A vision for vocationsVisionary Nepali sets up a training centre offering Nepal’s earthquake-affected an alternative to migration
Four months after Rabindra Puri launched his Nepal Vocational Academy in Panauti in January 2015, the earthquake hit and his plans were completely shaken up. The architect’s buildings were intact, the students were safe but the quake opened up a huge new demand for skilled carpenters, plumbers and masons.
One later year, Puri saw the need for another training institute, and started work on a new centre in Bhaktapur, where carpentry lessons have already begun. When finished the school will have the capacity to train up to 200 students at a time.
“When we started, we could produce 60-70 artisans annually but after the earthquake, the demand boomed,” recalls Puri. “We had to work day and night to expand capacity.”
Puri’s centres offer not only standard construction skills but also traditional wood carving, a craft that was being displaced by modern techniques. They have already produced 250 artisans, who are now equipped with the temple-building skills of their forebears.
The Panauti academy started with training in metal casting, stone carving and carpentry, but there was a demand from local women for beautician and tailoring courses. Others sought bakery training, and some even wanted to learn the basics of designing small hydropower plants.
In response, Puri donated his ancestral property in Panauti, to revive traditional craftmanship wherever possible. It now helps locals learn new skills so they can find jobs and avoid migrating overseas for work.
The Germany-trained architect and entrepreneur says: “Many students in the institution were planning to go to the Gulf for work. Some of them were convinced to remain and are now getting free training with accommodation and pocket money.”
Some of Puri’s interns make Rs20,000 a month during their apprenticeships, and with experience can earn double that. He now wants to train 1,000 youth a year, and hopes to set up sister training centres across Nepal. The academy is already self-sustaining, a year ahead of schedule. Its major source of income is tuition fees, and earnings from selling students' products, including stone figures of gods and goddesses.
The entrepreneur is also targeting young people who have already gone abroad, urging them to return and learn the technical skills that would allow them to prosper independently back home in Nepal. Indeed, surveys have shown that the demand for both traditional and modern skills after the eathquake is so high that Nepalis can earn as much here as in the Gulf.
Learning by doing
The Nepal Vocational Academy in Panauti provides both theory and practical classes, and some faculty members are traditional artisans. Post-earthquake, a major part of the building course is how to construct earthquake-resistant houses in the traditional style.
Saroj Shrestha, 29 from Panauti, gave up his fine arts studies due to family problems. He joined the academy after the earthquake, in the first batch. “At the academy I was doing what I loved, designing on wood, and was also learning carpentry. Even if I couldn’t continue my fine arts studies, I was close to art,” says Shrestha.
He easily found a job in the post-quake reconstruction of heritage sites in Panauti and Bhaktapur, and is now teaching other students what he has learnt.
The institute also provides philosophy classes on the importance of preserving local architecture and other cultural heritage, and building attractive, earthquake-resistant buildings. Founder Rabindra Puri says he also plans to construct a museum of stolen art in Panauti, which will display replicas of many idols that have been stolen from Nepal. The school’s students are also working on making replicas of various stone idols.
Dipa Shrestha Piya, 28 from Kavre, used to stay at home after getting married. She then learnt to be a beautician at the academy, and now owns her own beauty parlour in Panauti. Says Piya: “Nepal Vocational Academy has shaped who I am today. I'm much more independent and I earn enough to take care of my family."