# Monday, 05 October 2009

I have just completed an amazing 8 day journey to the village of Chyangba in a remote mountain area of Nepal. Chyangba is a village of about 55 homes inhabited by the ethnic group called Sharpa. Most of you will know Sherpas as the folks who climb up to Mt. Everest, and several famous Sherpas come from Chyangba. My friend and guide in 2003 and 2008, Ngima Sherpa, comes from Chyangba and I was going to visit him. In addition, I was working with a charity called Education Elevated to help fix up a school and set up a library. While in Chyangba, I worked on the school and library for 4 days.

Getting to Chyangba

Getting to Chyangba is not easy. We had to fly on a 16 seat Twin Otter from Kathmandu to Phaplu. Phaplu has an “airport” consisting of a dirt strip and a dude with binoculars and a radio. After landing in Phaplu we trek a few hours (mostly in the dark) to our camp.

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Our camp was visited by some local kids in the morning and had great views of the valley. We then trek the whole next day and finally arrive in Chyangba.

Visiting the School and Library

Upon arrival, all the school children were lined up waiting for us. We then walked around the school and library for a few hours and took hundreds of photos. Imagine hiking for 7 hours and going directly into a photo shoot. :)

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The kids are super cute.

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Project Planning

We start to size up the job ahead of us. Here is a photo of an empty room we will convert into the school library.

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Being geeks we decide to be agile and use the scrum methodology. We decided we would re-assess the situation twice a day and see how far we get. We took stock of what furniture we had in the building (school desks, etc) and since we are MVP geeks, we decided to use a GUID system (globally uniquely identifier for Tanya and my mom, the only two non-techies I know who read my blog.)  We put the benches into four categories: good enough, reinforce,  take apart and put back together with some new wood, and ask Roger (the scrum master).  Here is a photo of a school bench with GUID # 8.

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Getting to Work

Roger the carpenter and general contractor (and scrum master) worked wonders. We computer geeks just hung around and he told us what to do. Before I knew it I was taking apart school chairs, benches, desks, etc, and rebuilding them. I got pretty good with a hammer.

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We continued for a few days, constantly reassessing. I did not think we could fix all of the furniture in the four days we had as well as build a library (shelves, tables, and desks.) But Roger kept us on target. He did have electricity from 9:30am to about 2pm each day and was able to use a power saw. Awesome. But the kids were attracted to it like moths to the light, so I had to distract them by balancing wood on my head. As the week progressed I got better and was able to balance an entire bench on my head while standing on one foot (in the Dancing Shiva position for you Yogis.)

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The kids started to imitate me.

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Sprints 6 and 7

We did two sprints a day. Sprint 6 was on day 3 and we (mostly Roger) installed the shelves. We brought about 100 lbs of books and started to stack the shelves. After that some of us read to the kids and helped them practice counting in English.

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Sprint 7 was awesome. We gave out all of the school uniforms to the kids. (In Nepal you can’t go to school if you don’t have a uniform.)

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After we give out the uniforms, the kids all ran to change and then do a little dance for us. After we celebrate and I teach some of the kids the fist bump.

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Leaving :(

After spending the last few hours with the kids and helping them read and count, we departed for a final meal at our campsite. The Sherpas cooked us a chocolate cake, I have no idea how they did that over a campfire. We then went to one of the local's house for a party and drank the local drinks: Chang and Roxi. They are evil drinks. Apparently it is a Sherpa custom to refill your drink immediately after you take a sip. I have no idea how much Chang I drank, but I think I can still feel it. We then turned the house into a Sherpa Disco and danced the night away to local music. (Sherpas can get down.)

The next day we had a final going away ceremony with the whole village and they put tons of Buddhist koda and flowers on us. Since we were mostly going down, we trekked the whole way back to Phaplu in one day. We treated ourselves to $5 a night hotel rooms and flew back to Kathmandu the next day.

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This was a great experience, we spent a week in a local village, a village not even on the map, and made a difference. For geeks, we did the best we could-which was far more than I thought we could do. I hope that the tech community can donate a lot in small amounts, it only takes $10 to buy a school uniform or a few books so a kid can go to school. You can donate here. :)

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