Visiting Nepal for the first time as a Trustee afforded me a chance to learn more about the fantastic work done by the Himalayan Trust family and to meet with people I had previously only read or heard about. My two weeks in November this year were educational, inspiring and humbling! They contrasted so much with my previous trips to the Himalaya where, frankly, the motivations for visiting had been more selfish insofar as I was always there to go “climb something” or trek somewhere and whilst that of course provides plenty of opportunity to meet with and get to know the people of the Solukhumbu or elsewhere on this occasion many more doors were opened to me. I met with so many wonderful people and my focus was wholly on listening and learning about the work we do with the help of our many friends and benefactors. I’m still digesting everything I learned!
I said before I went, and repeated often in response to enquiries as to what I sought to achieve during my short two weeks, that I arrived in Nepal with no preconceptions, no history with the Trust and other than what I had learned from my fellow Trustees no personal knowledge or experience of the work we do and people involved. I had heard of many exploits and mention made of many people who have helped, whether in Nepal or further afield, in furthering the original aims of Sir Ed, but for me this was about starting humbly with a blank piece of paper and giving myself the opportunity on this visit and future ones, to gradually sketch out my understanding. Over the many years I hope to be able to play a role in the work of the Trust perhaps I’ll one day be able to colour it in!
Landing in the familiar, chaotic, but welcoming city of Kathmandu I had no sooner settled into my hotel in the oasis of relative calm that is Lalitpur than I threw myself into the first of a series of meetings in Kathmandu. Principal among which were visits to meet with Pasang Sherpa Lama and the team at Himalayan Trust Nepal in Dili Bazaar and then the team at REED Nepal, through whom the Himalayan Trust family direct a considerable amount of our efforts and the monies raised to improving and assuring the standards of education in the Solukhumbu and in recent years in the Taplejung region around Kanchenjunga.
It was a marvelous and unplanned coincidence that many of the teachers who we sponsor were in Kathmandu for further teacher training and I got to meet with all of them and sit through some of the sessions! As someone who does not come from an educator background it was great to see and gave me a real early sense of what I might see when out on the trail and visiting the schools.
As my wife, herself a repeat visitor to Nepal, and I flew off to Lukla in the company of the brother of a guide I had previously climbed with in Annapurna and who was to accompany us for the two weeks to help me with lodge logistics while I focused on our meetings, I knew that Peter Hillary had just the previous week presided over the opening of the new Lukla Water Project. While sad that my diary didn’t allow me to coincide with the opening it gave me a good chance to meet more intimately with the team that were responsible for identifying the need and engaging with the local community to drive the project forward we spent a good amount of time being shown the engineering project and talking with them. I have to say that I was immensely impressed with the quiet but determined resolve, the vigour and the vision of Lakpa, Sonam, Lakpa and Pasang Lamu in leading this initiative, which has helped to bring filtered water to the Lukla community.
As the normal entry point now to the Everest region the need for assuring a healthy water supply to the growing community was evident – poor sanitation leads to illnesses and poor health which can in turn impact upon a child’s education whether it be through their own inability to attend school or through the need to stay at home and assist where there may be ill health in the household. Pasang Lamu, who is the manager of Lukla hospital, expects to be able to track, on a quarterly basis, statistics of admissions and outpatient care and correlate that to pre-water project statistics.
In addition, the initiative included the installation of some 20 fire hydrants around the village ensuring that no property would be too remote from an immediate response in the event of a fire – something that has beset Lukla on several occasions in recent times.
It was a highly gratifying meeting from which I came away inspired by the ability of a group of resourceful, intelligent and motivated young people to engage with their community and seek a remedy to improve the lives of that community.
Gaining the commitment, whether financial from lodge and business owners, or where financial contributions were not feasible then offerings of labour and help in other ways ensured that there was a real community involvement. In spite of being turned down for funding from the local Village Development Council and the Nepal government they succeeded in raising some US $30,000 from within their community and having approached the Himalayan Trust NZ who then provided assistance with the majority of the funding required.
From there our attention turned to trekking onwards to visit a few schools, in Monjo, Thame and, of course, Khumjung via Namche Bazar. In addition we visited Dr Kami Temba and Mingma Temba at Kunde Hospital. These were all highly successful and I could write much about the conditions of the schools and the travails that the children overcome along with the wonderful enthusiasm of the teachers we support. Suffice to say, whether it be in the youthful enthusiasm of the likes of the young HT sponsored teachers at Thame who, having schooled there themselves, have now returned to teach or, whether through the wise and safe hands of Mahendra, for 35 years a teacher and ultimately, Head Teacher at Khumjung and now engaged by Himalayan Trust to provide an oversight and assurance role of teachers throughout the Solukhumbu, the sense of enthusiasm of teaching staff to try and do a great job for their students is a joy to see. But, and it brings a smile to my face as I type this, it is in the sheer exuberance of the young children, dressed smartly in their school clothes with weather beaten, cherubic faces as they delight in “showing off” for their visitors, that I am inspired and filled with great hope for the work we do.
It is clear that there are many challenges and I may only have tentatively laid out the first lines on my blank canvas as I sketch out my understanding of all we do but I’m filled with optimism and can’t wait to return! Next time perhaps Taplejung!
Trustee, The Himalayan Trust UK