the appropriate funding for materials, labor, and any other on the ground support, while they would provide the ever important “know how” in the form of two engineers and one trained manager. With Denise and Ric gone, much of the logistical facilitation of this project fell to Grant, myself, and our invaluable partner Dhan Bahadur Gurung, a high altitude trekking guide by trade, a highly valued member of the CCF team, and the treasurer of the Baseri Clinic with a meticulous eye for detail.

Photos:
Left: The Model House Construction Committee: (from left to right) Pradip Bandari, Ishwor Basnet, Grant Gallher, Dhane Gurung, Cameron Conner
Middle: Grant, Pradeep, and I interviewing Goma Gurung, a local teacher and future owner of a model earth bag home!
Right: Goma working away on her house!

Together, over the course of just a week and a half, we apprehended the necessary materials, hired the transport (a difficult thing to do in a country with no petrol), organized the labor, and coordinated the transaction of several thousand dollars which would be used to pay for this entire process, a process much easier said than done. Summarized so simply, this week and a half of logistical organization may sound like a walk in the park… HA! No such luck. Rather, this was a seemingly endless period of late night meetings, emergency phone calls, and last minute changes of plan, which set all of us on the constant verge of heart attack. Yet, to my amazement, on the bright and clear morning of the 2nd of December, we found ourselves sailing smoothly out of the smog filled valley, sitting gingerly on top of nearly 5,000Kgs worth of building material stacked precariously aboard our giant truck, and finally winging our way out of Kathmandu: heading once again into the mountains, ready to begin.

Photos:
Left: Loading the truck up with supplies.
Middle: Our cozy home in Baseri with a 5 star view, and just 15 minutes from the worksite!
Right: A quick pit stop at the end of the paved road.

12 hours later, after one flat tire and a broken spring, we rolled into Baseri around 9 o’clock, and dismounted into a congregation of what seemed to be the entire village. With headlamps and solar lights, we, along with everyone from the smallest children to the village elders, made amazingly quick work of the 5,000Kgs, and so we set about greeting the entire village with shouts of “Namaste!” and a customary bow. Though it had been almost exactly one month since we had passed through on our trek, very little seemed to have changed; and as we awoke from our hastily assembled tents the next morning, the incredible view that greeted us was one of villagers going about their normal life amongst the ruins of their old homes. Over the subsequent weeks, this same view greeted us every morning, and not once did it fail to astound me.

Though the successive days did not have their shortage of challenges to overcome, everything, as I mentioned, did come together in the end, and when we left 14 days later, the villagers who worked alongside us had taken our construction advice, made it ten times more effective, and were practically professionals. In that short amount of time, we had managed to dig the entire 2’7” foundation, lay the french drain, fill in the remaining space with a “floating foundation” of loose gravel and rocks, lay the door frames, and even complete close to six courses of earthbags in total. Though each day was filled with its own share of frustration and befuddlement, so too did they present incredible beauty and inspiration. Life in the village is an anomaly of patience and practical pleasures encircled by a modern world filled with an irrational amount of rush and worry. Day by day we worked hauling gravel, pounding dirt, or digging foundations, in the most beautiful place imaginable. At 2 o’clock everyday, the usual 15-25 laborers on the site would all gathered together for a well earned break. Together with grandfathers who could swing a pickaxe like nobody’s business, women who spent the day carrying 50lb rocks on their backs, and young men of our own age, we would sit along a terrace, admiring the day’s work thus far and gratefully snacking on the mokkia (popcorn) made by the Ama’s, or “Mothers” of the village. In broken Nepali, we would try to converse about the goings on around the village, a discussion which eventually deteriorated into peals of laughter at the silly white kids.  

Just two short weeks after our harrowing journey to Baseri, Grant, Ram, our good friend Ishwor, and I, found ourselves once again trekking along the hillside, this time in the dead of night, headed down once again. Along the two and a half hour descent to the village of Bhudathum, where the closest bus to Kathmandu could be found, the sun slowly rose behind us, illuminating the tumbling web of vibrant green terraces which spread infinitely below. Seemingly alone on the hillside, the four of us trooped steadily downward, descending from the predawn darkness, through the early morning mist, and into the bright rays that slowly encompassed each one of us. This, to me, was my final goodbye and the end of our adventure. Together we said farewell to the world of patience and practical pleasures, and with each bend in the road we came closer to the world of our own past. Yet as these bends in the road became waves of goodbye, and ultimately, the bright lines along the tarmac, these seemingly separate worlds failed to uncouple.

