Note: This is the last in a three-part series on Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola’s visit earlier this month to Fuller Center operations in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal.
In 2005, The Fuller Center for Housing began its very first international building in Nepal. Though a Maoist uprising against the former monarchy led to a lengthy postponement of The Fuller Center’s work there, it has regained its momentum and things are looking up.
Of course, with Nepal being the home of the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, and eight of the 10 highest peaks in the world, things are always looking up, literally, in Nepal.
“Land, especially flat land, is at a real premium in Nepal, so they live as a vertical society,” said Ryan Iafigliola, The Fuller Center’s director of international field operations. “The mountains are vertical, and the people live vertically, too. They want to build all their homes stacked high. Most places in the world where you see poverty housing, you see slums of metal leaning against each other and all spread out. But these people will build straight up when there are nothing but fields around.”
The Fuller Center is working in two areas of Nepal: Kankad and Trishuli. Kankad is difficult to reach in the far western reaches of the nation, where the hard-working but historically looked-down-upon Tharu people have become successful home builders with little or no outside labor assistance. Trishuli is somewhat easier to reach, about 50 miles from the bustling and crowded capital of Kathmandu. Of course, easier to reach doesn’t mean easy to reach, as Iafigliola discovered.
“It’s like 75 kilometers and took about four hours,” he said. “And it’s a dirt road, and you’re so close to the edge, and they take the turns so quickly.”
Fuller Center President David Snell, who is from mountainous Colorado, has been to Nepal a few times and knows the winding mountain roads of his home state have nothing on those of Nepal.
“It’s in the foothills of the Himalayas,” Snell said of Trishuli. “It’s a long and scary ride. You do a lot of mountaintop driving down narrow roads with no guardrails. But it’s a beautiful place.”
Iafigliola found the Trishuli area a refreshing change of scene from a “messy” Kathmandu.
“Out in the countryside, it is breathtaking,” he said. “If you get a clear day, you can see the huge mountains. I just got a glimpse when I was there. Of course, the hills there would be considered mountains here.”
NOW OPEN FOR GLOBAL BUILDERS
Because getting to and around the mountainous country has never been simple and because its political situation was unstable for a few years, Nepal has never been listed as a potential destination for Fuller Center Global Builders teams.
“Now, we’re gonna start,” Iafigliola said. “And this visit was helpful for that because I had to go and scout where people would stay and make sure it would be safe there for our people. The good thing is that ground expenses in Nepal are very reasonable. The hotel for a double was like $8 a person. Might as well just stay and live there the rest of your life at that rate! It’s cheaper than you can get a place here.”
Another reason Nepal is now an available destination for someone who would like to organize a Global Builders team is Samuel Tamang. Tamang leads The Fuller Center’s Nepal operations.
“Samuel’s an amazing guy,” Iafigliola said. “He’s an intellectual type of guy. He’s taught Appropriate Construction Technologies at universities. He’s an architect. He’s a church planter. So he has a wide range of skills. He speaks very good English. He’s really the perfect guy to have as a leader over there.”
Iafigliola knew that there were growing pockets of Christianity in a nation where Buddhism and Hinduism are the only two officially recognized religions, but Tamang helped Iafigliola see that those pockets were much deeper than he knew.
“He’s been a Christian for a long time,” Iafigliola said of Tamang. “He’s actually the head of all the Assembly of God churches in Nepal, which is like a thousand churches. He personally helped start 70 churches throughout the country. I had no idea that there we so many Christians in Nepal. But it’s a place where Christianity is growing and spreading very rapidly, kind of like in parts of China today or South Korea in the last few decades.
“Because of his connections with the Assemblies of God, he knows people all around the country who can help carry out the program and do it for free because they’re doing it motivated by their Christian values, not because they’re trying to make a paycheck,” Iafigliola added. “So our entire project in Trishuli is run by a volunteer board of directors with no paid staff, just like most of our Covenant Partners here in the U.S.”
"There are a good number of Christians in Trishuli, Snell said. "It’s really an ideal spot. It’s an area of great need, but it’s also an area that is very friendly to a Christian organization like ours."
Of course, Tamang is not building just for Christians or just with Christians. And he hopes that, over time, The Fuller Center’s work in Nepal will expand beyond Kankad and Trishuli into other areas of the country where there is a need for simple, decent housing. According to Tamang, that means just about everywhere in Nepal.
“Right now, we have more than 5 million homes in the country,” Tamang said. “More than 50 percent of them are in very poor condition. It’s not even good for living, so, therefore, poverty housing is immense. … Only nine percent are permanent and healthy types of houses. … Everywhere the need is immense.”
View the video below about Ryan Iafigliola’s recent visit to Nepal: