Natasha with Sangsangai co-founder BIbek K. Pandit and engineers Dharma Waiba and Bijay Shrestha

Natasha with Sangsangai co-founder BIbek K. Pandit and engineers Dharma Waiba and Bijay Shrestha

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A large part of my artistic sensibility was formed by the time I spent in Nepal as a University of Wisconsin student, and later as a Fulbright scholar. I studied with the traditional artisans of the Kathmandu Valley, the Newars, and formed a deep bond with several familes.

Naturally, when the 2015 earthquake struck, I was distraught and I used my connections there to find out how to help. I partnered with Bibek K. Pandit, whom I had met when I was 19 and he was 4. We started with relief supplies, and eventually rebuilt the village of Rainaskot, a mountain village that had been damaged by the earthquake. Now our organization is working to create sustainable economies in several villages in Nepal.

Sangsangai means "together" in Nepali and is a registered 501(c)3 in the US and a registered NGO in Nepal.

 
 
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The Homes

The village of Rainaskot is home to 14 newly rebuilt homes on top of a mountain. 

The homes were constructed in a way that maintained certain traditional features, such as the porch where family and neighbors gather, while incorporating earthquake-safe building techniques. The homes were honored with a prize from UNDP for post-earthquake design.

Funding was provided by individuals from across the US as well as the efforts of several US-based Nepali organizations. 

From October 2017 to October 2018, the village has been host to well over 4000 paid guests, and received an award from the Tourism Board of Nepal. Generating income from the guest room and serving food allows them to stay in their close-knit community.

 

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The villagers

The village is home to the Gurung ethnic group, and they live in a traditional way, farming their own food, and maintaining their language and cultural practices.

Many of the households are headed by women in their 60s and 70s, generally widows.

The Gurungs are known for their hospitable culture, but it has been a year of learning for these women and families. Many of them had never been to restaurant or hotel, so understanding guest expectations has been a challenge to which they have risen.

Despite the many hardships they have faced, you can hear the sound of laughter often in Rainaskot. A sense of humor and love within the community are considered essential elements to face the work each day.

 Tulsi Maya and Prasad Gurung in front of their new home.

Tulsi Maya and Prasad Gurung in front of their new home.


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The Mohan Narayan Shrestha Memorial Community Center- Barbandi

Named after a well-loved geographer who migrated from Nepal to the US and helped many new arrivals there, the MNS Community Center was built to serve both Barbandi and the surrounding area.

Planned usage of the facility includes programs in job and business training, personal finance, computer skills, and health. The building will also be available for use for community meetings and celebrations such as weddings and festivals.

The management committee for the MNS Center include representatives from the family of Mr. Shrestha, Sangsangai, district leaders, the local school and health post, and village residents.


Future plans

Sangsangai has begun planning other initiatives in various areas of Nepal that were affected by the earthquake. We seek to address the core problems of proper housing, education and health through the development of sustainable economic opportunities. Once livelihood is provided for, the villagers are able to invest in these areas as they see fit.

Plans include:

-Training for employment at our newly-constructed community center in Barbandi, Kavre, along with construction of guest rooms that the villagers can use to host to visitors to the nearby temple.

-A partnership with the fair trade felt producer, Everest Fashions, to build a felt work shop in the economically disadvantaged Majhi community in Ramechhap district, providing them with income for years to come.

-Agricultural training and marketing support for a Chepang village in Dhading. The Chepangs are one of the most marginalized groups in all of Nepal. Based on a pilot greenhouse project that Sangsangai facilitated, the Chepangs have shown themselves to enthusiastically commit to any opportunities for sustainability that are provided to them.

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