Above all, however, it is a blessing to have worked with a guy as capable and hardworking as my partner Grant Gallaher; though we had our tense moments, we made an incredible team, and there was no one I would rather have had at my side for three months. Nepal is not an easy place to travel, particularly after a natural disaster and during a crippling blockade, yet Grant passed with grace over all hurdles presented, whether that be cramming on top of a truck filled to the brim with barbed wire for 12 hours, eating dhal bat 24/7, sleeping irregular hours to make late meetings and early transportation, or just putting up with my overbearing temperament for three months straight. I can never express my gratitude to him for all that he has taught and shown me along the way.

Our return home and adventures since this moment are a story in themselves, and as such deserves their own post, and we plan for this to be shortly forthcoming! For the time being however, both Grant and I would like to thank you all sincerely for following along with our adventures. The retelling of our escapades have in some ways kept me sane, and your kind words of encouragement and support have meant the world do us! Until we see you all again… thank you for everything and keep on making those conscious connections.

Cheers,

Cameron

A huge thanks to our good friends Ian Frank and Lucas King-Weber at Short Dog Productions for the wonderful pictures of the Baseri community and our construction process! Check out their facebook page at www.facebook.com/ShortDogProductions

From the Ground Up

The very first week we were in Nepal, Cameron and I took a workshop on earthbag building and met Michael, Lucas, and Justin, three guys who were planning to build earthbag houses in Nepal in the near future. Back then, it was only a far-off idea that we might volunteer with them one day. But things serendipitously worked out as they often do in Nepal, and on the 10th of November, we did end up joining their earthbag build in Ghyampesal, Gorkha! Their project began as a 21-day earthbag building workshop put on by the PermaculTourism Initiative and Woven Earth to build one square earthbag house and one circular.

Arriving in Ghyampesal about 17 days into the workshop, we entered into an environment full of people that had been learning, doing, and living earthbag building for the past two and a half weeks. It was an amazing place for us to come into with an open mind and soak up as much information as possible! We were able to get hands-on experience in many parts of the earthbag process, including soil mixing, bag laying, tamping, leveling, barbed wire laying, and mixing, testing, and applying earthen plaster. We got to try things that we never would be able to back home, from carrying 16 ft bamboo pieces up through a mountain jungle, to carrying baskets of dirt on our back using traditional Nepali headstraps. There was a lot of physical manual labor, and it mixed well with the constant input of new, intellectually stimulating ideas and concepts, providing a great workout for both our bodies and minds. Additionally, we got to work and interact with the incredibly knowledgeable, diverse, interesting group of workshop participants, constantly building experience and connections that will be very helpful for our own project. Overall, volunteering with this earthbag project in Ghyampesal taught us more than we could’ve ever imagined, giving us the practical experience we were missing before, as well as solidifying and supplementing the theoretical framework we already had. Even more imoprtant than all that, we got to meet to really cool people that I’m happy to call friends now! After this experience, Cameron and I are both super excited to begin working on CCF’s own earthbag project!

Click here to see more pictures of the earthbag houses in Ghyampesal!

While we were in Ghyampesal, the wheels were turning back in Kathmandu and Spokane on CCF’s own earthbag project in Baseri. For this project, CCF is partnering with Good Earth Nepal (GEN), an organization that is at the forefront of earthbag technology and building in Nepal. GEN is providing technical support for the two room, one story home we will build, meaning they will supply us with technical designs, a list of necessary materials, and an experienced supervisor to oversee the build. A GEN engineer traveled to Baseri last week to inspect the site for the house and he determined that it is suitable. Unfortunately, the soil at the site is not ideal for earthbag, so we will have to hire people to carry dirt from another nearby location to the house, which will add some extra labor and costs to the project. But hey, it’s a remote Nepali village – if you’re looking for ideal conditions, you’re looking in the wrong place. We should receive the technical design and materials list from GEN within the next few days, at which point we can buy all the materials! Along with the project materials, CCF has purchased 162 large, warm blankets for about $14.81 apiece to take to the people of Baseri for this winter. Once all these materials are obtained, we will head up to Baseri and the project is projected to begin on December 1st!

