Melbourne woman’s mission to raise $84,000 so that a bunch of Kathmandu kids can have a safe school

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An EDUC student I Picture: supplied

13October 2016: A young Melbourne woman, who was in Nepal months before the devastating earthquake, is doing everything she can to provide a safer and modern learning environment to a bunch of underprivileged kids in Kathmandu city. When completed, the new building designed by a team of six architects from Sydney, will be something of a pioneering humanitarian architecture, says the University of Melbourne student.

Emma McDonald arrived in Kathmandu towards the end of 2014 to profile aid organisations making extraordinary contributions to local communities. On the sidelines, she was also doing voluntary media work for an American non-government organisation. That’s how she came to know about a school called EDUC (Education and Development of the Underprivileged Children). Located off Ring Road in Kathmandu’s Basundhara area, the institution caught her imagination because it provided free education to over 70 children from squatter areas. If not for EDUC, these children would never see the light of education. She realised that the school was being run without any aid, “The school has no donors and relies on local family and friends for support.”

Emma McDonald with EDUC students in 2014
Emma McDonald with EDUC students in 2014 I Picture: supplied

Ms McDonald met “the incredible sibling team” that ran the school – Keshari, Bishnu and Beena. The three sisters apparently gave up their jobs as teachers to open the school in 2002. She admired EDUC because “everyone there is passionate about supporting the education, health, wellbeing and happiness of these extraordinary children.”

“I fell in love with the school and the opportunities it provides for very poor children. I ended up teaching there for a few weeks and have been the school’s advocate ever since,” the Victorian told southasia.com.au.

That short stint in 2014 has transformed Ms McDonald into a full-on philanthropist who would stop at nothing before she builds a modern school for the underprivileged children.

She is heading back to Nepal this December to oversee the construction of the EDUC School as the earlier building was razed by the April 2015 earthquake – forcing children to take lessons out in the open.

How the dream began

The Brunswick West woman returned to Nepal following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake to contribute to the earthquake rehabilitation process. She was aiming to help distribute relief as well as work with students who were adjusting to life in Kathmandu after fleeing their destroyed villages. In the process, she was confronted with tales of unimaginable horror and suffering, “One of the students I worked with, named Sushmita, lost a brother and sister in the disaster. Another student, Ashmita, was trapped under rubble for 13 hours until someone heard her cries and pulled her out.”

The EDUC building she had seen in 2014 was damaged by the earthquake with cracks through the walls and had become an unsafe learning environment.

It was then that the now internationally-coordinated project was born. A block of land across the previous EDUC school building had become available for long-term lease. When the school management asked her if that land should be leased to construct a new school building, Emma McDonald jumped in headlong.

In 2015, she ran a crowdfunding campaign through a website called Chuffed raising around $6,000. Whereas it was not the $84,000 required for the completion of the school, it was enough to get the young woman excited.

Earlier this year, an Australia not-for-profit organisation called Echo International Aid joined in. Echo is now managing donations for the project. All up, thanks to the support from a number of individuals and small organisations, the team now has approximately $13,000 – but they need more before the construction can begin. “For the first stage of the build (the ground floor) we need $30,000 AUD, and I am hoping to reach this target in the coming months to commence construction in December,” Ms McDonald said in an email. The building features a modular design and can be built one level at a time, she added.

The school building was designed by a team of six Sydney architects 

Architects Without Frontiers got David Anderson from Sydney-based HDR Rice Daubney to design “a beautiful, safe building for EDUC”. Mr Anderson was not new to Nepal as he had been working on humanitarian architecture projects in Nepal for the past 10 years and was the perfect person for the job. What is more, he liaised with New Zealand seismic engineers to make sure it was earthquake-proof and found a local Nepali architect named Rajeeb to take part in the project too, Ms McDonald said, adding “We are now looking for some Nepali engineer/construction teams to help with the next stage of the build.”

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A representative picture of the EDUC school building I Picture: supplied

HDR Rice Daubney did the project pro-bono.

Ms McDonald says the school is important to her because it tells her just how important education is. “No matter what your background is, education changes everything. It skills you to write your own future. After coming back to Australia post-earthquake, I decided to go back to university and study my Masters of Teaching,” she said when asked why she has been so personally involved to get EDUC the earthquake-proof building.

Appeal to Australian Nepalese

Asked if she would like to reach out to the Nepalese diaspora in Australia to seek assistance for her ambitious project, the Master of Teaching student said, “Absolutely, anyone who is interested in finding out more, getting in touch or financially supporting the project – please do get in touch. You can make a tax-deductible donation through the Echo International Aid project page website here: http://echointernational.org.au/projects/kathmandu-school.”

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