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Travel opportunities that make a difference

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Within the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Newcastle, a new wave of electives have come to light offering short program opportunities. Students from the undergraduate through to master level can partake in overseas and localised projects.

One of these opportunities is working with an organisation called Healthabitat OS in Nepal. Healthabitat OS is a design group that aids local communities by demonstrating, teaching and implementing methods to improve sanitation in the built environment. They have been working with local communities in Nepal improving toilet, hand washing and teeth brushing facilities since 2007 through connections developed by Sandra Meihubers and her passionate late husband Paul Pholeros.

In February this year a group of UON students went with Healthabitat OS program manager David Donald to Nepal to work with local communities, allowing them to experience firsthand about strategies, effects and difficulties when working in developing countries. Whilst there the group travelled from Kathmandu to several villages providing their skills of community consultation, designing and drafting. This contribution is for the much needed housing of families, and sanitation facilities for schools.

Following the earthquake in 2015 many of the villagers have struggled to rebuild. Temporary corrugated steel shelters were provided by other aid organisations immediately after the earthquake, providing temporary shelter while families rebuilt their houses. The Healthabitat OS system uses steel and concrete banding to reinforce traditional stone and mud building techniques, providing structures that are stronger and more resistant to movements from earthquakes. These principles are taught to the local builders so they can work and learn improved building techniques. In Bhattedanda village students developed their community consultation skills through discussions with four local families, developing a brief and sketch design documenting their desires and needs for their future homes, and drafting site specific plans. These plans are a new requirement of the government for each family to obtain a subsidy to rebuild their houses.

Next in Tipeni Village, the group worked on sanitation facilities for Shree Kshetrapaleshwori Secondary school. The process of the visit included ascertaining the correct size and quantity of toilets for the population of the school, determining what local resources are available, earthquake banding and positioning the toilet blocks according to site use and waste water disposal. The objective is not only to provide facilities but share knowledge too. Teaching children the method of brushing their teeth and making a routine within the school day. This understanding can be further passed on to their families. Providing adequate toilet and hand washing facilities with appropriate run off and septic systems will also allow access at school even if they are not currently available at home.

The UON students upcoming exhibition in May will publicise the students efforts and adventures. The event aims to fundraise money for Healthabitat OS work, with student works for sale through a silent auction. All are welcome to come and find out more. This ongoing relationship with UON SABE and Healthabitat OS will continue with another trip already planned for 2018. 

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