In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned CCF partnering with the wholesale company Everest Hardwear to provide 100 jackets and 50 hats to the village of Thugman, Rasuwa. With the help of Ram Karki, all that high-quality winter clothing was delivered to the village and distributed to the Nepali people. Now Ram has returned and shared some pictures of the beautiful people of Thugman! Thank you to Ram, Everest Hardware, and Mingmar of Thugman for making this possible.

Aside from all the work we’ve been doing, we tried to set aside some time for fun in Kathmandu! My 19th birthday was on Sunday the 22nd, so we planned to take the day off and do fun things around town like getting massages, eating cake, and seeing a movie. That was the plan. What really happened was both Cameron and I got food poisoning from something we ate the night before, so we spent most of the afternoon curled up in bed and occasionally throwing up. Not exactly what we had planned! But truthfully, I’m not upset that the day turned out like that. Everything we had planned to do can easily be moved to another day, and I’m just thankful that we are both recovering and feeling a lot better now! As I’ve seen over and over again in Nepal, things pretty much never go as planned. Instead of getting hung up on things that go off course, all you can do is go with the flow and make the most of what does happen!

If there’s any information you would like to know about the work we have been doing or do in the future, please leave a comment and we will do our best to answer as fully as we can. We love to hear your questions and feedback! Thank you!

-Grant

The Journey of a Lifetime

The fearless trekking crew (minus Ric taking the picture) ready to go for the day!

The fearless trekking crew (minus Ric taking the picture) ready to go for the day!

Minutes after I published our last written blog post, we hauled our bags down the five flights of stairs at Chunta’s apartment and piled them, along with the four of us, Pradeep, Ram, and our driver into a small backcountry jeep. We drove through countless winding streets, many deserted because of the petrol blockade, and burst forth into the beautiful fields and scattered buildings that surround the stifling city. Seven hours later, in a ride that was marked most memorably by poor Pradeep losing his lunch violently all over the back of the jeep, we arrived at our actual jumping off point: Syabru Besi.

The following 15 days were spent climbing up into the mountains, through the most remote regions we could access in that limited time and following trails that few foreigners had traveled since Maoist insurgents had made them impassible 20+ years ago. From the beginning, we had a very limited idea of what to expect and attempted to prepare for the worst case scenario in advance by carrying what food, shelter, and emergency supplies we might need along the way. To aid in this endeavor, we enlisted the help of four faithful porters: Gukarna, Ramesh, Kumar, and Anil, and one less than faithful cook, Tek; who never actually did any cooking… In total, we passed through 4 districts: Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Dhading, and Ghorka, traveling an average of 8 miles a day over mountainous terrain and hazardous landslides, climbing several 12-13,000ft passes, and sleeping on any flat ground – a valuable commodity in a country that goes from sea level to 29,000ft in less distance than lies between Spokane and Seattle – that we had the luck to find.

Yet 15 days is far to short a time to understand one small village, let alone 11; each more unique than the last, and all separated from any outside contact by miles of mountainous terrain. Our goal for this trip was to assess CCF’s work in 5-6 communities which we had provided various forms of immediate aid to following the earthquake, and survey where else we might be of service in the future. The process of doing so was heartbreaking. We saw hundreds of homes reduced to piles of rubble, families of four or more living in tarp tents that were close to six months old, individuals without even a clue of what the future would bring.

We conducted many interviews with people while standing among the rubble of their own homes.

We conducted many interviews with people while standing among the rubble of their own homes.

Together, Grant and I had the task of talking with these men, women, and children, in order to formulate appropriate recommendations to the board of CCF as to what our next steps should look like. Before beginning our trek – before we even arrived in Nepal – we had arranged a set of questions to ask in just such a situation, yet it was apparent from our very first interview that these would have to be heavily modified and adjusted. Our initial questions had been based on the assumption that we would move fluidly from one person to the next, asking a relatively standard set of questions to generate largely quantitative information. Yet the people with whom we talked could not be clinically quizzed on the aid they received, in what time, and from whom. When asked what their biggest need was at the moment, many said that they simply wanted to invite us into their tin shelter for a cup of milk tea. So from village to village we amended a new set of questions that we began from scratch. The final result looked more like a list of open ended conversational prompts than any formal survey or interview, but the reactions and responses we received were more heartfelt and heartbreaking than we ever could have expected.

