Nepal hike helps forgotten sherpas
Travel that brings benefit to not just ourselves but to others is a concept that’s growing in popularity However, sometimes finding an overseas project that is ethical, sustainable and where your money really is going to do some good is not so easy to find.
Next year, the South Canterbury-based Forgotten Sherpas of Nepal Trust, which has been assisting in development work in the Middle Hills of Nepal for eight years, is aiming to give keen trek- kers a chance to contribute to projects that tick all those boxes.
The Trust, with the help of Jill Worrall Tours, is offering a 21-day tour to Nepal, including a 17-day trek into the Damar Region that will not only boost funds for the trust’s work but provide participants with some stunning Himalayan trekking in a region little visited by other travellers.
The trekking group is limited to just 15 participants. “We hope to raise at
least $5000 for Trust projects,” explains trustee Colleen Winnington. “Since we began work in the area in co-operation with the local Sherpa communities, we’ve installed solar lighting, water supplies, smokeless stoves, school support and health services.
We want to keep the momentum going, especially as more and more villages in the area are asking for help.” Jill Worrall, who operates tours in conjunction with House of Travel, Riccarton (Christchurch), is donating tour profits to the Trust and is hoping that the trek participants will also be encouraged to contribute in some way too, as well as come home to spread the word about the Trust’s work.
“I’ve known about the Trust work for many years now and, as a former Save the Children board member who has worked on short-term projects for both Save the Children and for the Aga Khan Development Fund, I have gained valuable insights into what constitutes good development projects.
“Key features are that the communities themselves determine what assistance they need; that they are fully involved in the work and can then sustain the developments when the overseas helpers have gone home. I think the Forgotten Sherpas Trust meets these criteria very well.”
The tour, from September 23 to October 14, 2019, is priced at just $7295 (twin- share) and includes flights from Christchurch, four nights in Kathmandu, the trek (with all meals and full trekking staff), all tipping and is fully escorted from NZ by Jill’s son, Jonathan, a paramedic and former glacier guide, who has travelled with Jill to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
The Trust sprang from a friendship forged between trekking guide Ngima Sherpa and George Hunter, a member of a Geraldine tramping club expedition around the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in 2001.
Since forming the trust in 2010, club members, along with their affiliates and the wider South Canterbury community, have worked on numerous projects in conjunction with Sherpas in Ngima’s home village of Damar and surrounding villages in the Middle Hills.
It’s been a life-changing experience for many trust members and forged unbreakable bonds between South Canterbury and these remote Nepalese communities.
A three-day walk from the nearest road or airstrip at that time, (a new 4WD track has reduced this to a 12-hour walk), Damar and the people of the surrounding area, which is off the tourist routes, miss out on the money that floods into the Everest and Annapurna regions.
Life was hard for the people here - they had no access to electricity or even to a reliable supply of clean water. Their houses were dark, smoky (there were no chimneys) and full of toxic fumes from kerosene lamps.
Child mortality was high and gastric and respiratory illnesses were rife.
It was Ngima Sherpa who approached George back in 2008 to see if he and his tramping club members could raise money to install solar lights in the village. Club members arrived in the village in 2010 to fit the lights, after the Geraldine community had rallied around and successfully raised the necessary funds for the equipment (with club members paying their own way to travel to Nepal).
Since then the Forgotten Sherpas Trust has installed a 4000-litre storage tank to provide standpipes with clean water outside each village house; run health clinics; assisted in the local schools with books, equipment, clothing and training and most recently established a mobile health service consisting of five Nepalese health professionals who make regular visits to villages in the Damar area.
In the early days of the trust, trustees Colleen Winnington and Marg Stocker, trekked into Damar to learn first-hand what villages needed most.
“It was a huge culture shock,” recalls Colleen “but it was also a real privilege to be there.” Marg was equally shaken by the degree of need in the village.
Marg, a retired phlebotomist, and Colleen, an intensive care nurse, recounted the health problems they saw among the villagers, including scabies, impetigo, eye problems, malnutrition and ulcers. Any projects undertaken by the Trust are discussed with the villagers – it’s their call as to what projects are carried out. They also help with the work, such as installation of the solar- lighting, water tank and pipes.
The Trust also takes great care to be mindful of cultural values and beliefs with all that they do. George, Colleen and Marg have all noted changes in the outlook of the people themselves since the NZ and Nepalese communities began their partnership.
“There’s a lighter atmosphere,” Colleen says “you hear music, people have cellphones now so can communicate with people outside their area. The village is cleaner, the people healthier, communication in English (a vital tool for youngsters looking for work in tourism) has improved.
The Trust is justifiably proud of what has been achieved together with the people of Damar and the other villages but they are not resting on their laurels. The newly established mobile health service is providing health care to villages in the wider geographical area around Damar and planning is under way to trial improved models of smoke-free fireboxes and chimneys for village houses.
The trust estimates that their projects are now reaching up to 5000 people in over 25 villages. Trust members return regularly to Nepal for extended periods, co-ordinating projects and working with local communities on new initiatives.
“You can’t help yourself because the people there are so wonderful – they’ve become a second family to us,” says Colleen.
Above right: Happy villlage kids. Below left: Colourful flags. Below right: Parwati inspecting child.
Above left: Sunrise over the Himalayas. Above right: Nepalise woman with baby. Below left: Installing solar panels on a house.
Above right: A Nepal house with a view.