Local Union Carpenters Ascend to World's Tallest Mountain Range for Volunteer Effort

Johnny Mueller and Wayne Davies Display Time-Tested Carpentry Skills

Buffalo, N.Y.—When union carpenter Johnny Mueller met his coworker, Wayne Davies, after work for a few minutes of social chatter, he was asked: “Do you have any interest in going to Nepal to do some volunteer work?” It was not your everyday request for volunteerism, something that Mueller has done throughout his 38 years as a carpenter.

Mueller replied: “Let me think about it.” Then, 10 minutes later, he said, “It’s a great idea.”  He then asked his significant other, Donalee, and she agreed.

Davies’ wife, Jodi, worked on the Ontario County Board of Habitat for Humanity and was familiar with its international program, while most Americans associate the organization with building (or repairing) homes in the United States. The international dimensions for the program intrigued both Mueller and Davies, who decided to make the trek to Nepal along with their significant others. Both men took two weeks' vacation time last fall from Rochester, N.Y.-based LeChase Construction, where they are project superintendents.

"Johnny and Wayne show the best volunteering attributes of the carpenters in Local 276," says Daryl Bodewes, Western New York Team Leader for Local 276. "What made this different was that it was on the other side of the world, yet the local residents were able to benefit from the carpentry skills of Johnny and Wayne. We were happy to support them in this exciting quest."

Daryl Bodewes, Western New York Team Leader for Local 276

“It’s expensive to go to Nepal,” says Mueller, a member of Carpenters Local 276. “We were greatly helped by the Carpenter’s Union Local, who gave us $2,500 to help with the expenses. We had some donations from others and we paid the difference.”

Beyond cost, there was the distance. The flight from New York to Katmandu, Nepal (via Abu Dhabi), took about 23 hours. Nestled in a valley with the Himalayan mountains as a stunning backdrop, Mueller and Davies went to work along with about 400 other volunteers who arrived from seven different Western countries, including New Zealand and Canada.

And hard work it was. The small village was a 30-minute drive from Katmandu. The workers would catch a bus at 6:30 a.m. and work until 5 p.m. And unlike modern carpenters in the United States who use power tools, workers on that village project had none, because there was no electricity available. Mueller and his group built two homes out of a total of 36 that were constructed, which were far different from those in an urban American setting.

“It was interesting, but almost prehistory,” says Mueller. “We built them four rooms (approximately 300 square feet) with a masonry base, dirt floor, cut the bamboo by hand, and hand screened our sand with a mix of lime and sand to create a finished wall, ready for paint.

“We cut everything by hand, and if you’re cutting bamboo all day, that makes for a long day. It was basic carpentry,” says Mueller.

Mueller says most Americans would consider the living arrangement primitive, but to the Nepalese, it was a luxury. “There were tears in their eyes when they saw what we had done, even though they had dirt floors and four or five people living in essentially a hut with four rooms,” says Mueller. “What mattered was they had protection against the elements, and we were happy because our commitment to help them paid off.”

“Johnny and Wayne show the best volunteering attributes of the carpenters in Local 276,” says Daryl Bodewes, Western New York Team Leader for Local 276. “What made this different was that it was on the other side of the world, yet the local residents were able to benefit from the carpentry skills of Johnny and Wayne. We were happy to support them in this exciting quest.”

Nepal is a landlocked country in south Asia with a population of about 27 million. Northern Nepal has eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains, including Mt. Everest.  It is bordered by China and India. In 2012, Nepal ranked 157 out of 187 countries and territories on the Human Development Index, which essentially tracks life expectancy, education and per capita income.

Mueller says he does not know whether any of the homes his team built were affected by the recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal.

Would he return for another building stint? “We’re thinking about it,” says Mueller.

###

Additional Images