Reviewing and revising our interview questions with Pradeep, Anil, and Gukarna

Reviewing and revising our interview questions with Pradeep, Anil, and Gukarna

So we have returned, overwhelmed with information, but with a more realistic perspective on the obstacles the obstacles faced by those we seek to assist. Now we begin the process of attempting to overcome these obstacles. After climbing back up the final flights of stairs with our now familiar bags to greet a warmly welcoming Chunta, we shrugged off our packs one final time and rushed to wash away two weeks of grime and sweat before sitting downto begin the long process of restoring hope!

Thank you all for your support and stay tuned for more posts in the next couple days!

Cheers,

Cameron

Pheri Bhetaula! (See you again!)

I have just a few minutes to spare before we hop into our jeep and head off on the next leg of our journey so I apologize for allocating such little attention to a subject which deserves a great deal. Our destination today will be the village of Syabru Besi in lower Rasuwa, from there we will unload our bags and begin the long trek through the districts of Rasuwa and Dhading along the Tamong Herritage Trail and beyond, hopefully reaching the village of Baseri by October 24th. This trek will test all that we have done so far.

Though we have spent close to five months researching how and where CCF can be most effective, no amount of desk research can decisively tell us the true needs of those we are trying to help; our preliminary plans could very well be proven entirely wrong based on these next few weeks. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for! The chance to hear directly what the people have to say, to see their situation for ourselves and begin to understand the devastation they have gone through; these interactions cannot be substituted by anything else. The Conscious Connections Foundation is based on relationships; this trek is meant to foster and sustain such relationships as the most pressing needs shifts from those of relief to recovery. By sitting down with both those who have benefitted from CCF assistance and those who have not, we hope to have honest, comfortable, and open conversations. With any luck, this method will allow us to ask the village communities what they need to survive the approaching winter and how we can play a part in returning their world to some greater semblance of normality.

We bid you all adieu for the time being, but will post pictures and updates whenever possible!

Cheers,

Cameron

A Lesson in Strength

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Throughout my first nine days in Nepal, if there is one thing I have observed over and over and over again in the Nepali people, it is their never-ending capacity for resilience in the face of tragedy, loss, and seemingly insurmountable odds. These are people that know suffering. You see it in the piles of rubble flooding the streets, you see it in the gaping holes where homes once stood, you see it in the wounds of the sick and injured, but you do not see it in their smiles. Whether they are confronted with a devastating earthquake, civil and political strife, or a country-wide petrol shortage, the Nepali people continue to fight, survive, and rebuild stronger than before. As the 19th poorest country in the world, they have so much less than others in terms of infrastructure, security, and material goods, but they far surpass almost all others in terms of heart.

In reflecting on this testament to the unyielding human spirit, I think back to people at home who are continuing to fight and overcome great tragedies and challenges, truly embodying the powerful resilience of the Nepali people. Their perseverance is found in the family and friends of Jeremy McSpadden Jr, who keep on living each day despite his heartbreaking passing a year ago today. Their strength is found in Jace Malek, who is fighting every single day towards his unquestionable victory over cancer. Their courage is found in the students and communities of Northern Arizona University and Umpqua Community College, who are finding unity in light of the unimaginable events of late. Even halfway around the world, you are all in our minds and hearts. Cameron and I and the entire Conscious Connections Foundation team stand with you and thank you for inspiring us all to traverse the trials and tribulations of life and to emerge as more than we were.

-Grant

» Learn more about Jace Malek and to support him

» Learn more about Jeremy McSpadden Jr and to support his family

Peace, Primates, and Productivity

Check out our very first vlog and some pictures from our adventures! Please leave a comment letting us know what you think! Thank you!

