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Nepal House Project — Spring 2016

Namaste from Nepal.

All the structural work on the house for our beneficiary family is complete!

Setting wood forms for second slab (roof), setting sun.

Steel reinforcement for second slab (roof).

Steel reinforcement for second slab (roof) dropped into channels.

All we have left is the finishing work, plastering, and installing the window glass and doors.

Nepal continues to be one of the most difficult places I have worked—mostly due to the urban location of the site, the desperation of the Nepali people in the face of an inefficient/corrupt government (of the 650,000 homes destroyed in the earthquake over 18 months ago, few others have been rebuilt, even though the government is “sitting on” billions of dollars of foreign aid money), cultural, economic, and social strictures, and their own struggle with day-to-day existence and lack of opportunities.

For me, personally, Nepal has been a real eye-opener: even though I have travelled extensively and lived in many parts of the world, Nepal has surprised me again and again with it’s distinct approach to changing styles and mores (and the other essentials of just being human) in the face the ubiquitous and instant dissemination of images and information over the internet.

my favorite temple in bhaktapur, dattareya, with the well for the community in front, goats on the steps. spooky at night.

Nevertheless, I am happy to be nearing the end of this project, and appreciate all the emails with your good wishes and words of support.

One of my friend’s sons had to do a report for school on “grit,” and interviewed me for the assignment. Many of you have asked similar questions over the years, so here are some answers as to why and how I do this work.

Thank you for being part of my grit project. I really appreciate it!

No worries. Happy to help.

I just read the Nepal blog. I think it’s really cool what you are doing for these people who have lost their homes and family members. Their story was really sad. I’m wondering how did you find this family and what made you choose to help them over all of the other families that might need help.

The selection process has a bit of fate involved. As you pointed out, in any post-disaster circumstance, there are an unlimited number of people who need help. Even the big organizations and governments cannot help everyone. That’s why I created MicroAid: to help people who get missed. I start by contacting people I know in the country, or with connections in the country, as well as people in my network of other disaster-related NGOs. Usually, among the dozens of people I talk with, I end up in contact with some local individuals who know a family, or two, who need help. After prepping for a few months in the U.S., I go to the country and visit the area and people who still need help. On the ground, I do some deeper inquiries into their particular situations (baseline studies), then make a decision who to help. Some of the factors involved are the size of the family, their past situation (size of house, etc.), what they need, how much it will cost, whether they would be helped by anyone else (MicroAid is the last resort for theses families; I don’t want to help if another organization would do it), where I can get materials and labor, where I will stay, what I will eat, who I will use as a translator, how I will get money from the U.S. into the country and exchange it, among other factors. The bottom line is: there are a series of lucky events and contacts that lead to my finding an appropriate MicroAid situation/beneficiary family.

I noticed that when you helped the Samoans build the canoes, it lead to a big job for them. I am also wondering if your work with one family often creates a domino effect. So, do you think when you help one family and they get settled that they would then help another family, and so on?

When I build a house, it is essential that the able-bodied family members help. Often, they learn some skills, like brick-laying or concrete work, that they can, and have, used to get work after I leave. The long-term effect of building a house for a family is hard to measure: they have a dry, safe and secure place to live, which reduces disease and other ailments, the parents can focus on earning money and taking care of the other needs of the family, the children have a place to do homework and can get a good night’s sleep, etc. etc. The long-term effects are positive in that the family is more productive and healthy. But yes, they do acquire some specific skills they can use for employment. One other benefit is that with a nice house in a neighborhood, other families are often motivated to improve their own property as well.

I am also wondering how hard it is to raise money for your projects. Are there times that you feel like you want to give up? If so what keeps you going?

It is very hard to raise money for the projects. Since I created MicroAid to stay focused on disasters after the world’s attention has moved on—often, many years after a catastrophe—when I ask people to donate, they don’t remember the disaster, or sometimes think that everyone has been helped already. Also, there are so many causes in the world—diseases, environment, education, simple poverty, civil rights, abuse, etc. etc.—it’s hard to find just the right people who want to help long-term disaster recovery: permanent houses for disaster survivors.

There are many times I want to give up: when working in the field (it can be very frustrating, physically demanding, emotionally draining) and when trying to raise money.

What keeps me going is a sense that this is the right thing for me to be doing, personally, that ultimately, I like the challenges and overcoming them, and I like to help people who otherwise would have a very difficult life without a home, and I like to build houses. I also like living in, and learning about, other places and cultures in our world. So, as hard as it all is, it is helpful to the people, and I feel a personal sense of fulfillment doing this work.

How did you get the idea to start MicroAid? What was your inspiration?

I realized that even though media quickly moves from one story to the next (a disaster is in the news for a couple of days, then gone), there were plenty of people (disaster survivors) who still needed help. It didn’t seem like anyone was staying focused on them, most of the big organizations only do immediate emergency relief, not long-term recovery (permanent houses), so I decided to do it.

My dad said that you have done some work with Habitat for Humanity. Did that help you at all with starting MicroAid?

I was a regular volunteer with Habitat in L.A. (once a week for two years, prior to creating MicroAid) and I got most of my construction experience that way. I was involved in building 22 houses for low-income families from the ground up to the roof. I also took their construction skills course and was certified by Habitat to build houses and to be a crew leader. Without that base of construction knowledge, I would not have been able to go out on my own and do what I do. Also, my years as a production manager for TV commercials, where I managed the budgets, hired the crew, rented and bought equipment, and scheduled the jobs was another invaluable skill-set for doing MicroAid work. Add to that my extensive travel experience and you get an idea of the many elements that came together before I embarked on this journey.

Was it hard to get your first project started? If it was, what made you not give up? Did you accomplish your goals when you first started?

It was pretty hard getting the first project started: raising money without any track-record, was difficult. When I went to Sri Lanka to build my first MicroAid house, I ended up running out of donated money and used my own money to finish the job. I just wasn’t going to fail. (I guess that’s the grit.) I also got very sick in Sri Lanka and almost died from heat stroke. In other places I have had intestinal parasites and other ailments that made it very unpleasant and physically difficult. In Samoa and the Philippines it was more than a 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity and full of mosquitos, which makes it hard and dangerous work. And there are moments of incredible loneliness due to the remote locations and isolation of language, but, as I said before, it’s part of who I am to overcome these challenges and get the job done. Grrrrrit!

Also I was wondering where do you usually live when you are working on a project?

I have lived in thatched huts with no water or electricity, with local families in depressing cinderblock rooms, nice guest houses with Wi-Fi, and even pleasant rented apartments. Different places in different situations.

Also I see you had a translator. You mentioned her in your blog. Do always get a translator?

I alway get a translator—who comes to the site with me every day. (Except on this job in Nepal—which was a complete mistake not to have one from the beginning.) I need to be understood in all the details of the job—talking with the workers, the vendors, and the beneficiary family—and i will always have a translator in the future.

Thank you for letting me interview you.

You are most welcome. Good luck with the project. Please let me know how it is received. Namaste from Nepal.

temple near the ghat, in bhaktapur, where they burn their dead bodies.

So, supporters, that’s it for now.

Thank you for your participation in this critical work. We are really making a huge difference in people’s lives—directly, efficiently, and completely.



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