by Pamela Logan
Field team visits people trained in last year's construction skills
Results of the training program.
Why there is a lot of construction work in Tagong these
Today I arrived in Tagong and met with Khenpo Yonden, the abbot of Seng-ge
Monastery. We had a number of things to discuss, and one of them was the
results of our construction vocational training program last year. I didn't
really expect to get much news since the program was completed only in late
November, and since then most Tibetans have been in hibernation due to the cold
To my surprise, in answer to my query, Khenpo Yonden replied, "The
training was very useful. I'm building a house in Dorakarmo village now,
and I hired some of the people who were trained."
He went on to say, "These days many people are building houses. The
government is encouraging nomads to settle down and providing a subsidy of 4,000
yuan to each family to build houses, so there's lots of construction work.
People are asking me, 'do you know any good carpenters who can design my house
and tell me how much wood is needed?' If there hadn't been the
training at Seng-ge Monastery, I would have had to go to Xinduqiao or Yajiang to
find builders. Houses need to be earthquake-safe. When people built houses
by themselves before, the houses lasted only one or two years."
Stonemason foremen Re-ong(left) and Carpenter foreman Tupten.
It seemed almost too good to be true, so I asked
if we could go see
his house under construction and interview our trainees who were working on
it. He agreed, so Khenpo Yonden
and I got into a
USAID car with Kham Aid's own Wu Bangfu, who has worked very hard on this
program, and Winrock's Kelsang Norbu and Pema Tsering, who have also supported
it very well, especially in the later phases after Kham Aid ran out of
money. Together we drove the snow-covered dirt road the 10 kilometers or
so to Dorakarmo Village.
The situation was indeed as Khenpo Yonden said. The two
foremen working on his home were stonemason Re-ong and carpenter Tupten, both
our trainees who took the course last year. (both had previous experience
which is why they are good enough to be foremen). I learned, however, that
the other workers on Khenpo Yonden's house were not our
trainees, but were new workers. At first I was disappointed - were only
two of the 40+ trained construction workers successful?
Not at all! We learned that other trainees were busy working on
houses elsewhere; at least two additional work crews were formed besides the one
led by Re-ong and Tupten. And our stone-cutter trainees, whom I didn抰 see
at the worksite, turned out to be at another location quarrying stone for the
What's even better, the new-comers working with Re-ong and Tupten are
learning new skills from them. So, in less than six months, our program
has already spawned a second generation of trainees.
They did say that the Dawu (Daofu) style of building, which includes added
crossbeams for extra stability, is not being used. The first reason is: the
trainees didn't get enough practice with it to be completely comfortable working
on their own. Carpenter Tupten explained, "If we try to build in the Dawu
style, we'd need to ask questions of the teacher (who is not here), but building
in this simplified style we can do it by ourselves."
Left: new house being built by training
program graduates. Right: typical herdman's house, constructed before our
training program was held.
Second, the Dawu technique uses more wood and is therefore very expensive
for most Tagong people. Khenpo Yonden said, "In the Dawu
style the structure is very safe and strong but in practice it's difficult
because the cost is so high." (I told Khenpo Yonden that our goal is to
make Tagong people rich so that they can easily afford nice houses in the
All around the worksite was evidence of the skills introduced by the
training program teachers, Losang Dendrup, Shamba Gyatso, (both from Dawu) and
He Zhanqun (from Kangding). The stones in the walls of the house were
nicely dressed with flat surfaces facing outward. The dirt being used to
make mortar was sieved to remove pebbles before being mixed. The corners of the
house had been aligned with a plumb line, not by eye as had been formerly
done. And the carpenters were marking the saw-lines with an inked string
tool introduced to them by Losang Dendrup.
The most obvious indication of our program was the height and splendor of
the new house. At two stories, it was easily the tallest and best-built
house in Dorakarmo village. The other houses in the spread-out nomad
settlement are only one story and built of stones piled on top of each other,
not carefully cut and fitted together.
Left: Corner of new house. The
stones were aligned with the help of a plumb line, a technique introduced by our
training program instructors.
Center: carpenter saws board with the help of a
tool (foreground) that applies a straight black guideline to the wood.
A sieve (left) made from chicken-wire helps make better-quality
After one month of work for eight skilled workers and 15-20 unskilled
laborers, there remained only five days to finish Khenpo Yonden's new house. Then the
workers will easily find jobs working on other projects.
Stonemason Re-ong, who comes from nearby Pasang village where the existing
skill level was already fairly high, said, "The training was very useful. I
acquired a lot of new skills how to lay stones, and I'm using those skills now.
I feel quite confident that I can do masonry by myself. "
The carpentry trade is perhaps more demanding than stonemasonry - or
perhaps carpenter Tupten is just a bit more humble than his colleague. Tupten
said, "I'd be interested to learn more by studying in Dawu. Apart from the cost,
families here would like to have Dawu-style houses."
Although this was not a completely thorough program evaluation (we didn't
interview all of the trainees and have no hard data on how many of them are
earning a higher income as a result of our program), it is still encouraging
anecdotal evidence that the training was successful. I hope that we can
continue training people in these and other construction-related skills.
I'm seeking more funds to continue training in stonemasonry and carpentry,
including an apprenticeship component that will send the best workers to Dawu to
Chalk up a win for Kham Aid, our partner Winrock, and USAID who supplied
the funding to make this program possible..