The time is always right to take note of the admirable work being conducted in Nepal, one of the world’s most remote, impoverished and incredibly scenic countries, by the Ridgway, Colorado-based dZi Foundation. But a year after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed some 9,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of houses in the country, the speed and efficacy of dZi’s response seems even more remarkable.
Particularly in contrast with the slow pace of relief being provided by Nepal’s central government, which has been blamed on political infighting and dysfunction in the capital Kathmandu. Media reports, including the Wall Street Journal and Time, say that broad rebuilding has scarcely begun.
dZi (pronounced Z) Foundation’s Nepal project area is in a region so remote that it’s communities and hamlets are two-to-five day walks from the nearest roads.
dZi president and co-founder Jim Nowak, speaking from Ridgway, said his organization’s long-standing in the country, with its up-to-date registration with the government, allowed it to move money and resources quickly following the devastating quake.
In keeping with its “deep development” philosophy, in which local residents have full voice on all projects, dZi met with more than 2,500 community members to formulate its immediate response. First up was a massive shipment of tarps, by mule train, to provide shelter against the quickly approaching monsoon season. Next was construction of 40 temporary learning centers (TLCs), structures built of bamboo with corrugated tin roofs, that allowed 3,000 children to return to school.
dZi had built nine schools during the last four years with earthquake safe designs, and all withstood the April 25th and subsequent May 10th quakes. But more new school construction, now underway, was “more complicated,” Nowak said.
“We’d done designs on our own, but getting approval involved 40 trips to different government departments. The new schools have eight classrooms, but they are designed in two classroom pods, so four separate small buildings.”
In addition to building schools, community centers, bridges, water systems and sanitary toilets, among other projects, dZi is also heavily engaged in helping villagers generate income from agriculture. All of this from a staff of four in Ridgway and 25 in-country, including 24 Nepali and one American.
dZi has felt an uptick in support since the earthquake, when its efforts became more publicized.
“We’ve been remarkably blessed,” Nowak said. “People see us in a lot of ways: We’re not a huge, cumbersome organization. We’re not a startup. People who know us know that we operate with deep cultural fluency, and with the dignity that we demand of ourselves in working with such amazing, resilient people.”
Nowak returned from Nepal about two weeks ago. In Kathmandu, he said, much of the rubble has been removed.
“But the mind-boggling, random damage remains. You walk down an alley where it looks like everything should be gone, it’s all standing. The next block is totally destroyed.”
dZi, by the way, is a Tibetan word that refers to an ancient Tibetan bead. “It is given from one person to another as a gift,” said Nowak, “but it also bestows protection on the wearer.”