The 2015 earthquakes have caused unimaginable destruction in areas of Nepal where development had been slow in coming even before the catastrophe. In fact, already before the earthquake, rural communities in Nepal such as Yangri had been greatly challenged to re-invent themselves in light of the changing socio-economic landscape. The traditional livelihood of subsistence farming can no longer sustain families in rural communities, as the families require money to pay for services such as health care and schooling for their children. Villagers need to make the transition from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture.
The earthquake in Nepal has accelerated this change. However, the people in Nepal and even the country’s leadership find themselves ill-equipped to drive the necessary transition. Lack of education hampers progress and development.
In short, the future of the Yangri valley rests on solid education for the next generation. Only if good schooling is available for their children, will families truly build their future in the 15 communities comprising the Yangri Valley, rather than migrating to Kathmandu or abroad, facing the uncertainties of foreign laborers.
After the initial relief and rebuilding work in the valley, HimalayanLife has therefore proposed to the locals to build a regional school in Yangri. In light of the lacking road transportation infrastructure in the area, it was to be a school with boarding facilities, making it accessible to children throughout the region.
Yangri Academic Center (YAC)
The vision is for a school with outstanding educational standards and sound pedagogy. A school where teachers are excited about education, where the potential of both the academically talented and challenged students are developed to their fullest. A place where children will discover the sheer joy and excitement of learning. An educational center with model character that will inspire other schools. Students will be equipped for further educational pursuit, be it vocational or academic. Moreover, students will be prepared for being responsible citizens, willing and able to contribute to society and have transformative impact on the nation.
Himalayan Life acquired the land for the school in July 2016, and construction of the YANGRI ACADEMIC CENTER (YAC) started in October 2016. The goal was for the school to be ready for a first batch of some 50 students by the beginning of the academic year 2018/19, beginning in April 2018.
And so, on April 26th, 2018, YAC did indeed open its doors – not to 50 students as anticipated, but rather to 95 students ranging from Kindergarten to grade 3. Sixty of these students are boarding at the school’s dorms. Additionally, we are running a satellite Kindergarten in one of the least accessible Sherpa-villages in the valley, to prepare the kids locally for school.
Design, Architecture, Construction
The land for the school was purchased at a central location in the valley. The school buildings were planned with the help of Florian Maurer, an architect from Canada, who is an expert in the field of seismic architecture, with experience in building schools in other developing countries. The structural engineering and calculation of the buildings was done by Fast & Epp in Vancouver, renowned for their award-winning, simple yet strikingly beautiful speed-skating rink in Richmond, built for the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010. Both the architect and the structural engineers have volunteered their services free of cost for this project – THANK YOU.
The buildings were designed specifically with the local climatic conditions, the limited availability of local resources and the need for earthquake resistance in mind.
In the first phase, we were planning to build seven classrooms arranged in pods of three and four classrooms respectively, as well as a dorm building accommodating 60 children, and a sports field. In the second phase, additional classrooms, a library, and a building for the school administration are foreseen. Construction was completed before the school’s opening in April 2018.
Structurally, the buildings are comprised of framed structural wall elements, corrugated metal cladding on the outside and drywall on the inside. The backbone of the roof structure is formed by an array of locally produced glulams. This is the very first time such glulams were being produced and applied in Nepal. Appropriate earthquake bracing and brackets were likewise locally produced, giving the buildings the necessary structural integrity and strength to withstand future earthquakes.
Taking into consideration the local climatic conditions with hot summers and cool winters, the buildings feature large roof overhangs, providing much needed shade to the large glassed south face of the buildings. However, the much flatter sun angle at winter solstice still lets the sun shine on the glass and warm up the building.
In short, the goal has been to strike a fine-tuned balance of form, function, and cost: affordable buildings which are pleasing to the eye with bright and inviting classrooms, functional and multi-purpose, as well as highly earthquake resistant and economic in terms of the buildings’ energy consumption.
While Yangri is only 70 km away from Kathmandu, the road is as bad as it gets and can only be navigated by 4×4 vehicles. Even so, it takes seven hours to reach Yangri. This obviously made the transportation of construction materials such as cement, corrugated metal, steel, etc. both difficult and expensive.
The emphasis therefore lay on the use of local building materials: timber from the local forests, as well as boulders, gravel, and sand from the Yangri River. We also aimed to demonstrate how locally available building materials can be used in new ways, resulting in aesthetically pleasing buildings with high earthquake resistance.
All the timber for the school buildings originated from the local forest and is mostly taken from the thousands of trees which fell during the earthquake. The timber is being pre-cut on-site, and milled to size at the small lumber mill we have installed on the premises of the future school. The lumber mill is being operated as a social enterprise, with a double purpose as a vocational training opportunity for locals.
The school is planned to accommodate all levels from Nursery, Kindergarten to grade 12. However, for practical reasons and according to the provisions of the Education Act as provided by the government of Nepal, YAC started in April 2018 with KG (Lower Kindergarten, Upper Kindergarten), and grades 1 to 3.
The curriculum for the pre-primary and primary level includes all subjects as prescribed by the Ministry of Education: Nepali, English, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science/Health, Physical Education. In addition and with reference to local culture, we are including Buddik (the ancient local language) in the curriculum.
The language of instruction is Nepali for pre-primary, and English thereafter.
With regard to the legal setup, schools in Nepal are incorporated as public trusts. As such, they are governed by local committees which have the final say regarding the way the school is being run, its financials, including potentially selling the school’s assets or closing it down.
In order to protect and safeguard Himalayan Life’s substantial investment in YAC and ensure its long-term benefit for the children of the region, we have incorporated YANGRI TRAINING CENTER P.LTD (YTC), a company owned by Himalayan Life and fully incorporated under the provisions of the Act of Industry by the government of Nepal. The school (the land and all the buildings) are owned by YTC and leased to YAC. In this manner, Himalayan Life has the necessary control to ensure the proper operation of the school.
Furthermore, YTC will run appropriate training courses in various fields for locals. The particular focus will be on training in farming, helping the locals to make the transition from subsistence farming to commercial farming.
We are committed to making the Yangri Academic Center a model school, not only with regard to facilities, educational methods, and curriculum, but also in matters of environmental concern. The heating of the buildings happens by harnessing renewable energy (solar, hydro). Water is heated with solar heaters. Electric power (hydro) is generated by a local small scale hydro-electric plant.
Furthermore, we foresee an engineered wetland system to treat wastewater. All building materials are being chosen considering their respective carbon footprint.
As much as possible, the locals are being involved in the construction and operation of the school: planning and decision-making, and in regards to jobs. In this manner, job opportunities are being created locally, and the people of the Yangri Valley are developing a much needed sense of ownership for YAC. It is, after all, the school for their children, building the future of their region.
Yangri Academic Center – The project in a nutshell:
- Regional School with boarding facilities
- Located in Yangri, Sindupalchowk, Nepal.
- Presently operating 5 grades (lower & upper Kindergarten, grades 1 to 3)
- Satellite Kindergarten in Ripaar, a remote Sherpa village further up in the Yangri Valley
- Enrollment: 103 children, including 60 children who live in the school dorms
- Staff: 21 staff members (teaching & non-teaching)
- Opened in April 2018
- Incorporated under the Ministry of Education with the Government of Nepal.
- Expansion of the school underway, to add grades 4 and 5 in 2019
- Total Investment for Land and Buildings: CAD 350,000
- Annual operational budget (2018): CAD 137,000
- Project partner and supervision: HL-Switzerland and HL-Canada.