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A Traveler's Volunteering in Nepal

By Gwen James

It was started by a simple question: "What happens to the families of the Nepali Sherpa mountaineers that are killed during expeditions?"

"It is very hard for them," my Nepali friend, Tshering, answered. "They get a small amount of money from insurance, but that isn’t much. The wives haven’t worked, so they have no skills. They can remarry, but often the new husband rejects the children. If they don’t remarry, they are very poor."

Over the next few months, we planned a way to help them. The plan was very simple: teach the women some basic skills like how to weave carpets or how to run a tourist lodge and include some instruction on marketing and financial management.

We decided to run a trial course--but where to find the teachers and the women and the resources?

Eventually, these problems were resolved by local ingenuity and generosity. The teachers--people with the appropriate experience and knowledge--were Nepalis from nearby communities. I provided the seed funding for the first course myself.

The result? Five women with renewed self-esteem and confidence. Sometime later, I met one of the women. Grinning broadly (because she had just sold me a carpet at a highly inflated price) she explained, "I was so worried, but now I know I can feed my children and send them to school."

Buoyed by the success of our first project, we looked for other ways to help local communities. As in most parts of the world, there is an urban drift in Nepal--young people leave their villages--lured to the city believing they can earn more money there. This is rarely the case, and they get caught in a poverty trap--unable to find work and unable to return to their villages.

We started sponsoring specific projects in villages, like the renovation of temples/monasteries (in these communities, these are usually the heart of the village) using traditional skills. This not only gave the young people a reason to stay in the village, but also helped to preserve the traditional skills and crafts.

But our problem was always money. We started looking for ways to raise funds to support the projects. High on hilltop in the Everest valley, we created a trekking company and an import business, the Chomo Lungma Pilgrimage Trekking and Chomo Lungma Imports.

Both businesses are non-profit organizations that generate funds to establish/support specific projects. The people aren’t given money. Nor are Westerners directly involved in any of the projects: my Nepali business partner, Tshering, is responsible for organizing the projects, facilities, teachers, resources etc.

This ensures that the projects are culturally appropriate--in their focus and delivery--and that the outcome is relevant to the local and business communities.

The results are tangible and are something Tshering and I are very proud of. As travelers, we are always looking for a way to give back to the communities that host us: we finally found a way to do it.

Want to help?

These projects do not receive direct donations of money, resources or assistance. However, all profits from Chomo Lungma Pilgrimage Trekking or Chomo Lungma Imports directly support projects.

For more information on the services of either company, please contact Gwen James.

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Tags: storySection: Features,Helps
Location: Asia, Nepal
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