A helicopter lands in a Himalayan village to transport Daniel J. LaSota, ’09, to his next assignment. LaSota is a project manager for Steadfast Nepal, helping to replace homes destroyed by 2015 earthquakes.

Rebuilding Nepal

by Daniel J. LaSota, ’09, residential construction technology and management: architectural technology concentration. Photos courtesy of LaSota.

Published March 14, 2018

It’s 7 a.m. I’m on a work assignment, enjoying a cup of chai (Himalayan tea) and a cool mountain breeze while waiting for my helicopter departure from this remote village. 

As I sit here, I look up toward the highest mountain range in the world. On the trip back to the capital city, I’m in awe of the waterfalls, rivers and the Himalayan mountains as we fly over this vast, beautiful landscape called Nepal. I am so blessed, and I begin to ponder the path that led me here.

On April 25, 2015, a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 rocked Nepal, killing more than 8,000 people and injuring over 20,000. An estimated 500,000 homes were destroyed. Many of these homes were in remote areas not easily accessible. Though I’d never had any personal connection with the country, I empathized with the people of Nepal. I knew in the weeks following the disaster that my heart was being led to Nepal, but my path began about eight years before.

“Whether by Jeep, dirt bike or helicopter, we try to go to where the needs are.”

During my studies at Penn College, I was involved with various international mission projects, beginning in 2006. I’ve had experience in the Bahamas and Europe. In 2008, I had an opportunity to go to the Philippines, obtaining college credit in international learning. After that trip, I knew that I would love to work overseas someday, but little did I know I would end up back in Asia. That was never planned on my end. 

After college, I gained experience as an estimator, subcontractor and construction manager (both residential and commercial). After several years of work experience, I felt it was time to pursue going overseas, but I didn’t know where and when. That’s when the earthquake happened.

After six months of researching opportunities, I came to Nepal in January 2016 working as a project manager alongside an organization that was helping to build churches and homes. 

Dome living room.Growing up, I worked with my dad, who was a framing contractor, so building homes has always been close to my heart. One of my first projects in Nepal was in a village where I helped to rebuild homes for 16 families using a sustainable technology called Earthbag construction. I lived among the villagers and started to slowly learn the language. To this day, I do not speak fluently, but I believe that love crosses all language barriers and try to make it the focus of everything I do. My previous trips to other countries allowed me to adapt. 

After my first six months in Nepal, I came to join an organization called Steadfast Nepal, a company started in Nepal by U.S. Steadfast Companies shortly after the earthquake to help rebuild using both traditional and alternative building methods.

Our main objective is to help provide homes for some of the most vulnerable people in Nepal. As a project manager for Steadfast Nepal, I’ve gotten to work on homes, schools and various other projects. One of these other projects was building a unique “dome-home” using the same Earthbag technology. 

These experiences have led me to many parts of Nepal. Whether by Jeep, dirt bike or helicopter, we try to go to where the needs are. Nepal’s terrain and remoteness sometimes makes these trips very challenging. Managing project logistics can be quite challenging, as well. Two current projects are being completed with the help of 40 mules, one with additional helicopter transport.

My training and knowledge in Earthbag building also allowed me to travel to Africa for three weeks to train the nationals on this new technology. We were able to help provide the first Earthbag school to Uganda. We’ve trained people from Europe and India, and several hundred Nepali nationals to use this sustainable technology, as well.

Being here in Nepal has taught me about life, people and nature. I’m amazed by the beauty of this country and the resilience of its people. I never thought I would be here full time, receiving all the opportunities I have. I am using all of my work experiences, whether designing, estimating, building or project managing. My work here requires all of those skills. I feel truly blessed. 

My work in Nepal also allowed me to meet my beautiful wife, whom I married in May. She is an architect. It was through our passions for building and helping people that we met, and for that I couldn’t be more grateful.

As I look back over my journey thus far, I could think about all the challenges along the way, about the language barriers, the challenging terrain, the elements of nature, the illnesses (even during writing this article, I contracted typhoid fever and was admitted to the hospital for three days), but I choose not to. The ability to help rebuild a people in time of need outweighs all of that. 

I look forward to the experiences that await. I always say to myself that “an adventure that is planned for is hardly an adventure at all,” so as I keep moving forward, I am excited for the many unplanned adventures ahead that I never dreamed of. ■

5 steps in Earthbag building

1

Lay foundation: 2-3 courses of gravel-filled bags atop a rubble trench.

2

Fill bags with soil, tamp as you fill, and stitch bags closed.

3

Stagger the bags like masonry and place barbed wire between layers.

4

Continue adding Earthbags. Tamp and level each layer. While stacking, add formwork for windows and doors.

5

Add roof and plaster walls.

Source: goodearthglobal.org/earthbag-technology

Men add soil to an Earthbag, made of polypropylene fabric that is estimated by the U.S. Highway Safety Administration to have a tensile strength greater than steel.

Men add soil to an Earthbag, made of polypropylene fabric that is estimated by the U.S. Highway Safety Administration to have a tensile strength greater than steel.

A completed Earthbag home with traditional adobe plaster.

A completed Earthbag home with traditional adobe plaster.
Daniel LaSota, ’09, peers through the window of  an in-progress building.

Daniel LaSota, ’09, peers through the window of  an in-progress building.

A unique “dome home” is among the Earthbag building projects LaSota has overseen.

A unique “dome home” is among the Earthbag building projects LaSota has overseen.
LaSota drinks tea with children in a Nepalese village.

LaSota drinks tea with children in a Nepalese village.

In Uganda, LaSota helps locals build the nation’s first Earthbag school.

In Uganda, LaSota helps locals build the nation’s first Earthbag school.
Earthbag construction in progress

Earthbag construction, one of several alternative building methods employed by Steadfast Nepal, is noted for its ability to endure fire, flood, wind, earthquakes and vermin.

It uses polypropylene tubes that are filled with soil – usually ordinary, sifted soil found at the construction site – to form walls that are then coated in adobe or cement plaster.

Barbed wire placed between layers helps to lock the bags together.

Simple and sustainable, it does not require special tools or machinery.