Across the world, the name Sir Edmund Hillary is inextricably linked with that of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, and the mountain they climbed together in 1953: Everest. Mount Everest is located in an area of Nepal known as Solukhumbu.
For Hillary, Everest was an opening chapter of a very much bigger book. Hillary loved to climb, and he loved to climb in Nepal, with the Sherpas – and through the years he did so many times.
Hillary’s New Zealand climbing companion and friend, George Lowe – also a member of the Everest 1953 team – recalled how one day in 1960, after a particularly long and satisfying day’s climbing in the Everest (Solukhumbu) region, they returned to their camp high on a glacier as the sun was setting, utterly exhausted. They had hardly had a moment to recover when the Sherpas, who had endured the same long and exhausting day as they had, appeared, as is their way, with a cup of tea. It was in that moment that Hillary, with his friend Lowe – whose lives in the mountains of Nepal, and beyond, had been supported and so enriched by the Sherpas – declared, ‘It’s about time we gave something back.’
Huddled around a smoky scrub fire that evening, Hillary asked a young Sherpa by the name of Urkien, ‘If there is one thing we could do for your village, what should it be?’
‘We have eyes but cannot see.
We have ears but cannot hear.
We know there is a big world out there,
Will you help us to make sense of it’
Sir Edmund knew that, Everest climbed, the world of mountaineers and tourists would beat a path to the area and he wanted to help the Sherpas remain in charge of their own development. At the time, there were no schools and no health care facilities in the area.
The following year, with the help of volunteers and local people, Sir Edmund built a classroom. A Sherpa teacher was brought in from Darjeeling and the first group of scruffy, barefoot Sherpa kids were given the chance of an education.
Other petitions followed. Sir Edmund and volunteers returned year on year, engaging the local communities in the building work – and Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust was born.
Sir Edmund visited the villages of Solukhumbu every year and after his death in 2008, his friends continued his good work. As a result of Sir Edmund Hillary’s work there are over 300 schools, hospitals and health clinics supported by the UK and our sister organisations. Over 2 million trees have been planted, bridges built, and Buddhist monasteries repaired.
The Hillary Himalayan Trust continues to support the Solukhumbu region today and The Himalayan Trust UK gives an annual grant to support this work.