Editor’s Note: Kim, a wonderful American living in Singapore, arrived in Nangi in summer 2010 with her 4 children, aged 8 to 16, to install a solar water heater in Nangi. The following is her account of her wonderful trip. Thanks Kim!

In the fall of 2009, my high school daughter, Jessica, and I attended an inspirational and moving assembly at her school, The Singapore American School.  The focus of the assembly was that everyone can volunteer and make a difference – either in big ways or small.  Later that day, Jessica told me that our family needed to do more to help other people.   We started searching on the internet for an organization that would be a good fit for our family.

My husband, Bruce, and I agreed that we wanted all four of our kids, who ranged in age from 8 to 16, involved in whatever endeavour we chose.  We were looking for an opportunity to volunteer in a remote area with an organization that was small enough for us to feel like we were able to make a difference but structured enough that I was comfortable taking my four kids and staying there.  Also, my husband and I are both engineers, and we were hoping to find a project which would take advantage of our skills and background and would give us an opportunity to get our kids involved in an engineering project.  Finally, we were looking for an organization with which we could develop a relationship and could continue to volunteer year after year.  After many hours of searching, phone calls, and discussion, we decided that we wanted to work with the Himanchal Education Foundation in Nangi, Nepal.  Our main project was the installation of a solar water heater for the campground that is being built.

Initially, we spent a lot of time learning about the different types of solar water heaters and the advantages and disadvantages of each type.  We took a family “field trip” to a solar water heater vendor in Singapore so that the kids could see how they work.  We worked with Chitra and others at the Himanchal Education Foundation to establish and understand the requirements for the solar water heater.  In order to size the solar water heater tank, we developed spreadsheets to calculate water consumption based on the water flowrate and showering time.

Our family also spent time raising money for the project.  We sold snow cones and popcorn at school events, and we sent notes to family and friends asking for donations.  In the end, we raised enough money to install a shower in both the campground and at the volunteer house.  In addition to designing the project and raising money, we spent some time learning about the Nepalese culture and about things we should and shouldn’t do while in Nangi.

When we got to Nangi, we were greeted by lots of people.  It is a beautiful village with views of mountains all around.  The teachers at the school were very helpful and kind.  We always had kids peeking in at us, curious as to what we were doing, but initially shy when we tried to interact with them.   After a few days, however, they started to enjoy getting their picture taken and seeing themselves on our camera viewing screens.

Before the solar water heaters could be installed, some initial prep needed to be done at both the campground and at the volunteer house.  At the campground, removal of the old, broken solar water heater from the roof of the shower room was the first thing that needed to get done.  The shower was also tiled, and the water piping in the area was repaired.

After clearing away the old equipment, some of the men from the village installed a poly tank up on a stone tower.  The poly tank is used to hold the water that feeds the solar water heater in the campground.  Watching the men install the tank on the top of the tower made us nervous about their safety, but it also left us in awe of their sure-footedness.

After prepping the campground area, we opened the boxes with the solar water equipment and started putting the frame together.   Once the frame was assembled, it was lifted up onto the roof of the shower room.  The frame was designed to be installed on a flat surface, so we had to improvise a way to raise the front legs of the frame so that it was level while on top of the roof.   After some discussions, Chitra, the villagers, Bruce, and I decided that it was best to build concrete feet to rest the front of the frame on.  Once the concrete was poured and had time to set, it was time to hook up the water and test it out.  Our first shower in over a week – it was amazing!

In the meantime, other people from Nangi were working on installing a platform for the volunteer house’s solar water heater.  This solar water heater is installed outside the old volunteer house, which has a thatched roof.  Since the thatched roof won’t support the weight of the water tank, it was decided that it was best to build a new platform next to the volunteer house.   This part of the project required a lot of labor to dig out the holes for the concrete footers, to pour the concrete for the footers and the posts, and to erect the platform.   When we left, the concrete on the platform wasn’t quite set enough to hold the weight of the water tank.

Jessica and I both really enjoy photography.  Before we left Singapore, we were able to round up about 15 donated cameras to take with us.  While the work was going on with the solar water heater projects, she and I also worked with the 10th grade students at the school to show them a little bit about taking pictures.  We went out with them on a few different days, and then we uploaded their pictures from the cameras onto the computer so that the students could see them.  We had a great time getting to know the students, taking pictures with them, and seeing the world through their eyes as we watched what was interesting to them!

Our experience in Nangi was one that we will never forget.  We made some great friends, many of whom our kids still talk about.  The kids enjoyed playing in all of the wide-open spaces, building forts, picking plums, and visiting the woodworking shop.  They learned a lot about implementing a project and about being sensitive to another culture.  I enjoyed exploring the village, talking with the teachers, and learning a little of the local language.  It became something of a joke with my kids, but every day I literally said, “Have you seen the mountains today?  Can you believe how beautiful it is here?”  I was so impressed with the school and with the teachers there.  I have pictures of the people and the village of Nangi all around on the walls of my classroom, and every day I look at those pictures with such fond memories of our experience.  We are looking forward to returning again next summer.

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