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Island mason builds education opportunities in Nepal

Russell Hixson
Island mason builds education opportunities in Nepal
ANOTHER BRICK IN NEPAL - Students and locals inspect work on the Sharada Secondary School in the Sankhuwasava district of Nepal. The original school was damaged beyond repair by earthquakes in 2015. Rob Tournour of Rob Tournour Masonry Ltd. in Victoria is rebuilding the school through his charity, Another Brick in Nepal.

In April 2015 Rob Tournour, co-owner of Rob Tournour Masonry Ltd. found himself staring at a photo in the Globe and Mail that showed Kathmandu, Nepal following a devastating earthquake. Thousands of clay bricks lay strewn about.

“I took that picture back to the office and put it on the bulletin board just to look at and ponder,” said Tournour. “I knew that the earthquake had happened, I’d heard about it on the news, but this picture jumped out at me. It was powerful.”

The 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest, killing 9,000 and injuring over 23,000. Aftershocks continued to affect the region in the following weeks. The quakes destroyed more than 900,000 homes and 5000 schools. Others were severely damaged. Another large earthquake hit May 25th, 2015, causing the situation to go from bad to worse.

Tournour, armed with decades of experience in the construction industry and previous charity work in Honduras, made the long journey to Nepal to see what he could do. He found himself in a rural village of Aapchaur where Bandevi Primary School, which served around 90 students, had been flattened. Locals had erected a temporary school with a tin roof and bamboo mat walls.

“It was incredibly noisy,” said Tournour. “Some of the older kids had stopped coming because they couldn’t learn properly or concentrate.”

Tournour decided to establish Another Brick in Nepal (ABIN) with the goal to rebuild rural schools sometimes missed by larger charities. With support from the construction industry, an annual trail run, an annual silent auction and other fundraising ideas, Another Brick has been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for projects.

“I set foot on my first construction project site when I was 14 in Muskoka, Ontario where my friend’s father was a bricklayer,” said Tournour. “I have had my hands in the mortar for 40 years now and something moved me. We are all blessed with this strong market, the strong construction economy, and we have this opportunity to give back. It was just kind of a dream, a thought, and the support I’ve received from my construction peers is almost overwhelming.”

In 2017 the charity successfully funded work to rebuild Bandevi Primary using help from local labour and local brick. The team built the school to be seismically resilient with stone foundations bolstered by rebar and concrete and topped with a full concrete ring beam.

The school opened in January 2018. Later that year, ABIN was approved as an official charity by the Canada Revenue Agency.

ABIN has also been able to fill the rebuilt Yagyamati Secondary School in Kathmandu with new furniture after government funds ran out. Tournour and his team currently in the process of rebuilding Sharada Secondary School, in the Sankhuwasava district.

“This part of the country is not on the main tourism trekking routes so they don’t get a lot of support from non-governmental organizations or non-profits, so that is where we have focused our efforts,” said Tournour.

The charity’s long list of donors includes many from the construction industry, like Kinetic Construction, Scansa Construction, West Rock Construction, Canpro Construction, Draycor Construction, ICL Concrete and Knappett Projects Inc.

“These are companies were around long before I ever set foot on the island,” said Tournour.  “The support and the faith they put in us is very gratifying. We do our fundraisers and it is definitely growing, but the first school wouldn’t have happened without the immediate support from the construction community here, and they continue to support us.”

Tournour also expressed gratitude to his staff at Rob Tournour Masonry who allow him to travel to Nepal for the projects. Tournour is currently on his seventh trip to Nepal to oversee the completion of Sharada Secondary School, in the Sankhuwasava district of Nepal. This school has over 450 students and their two-storey building was condemned following the earthquakes. The new, seismically-engineered building will have eight classrooms built with reinforced concrete and brick infill.

Tournour will also meet with officials finalize plans for a new project to build a dormitory for deaf students. Tournour hopes to announce the project later this year and potentially open it up to volunteers.

Tournour explained that rebuilding the schools means rebuilding educational opportunities and the charity plans to continue to support the schools it builds as well as the students.

“I’m not a wealthy man,” said Tournour.  “I’ve been through ups and downs, but I do believe strongly that we have a responsibility to those less fortunate.”

For its efforts in Nepal as well as its support of Island children’s programs and sports teams, Rob Tournour Masonry Ltd. was named Vancouver Island Construction Association Member of the Year.

Tournour encouraged anyone interested in volunteering, fundraising or donating with the charity to visit www.anotherbrickinnepal.com.

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