Kathmandu Parks and Rec – Grassroots style

Over the last two months, I have been involved in an extraordinary project – one of the best experiences since moving to Nepal: playground redevelopment…

Nepal, like many developing countries, lacks adequate, public greenspaces. There are a few scattered throughout Kathmandu, but they are often inaccessible, ineffectively designed and poorly maintained. Having grown up and having raised children in the USA, I appreciated and enjoyed parks, playgrounds, walking trails and other greenspaces, totally taking them for granted until experiencing life here without.

My dear friend, Bahar, a first generation Indian-American from California now living with her Nepali husband and extended family here in Kathmandu, not only shared this sentiment with me, but was motivated to do something about it. Working with local governments who have limited resources can be ineffective, inefficient and frustrating beyond words. Instead, Bahar envisioned a collaborative, community-based initiative to revive an existing, dilapidated playground, one that she passed daily while dropping her children off at school.

Lamo Chaur Community Park has been a public greenspace for many decades. Some of the local community members even remember playing there when they were children. The park comprises four adjacent grassy lots, divided by private driveways, each with a small, peripheral chain-link fence. Adequate play equipment existed at some point, but when we began, only one corroded metal slide, one damaged but still used cement ping pong table and two small metal bars remained.

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Lamo Chaur’s first plot – the only one with remaining play equipment.

Shree Saraswoti Yuva Pariwar (SSYP), an active temple and community club, adjacent to Lamo Chaur, have historically looked after the park. This spring, Bahar approached them about collaboratively improving the space. As luck would have it, an energetic youth group, The Generation Green, also expressed interest in renovating the playground. Timing was perfect and all three groups agreed to collectively tackle this project!

InitialDays

Archaic tools ; design and planning meeting ; teamwork from start to finish ; old sign.

Progress in Nepal usually happens slower than a snail’s pace, however, once this project began, the momentum was vibrant and contagious. Bahar started a public Facebook group to streamline communication between our large group (dozens of people from SSYP, a handful of students from the youth group, and several motivated people from the local expatriate community). She also entrusted her sister, Bhavna (a construction manager from Portland, Oregon currently living in Nepal on a 2-year “break from life” with her husband and 5-year-old son), with project management and I quickly became her sidekick, utilizing my broken knowledge of Nepali language and where to get things here in Kathmandu. Since our first meeting to brainstorm design ideas, the energy and enthusiasm kept multiplying:

Date Progress
8-May Initial design and planning meeting at the playground
11-May Dig out concrete of old play equipment, trim bushes, remove trash and yard waste
13-May Remove old metal slide
16-May Cut branches and trunks for balance beams and steping stumps (donated from our yard)
17-May Install swings and set wooden stepping stumps
20-May Build bamboo sandbox and first bamboo bench
23-May Install balance beams and fill sandbox
25-May Set tires and more stumps, hang swings, build second bamboo bench and sandbox canopy
26-May Set metal beams (reducing potential seismic damage from brick wall)
27-May Build bamboo planter bed and install three trash bins
28-May Build third and fourth bamboo benches and secure second-hand metal gate
1-Jun Purchase thatch material for sandbox canopy and additional tires
3-Jun Install thatch material, set monkey bars and prepare leftover bamboo for wind chimes
4-Jun Host “Family Fun Day”
6-Jun Repair and resurface cement ping pong table
8-Jun Build mud hill, install new slides and mount a nighttime flood light for security
10-Jun Build a bamboo barrier to protect the new flowers
11-Jun Spread gravel mulch in planter beds and around ping pong table

The resources to execute this project seamlessly came together. Bahar initiated a sale of her children’s old clothes and toys where all proceeds would go towards the playground. Several others chipped in their kids’ old things and we earned a few hundred dollars during the school garage sale. The Generation Green had a $750 grant from The World Wildlife Fund, Nepal which they fully put towards the project. As the momentum built, other local expats pitched in as well, bringing our pool of resources to $2600 USD, which in the developing world, is a HUGE amount of money!

kidsday

To get the kids involved in beautifying the space, we hosted a Family Fun Day — we painted leftover bamboo and created wind chimes, planted over 100 new plants and made reusable plastic coke bottle planters — HUGELY fun and successful day!

We stretched the budget as far as possible, using supplies and expertise wisely! The gymnastics elements of the playground (wooden stepping stumps, balance beams logs and monkey bar design) were crafted by Clare, an enthusiastic and amazing gymnastics instructor. The imaginative colors for the playground were craftily chosen by Theresa, a beautiful and successful fashion designer (Vintage Himalayas). And the plants and flowers were meticulously selected, purchased and planted by Caroline and her family – residents of the UK who are enjoying a 5 month sabbatical in Kathmandu. And Narayan, an eco-friendly builder (Rammed Earth Solutions) helped seismically secure the massive brick wall.

In addition, we used fairly inexpensive materials (bamboo, wire and junkyard treasures) and free supplies (old tires and donated wood and plants from private yards). We worked for free, yet paid the main laborers – mostly the underemployed gardeners and drivers who work with our expat families – a wage of $10 per day, plus lunch and drinks (considered generous per local standards). Our budget was completely exhausted after completing the first plot and new fundraising efforts will precede development of the rest of the park.