Not so cuddly monkeys would occasionally attempt to steal food from people at lunch

Not so cuddly monkeys would occasionally attempt to steal food from people at lunch

Craig – Your friendly neighborhood spider

Craig – Your friendly neighborhood spider

Giant slug outside of the kitchens

Giant slug outside of the kitchens

The big moth looks scary, but apparently the smaller white one above it is very poisonous

The big moth looks scary, but apparently the smaller white one above it is very poisonous

Osho Tapoban Meditation Center

Osho Tapoban Meditation Center

Cameron digging some soil to prepare an earthbag

Cameron digging some soil to prepare an earthbag

Dr. Owen Geiger teaching earthbag building techniques

Dr. Owen Geiger teaching earthbag building techniques

An example of a completed earthbag structure that we were able to visit after class today

An example of a completed earthbag structure that we were able to visit after class today

An example of a completed earthbag structure that we were able to visit after class today

An example of a completed earthbag structure that we were able to visit after class today

We're not in Kansas anymore

After a harrowing 38 hours of transit we touched down on the tarmac of Tribhuvan International Airport. As we stepped from our gleaming, air conditioned, Korean Air Boeing 777 into the rust encrusted shuttle bus awaiting us on the steaming, 80 degree runway, it was apparent that we, as Dorothy so eloquently put it, “were not in Kansas anymore”. This journey that we had planned and prepared for during many months of taxing research had finally begun, and it was as we walked through the old red brick terminal, sweaty and jet lagged, that the implication of this began to finally sink in.

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There is no way to accurately describe what it is like to return to a place like Nepal, and I’m sure that such an experience is different for everyone. For me, however, it was the smell that brought every memory rushing back. Sweet and earthy in a distinct combination that I have never found back home; one whiff and it was as if I had never left.

Upon first glance, very little seemed to have changed since my last visit three years ago, but on closer inspection, here and there along the roadside, gaping holes could be seen, where it was apparent buildings, shops, and homes had once stood. Much of the rubble had been cleared away to make room for the hopeful foundations of new buildings which may or may not be cultivated at some point in the future. Piles of bricks lined the roadsides and the remnants of tents and other temporary shelters remained in the few open spaces as a testament to the unbelievable destruction and devastation that had so recently been inflicted on this country. Yet, the people were carrying on with their daily lives.

The view from our window

The view from our window

Our first Nepali lesson from Pradeep

Our first Nepali lesson from Pradeep

To honor an age old tradition of my family, our first morning in Nepal was spent climbing the hundreds of steps to the sacred Stupa of Swayambhu. As per custom, we circled the main stupa clockwise while spinning the countless prayer wheels along the base, all the while chanting the silent mantra Oh Mani Padme Hum under our breath, and thanking the Gods for our safe travel to the other side of the world.  

Until next time, thanks for reading, and keep making those conscious connections!

Cheers,

Cameron

Welcome to our Blog!

Hello everyone and welcome!

This is Grant Gallaher, and, together with Cameron Conner, I will be updating this blog from the field whenever possible throughout our three months of research and volunteer work for the Conscious Connections Foundation in Nepal. Our posts will contain updates on our research and learning, lots of pictures, and accounts of our own personal experiences and thoughts. We are absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity and to be able to share it with others all around the world. Thank you for joining us for this journey!

After a touching send-off from our families and close friends, we (the nerds) embarked on the first leg of this expedition on September 30th!

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I normally like plane rides anyway, but our second flight was a little more special for me than usual because it was the longest flight I’ve ever been on (11 hours) and it was my first time flying over the ocean. The immensity and vastness of the Pacific is truly a powerful sight. All the traveling has gone rather smoothly so far (knock on wood), with the exception of when I was accidentally given the wrong boarding pass because my name is apparently Thomas Higgenbotham.

We are currently in Seoul, South Korea, where we have an overnight layover before departing early in the morning for Kathmandu. Time zones are seriously messing with my brain as I’m trying to keep track of the time in Spokane, Seoul, and Kathmandu all at once. Ay caramba…

Dinner was an adventure tonight in Korea! Among several other unfamiliar dishes, we tried octopus kebabs, quail eggs, and some form of lemon cream dessert that we couldn’t even figure out how to get it out of it’s container. These strange foods were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experiencing cultures and customs different from our own on this trip!

Well, many months of preparation have been leading up to this moment, and I am so excited to arrive in Nepal for my very first time tomorrow!!! We’ll be posting more updates and pictures from Kathmandu once we get there! Thank you again for reading and letting us share these amazing experiences with you!

-Grant