UD alumni give back in the effort to rebuild Nepal after quake

Seventy thousand bricks, a training center, primary school, two greenhouses, and a mostly-built women’s microfinance cooperative, community center and orphanage are the product of just 24 months at Conscious Impact, a grassroots organization nestled in the mountains of Nepal, co-founded by University of Delaware alumnus Allen Gula, a member of the Class of 2009.

Two Aprils ago today, Gula, who had already traveled much of Southeast Asia, stood amidst the rubble of Kathmandu. His trek to the base camp of Mount Everest had been interrupted by a sudden jolt at his feet, a deadly earthquake that killed more than 9,000 and injured thousands more.

Within days, he and his friends had turned to help, providing relief alongside several other non-profit organizations. This was just the beginning of what Gula calls a lifetime journey to rebuild.

Today, Conscious Impact (CI) has hosted hundreds of volunteers from across the globe, including seven alumni and students of UD. Jordan Deshon of the Class of 2015 first learned about Conscious Impact through his Facebook timeline, seeing posts by his childhood babysitter, Gula himself.

Deshon brought along a friend and classmate, Kyle Lusignea of the Class of 2016, for the four-week experience. Others, like Anne Goodman, who received degrees from UD in 2012 and 2014, knew Gula from previous sustainable development projects like the chapter of Global Brigades at UD.

Lusignea praised Gula for his many contributions, saying, “He has kind of assumed the role of cook and full-time comedian back at the camp. He has fantastic relationships with the people that we work with in the village, kind of makes the whole place gel together, and is sure we all get along and remain happy.”

Days in Takure, the small village where Gula and his fellow co-founders have landed, begin at 5:45 a.m. Up with the dawn, volunteers work on anything from brick production to permaculture projects, “things like preparing seed trays, transplanting young saplings and moving compost around,” said Gula, who is right there beside them.

“I think it is a cool approach, that a co-founder of an organization can work alongside their volunteers,” said Deshon, adding that it is just one piece of the organization’s vision, rooted in humility, understanding and sustainability driven by the local community itself.

Goodman, who has just arrived home from Takure, spent much of her time working on a community assets map. “We are continually doing outreach in the community to build relationships and trust,” she said. “ A group of us were involved in creating this survey, which enabled us to learn more about what their actual needs are and how to navigate the socio-cultural and political situation there.”

The sustainable, community-based approach has led Conscious Impact to offer training to the local population and to other non-profit organizations in making compressed stabilized earth bricks (CSEBs). CSEBs are an earthquake resistant building material that the organization has already used in constructing the Siddhartha Primary School in Takure, and now sells at a subsidized price to families as they rebuild their own homes.

“Conscious Impact tries to provide solutions that can be repeated or taught,” said Deshon. “The training center where they have made bricks is now being used as a tool for community members to be able to learn how to rebuild with this technology on their own.”

And while Gula and the rest of the Conscious Impact team have begun training others with the skills needed to rebuild themselves, the journey is far from over.

“The curiosity of the trajectory of rebuilding in Nepal combined with our deepened interpersonal relationship with everyone here moves us all to work hard,” said Gula. “We will evolve to continue to serve the village of Takure as the nature of reality shifts, as some projects are completed and others are just beginning. It is my dream to visit, design, and observe with our Nepali colleagues for a few months of every year for the rest of my life. The project has become very personal. I want to see every member of the village in a safely-built, earthquake resistant home. We are in the middle of a massive shift in Nepal and our organization will be at the forefront of innovative, loving ideas that help people.”

Dave Gula, of UD’s Class of 1991 and Allen Gula’s father, said that his decision to visit and volunteer was driven both by an interest in exploring the culture of Nepal and curiosity to see the fruition of his son’s efforts.

“I am most proud of CI’s accomplishments because I was there and saw just how difficult the conditions are and how challenging it can be to work in a new cultural context. The fact that two young, American men decided to make a difference in a remote village in Nepal was just a crazy notion,” he said. “They brought together a few wonderful people who became a dedicated staff, built a network of volunteers, convinced a village to join with them and then rebuilt a school – all on the side of a mountain.”

To learn more about Conscious Impact or to register interest in volunteering, visit the organization’s website. Follow along and engage on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Those with questions about the organization should contact Allen Gula.