ITEM Approximate Cost (supplies + labor)
Family Fun Day Supplies

$30

Tires

$40

Ping Pong Table

$60

Monkey Bars

$140

Bamboo Benches

$150

Wooden Stumps

$170

Sandbox

$260

Mud Hill n Slides

$270

Site Development

$270

Swings

$330

Planters

$400

Seismic Wall

$480

TOTAL

$2600

Some of the challenges we faced are typical of parks in any urban area and others were to be expected in a developing country: petty vandalism, late night non-child-friendly activities and the perspective that expat financial support would never run dry. The morning after we set fourteen tires in the ground as a hopping caterpillar activity, all tires were removed and strewn about the site, dirt scattered everywhere. We persevered and reset the tires the next day. Beer bottles and other adult paraphernalia are sometimes left behind at nighttime – frequent efforts to clear these items occur. And lastly, the large economic gap between many locals and expatriates unsurprisingly gives the impression that financial resources are plentiful and unending. As long as the local community continues to give what they can and support with their time and energy, this shouldn’t be a significant issue. We will surely have more incidents in the future and as a unified community, we will address each one accordingly.

PureEnjoyment

Pure, simple enjoyment at the park — just doesn’t get much better…

The outcomes of this revitalized space have been simply magical. The main result – people are mixing! Now there is a space for kids from international schools, kids from premier private Nepali schools, and kids from government schools to all play together. They speak differently, dress differently and play differently, but now they interact and can slowly learn about one another. Similarly, a wide variety of adults – moms, dads, nannies, drivers, grandparents, college students, nearby shopkeepers and school teachers – all visit, sit in close proximity and coexist, regardless of economic class, ethnicity, caste, age, gender or other barriers. The playground has been rejuvenated for approximately one month now and hundreds of people have passed through. On any given evening, easily over 50 people are playing, talking, laughing and peacefully enjoying the space!

Celebrate

Extra special thank yous to Ram Krishna Dai and the SSYP club members; Samhita, Bishal and Deepak from The Generation Green, Team Pratik Pradhan ; the amazing Dais and Bhais — Gopal, Purna, Buddhi, Deepak, Krishna from Chitwan, Krishna from Sanepa, and especially Tika ; and Clare, Theresa, Caroline, Bhavna and Bahar!!

Please contact me if you’d like to be a part of developing Lamo Chaur Community Playground! Visit our Facebook page at Lamo Chaur Playground. We can use donated supplies, labor and enthusiasm from locals and financial support from friends abroad :).

Random Fun Facts

  • We had to put a gate and bamboo supports on the open passageway to prevent stray cows from coming inside the playground; although they make wonderful natural lawn mowers, their excrements in the lawn cause sticky, smelly problems!
  • On full workdays (as opposed to 3-4 hour work sessions), we would order chicken and veggie momos (steamed dumplings) from a very local eatery down the road and fill all bellies for about $1 per person!
  • We originally planned the first plot for children aged 2-5 and intended to ditch the crumbling ping pong table by building the mud slide hill over it. As the building slowly progressed and families visited more, it became apparent that Nepali children seem happy not to segregate themselves by age and that the ping pong table was a huge asset. We made some quick design changes, moved the balance beams and salvaged the ping pong table!
  • We painted the swings and monkey bars at the playground, after installing them into the ground – big mistake! Keeping the children off the equipment while we were painting and while the paint was drying was next to impossible. Next time, the metal elements will make a pit stop in our back yard to be painted then transported to the playground!
  • Using the help of secondary or college students, we hope to design and build a marble track on the seismic metal wall, using PVC pipes and wire.
20160617_172819

Final Product! Phase 1 of 4 complete.

8 thoughts on “Kathmandu Parks and Rec – Grassroots style

  1. I absolutely LOVE this blog you wrote about the playground. Do you mind if I share it with my friends and family here? Xxx, bahar

  2. Amazing! I’m a believer that in order for people to care about something long term, they have to have a personal investment. I think that you all are doing a wonderful thing for and with this community. Maybe someone can connect with the destructive youngsters and get them involved. But we’ve had some of the same destructive behavior in our neighborhood and sometimes all you can do is fix it and move forward. Of course I am assuming they’re youngsters, like here. I also love how you are recycling and using green products. With all this said, what can my family do to help and how?

    • Hi Kimberly! Great idea about getting the youngsters involved. There is a large cement wall on the second plot — designing and creating an art mural / graffiti art — that we can try and get those kids involved with. We don’t yet have a formal system for accepting tax deductible donations, but will be in touch soon when we get this up and running. Thank you in advance for your support 🙂

  3. Pingback: Nepal – Year 1 (already!) – bhavnanepal

  4. Hi, what an amazing project. We’re planning to travel to Nepal in the spring for 2 months with our two children (1 y/o and 6 y/o) so we’d definitely be visiting this. Whilst I’m there i’d love to contribute in anyway possible.

    Ruhel

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