It takes a villageThe two-and-a-half year long project will see 82 houses in Pilachhen rebuilt in identical, Newari design, each earthquake resilient and adept with modern day amenities
Pilachhen, one of the oldest Jyapu settlements in Patan, lost 82 out of the 110 buildings it housed to the April and May earthquakes last year. The courtyards that would have otherwise been full of life, now, stand desolate, in an atmosphere that is eerily peaceful; the air smells like earth after the first rain, and it is quiet enough to hear yourself breathing. Pilachhen, however, will not look like a war-zone for much longer. Under one man’s lead and the entire community’s support, this age-old settlement is well on its way to becoming the Valley’s newest cultural and touristic hub.
Like any fallen structure, every dilapidated house in Pilachhen could have been the sole responsibility of its owner; s/he accountable for building it back or leaving it in ruins. Instead, Pilachhen decided to join hands and stand shoulder to shoulder, pass one brick at a time and rebuild together what they all lost. In fact, they went a step further and decided to build back better.
What is being called Pilachhen Reconstruction and Tourism Promotion Project is the brain child of Ramesh Maharjan, former resident of Pilachhen and Chairman of RB Diamond Jewellers Pvt Ltd. Once the plans surfaced, the entire community threw their support behind the undertaking. “Had the community not supported the idea, this project would have been limited to paper alone,” Maharjan shares, “but they were very sceptical about it initially.” And who wouldn’t be? A lot of people would call the mere thought of rebuilding an entire community from scratch in order to turn it into a cultural and heritage hub, with almost no financial capital at hand, farfetched. But still Pilachhen chose to believe in Maharjan and his seemingly mad-scientist-experiment. “It took a lot of convincing,” Maharjan admits.
The community now, however, has given this project a lot more than just their blessing, support, and approval. Ramesh reminisces his childhood, growing up in Pilachhen, “When I was younger, one did not need to hire labourers to build a house. A member from every household in the neighbourhood would contribute a day as a volunteer to help with the construction work.” Maharjan’s excitement is visible as he explains how the community is going to contribute to the project, “For this project, we are using the same system.” Whether it is plumbing, electric work, carpentry, or just labour work, the community will contribute in any way possible. In a nutshell, Pilachhen is going to do things old school. That spirit has quickly caught on.
“Jyapu Samaj has promised to mobilise 10,000 youths everyday as volunteers for the project. Similarly, local clubs will be sending in 50 volunteers everyday as well.” And it isn’t just local clubs in the vicinity that Maharjan is referring to; local clubs from communities near and far have confirmed daily participation. He continues, “Community collaboration is something we have received from our ancestors. They would smilingly give away lands that they had toiled on with sweat and blood to their guthis.” With this project, the locals are doing something very similar to what their forefathers did. They are not just building houses, they are building communities. “We merely sent letters to various neighbourhoods in Patan, informing them about our initiative, and in response they are sending in their local volunteers to contribute in Pilachhen’s reconstruction work,” Maharjan shares the overwhelming experience. Pilachhen Reconstruction and Tourism Promotion Project is bringing together countless far-flung communities; something that hasn’t happened in this city for a while.
Dare to dream
Pilachhen Reconstruction and Tourism Promotion Project strategically aims to build a strong community that is economically independent, traditionally and culturally sound, and emotionally unified. The two-and-a-half year long project will see the 82 houses in Pilachhen rebuilt in identical, Newari design, each earthquake resilient and adept with modern day amenities. CE Services Pvt Ltd, which is responsible for the architectural designs of the houses, has designed each house to be four-and-a-half storeyed, with shops on the first floor, home-stays in the second, with the floors above reserved for the family who own the house. While from the outside, this project may look like a four-and-a-half-storeyed housing project, a closer inspection reveals much more.
“The world knows about the cultural diversity we have,” Ramesh Maharjan explains, “but we never learned to add value to what we have, or capitalise on it. The project is an attempt to do that.” With provisions for home-stays, it will offer tourists a chance to live a local setting and become involved in the day to day activities of the local community. Similarly, for the residents itself, the project represents an investment that will continue to reap them monetary benefits for decades to come.
Estimated to cost around Rs 460 million, the funding for the project has been divided into four equal parts. Mahendra Maharjan, the vice-president of the Pilachhen Community, and secretary of the project’s committee explains, “Twenty-five percent of the project will be invested in by the locals; 25 percent will be covered from donations; 25 percent will be covered via voluntary labour work and the donation of physical infrastructures, while the remaining 25 percent will be covered via loans with minimum interest rate.” So far, a total of Rs 45 million has been collected of which Rs 40 million came from global friends of Tilganga led by Dr Sanduk Ruit, and Rs 5 million was donated by Choice Nepal.
The project, as things stand, is in no way limited to Pilachhen alone. Upon the successful completion of this project, the project committee plans to take neighbouring localities under its wings too. “We want to replicate this project in other parts of the city as well,” Maharjan says, “As long as communities are approving and supportive of the project, it can be taken anywhere and everywhere.”
Community rebuilding projects might be complicated and daunting, but they aren’t impossible. Pilachhen stands testament to what a devastated community can achieve, if they all pull towards the same direction. On January 15, the project was formally launched amid much fanfare and support. And in the next two and a half years, Pilachhen will not only be clean of debris, but full of life and new prospects.
For now, this inspiring community is set on becoming an important cornerstone in showcasing that communities are, after all, built from within. And as countless other devastated communities around the country look to pick up what the earthquakes brought down, they can know that there is hope yet. Even if at first it looks like a pipe-dream.
How can you contribute?
You can help by volunteering labour if you are skilled in construction work. If you cannot, you can also pay for a labourer’s day’s wage. At the end, either will be counted as labour contribution from your side which will be kept in the record books and the hearts and minds of the Pilachhen community.