“Nepal is an open library”
Born in 1966 in the village of Salung, Solukhumbu region, Gelbu Tsheri Sherpa is a highly-qualified mountain guide with 23 years’ experience of escorting international tourists on treks throughout his country. A liberal-minded individual and speaker of several languages, including Japanese and English, Gelbu takes an unusual approach to guiding in comparison with his more conventional compatriots. When he embarked on the profession, he adopted the approach of his fellow guides, who preferred to interact with clients according to strict hierarchies which promote segregation (Westerners vs. Nepalis, guides vs. porters) and still exist to this day.
As the years passed, Gelbu came to believe that tourists can and should receive an in-depth view of Nepal when they travel there, and as a result, began to do his utmost to integrate them into daily life by introducing them to local people and customs and breaking down the traditional barriers between tourists and Nepalis, sharing meals, conversations and experience.
This unorthodox attitude created considerable difficulties for him among his peers, which he worked very hard to overcome. As a result, when on a trek with Gelbu, you’re sure to find yourself eating in the lodge kitchens and talking to other Nepalis over a steaming cup of masala tea before long, or drinking nak milk with nomads on a 4,500 metre alp – if you want to, that is. He advocates sustainable tourism, helps train female guides and, if tourists are receptive, is more than willing to share his considerable treasure trove of information, anecdotes and progressive ideas about Nepal with them, in the hope that they will reciprocate by sharing and contributing their knowledge and perhaps decide to help him remedy what he sees as serious problems affecting his country, its growth and prosperity. In his words, “Nepal is an open library”- and, in his eyes, tourists are free to borrow any of its “books” if this will help increase their awareness of Nepal and spur on their sense of responsibility as far as promoting change is concerned.
The „Sisters of Solukhumbu” project was, in large part, born of Gelbu Sherpa’s desire to further the educational opportunities of young girls from his home village whose parents are unable to afford their continued education in Kathmandu. He understands the social challenges faced by Nepalese girls and is committed to working with others in order to facilitate change and break down what he sees as old-fashioned conventions which threaten the personal development of an entire section of the population. He believes that, no matter how little we have, there are always people less fortunate than ourselves, and that, by working together and sharing our combined knowledge, we can help them and experience personal growth in the process.
I am Yangji Sherpa from Kathmandu, Nepal.
I am studying in the 12th grade. I love travelling to new places.
„I also like doing social and voluntary activities. I volunteered to raise funds for flood victims in Karnali.“
I also volunteered as a primary teacher at Alpine Valley School for 3 months. Making others smile and happy makes me feel good. I get satisfied by working for mankind.
For me "Sisters of Solukhumbu" is an organisation which helps young women of Solukhumbu fulfil their aims. As I was born in Solukhumbu too, I know the difficulties experienced by young women who cannot get a good education due to poverty and discrimination between sons and daughters. As a result they are forced to marry at a young age and look after their families. Education is empowerment. An uneducated person has to face a lot of problems.
So Sisters of Solukhumbu is giving the light of education to some young Sherpa girls of Salung to make them able to face those problems and achieve something in life. While talking to some sisters of Salung, I considered myself lucky because their lives were very difficult. Thus, I want to work for Sisters of Solukhumbu as this organisation is working for mankind.
„We shouldn't believe that a small wrongdoing can do no harm, because even a small spark can ignite a giant pile of hay. Similarly, the value of the smallest good deeds should not be underestimated, for even tiny flakes of snow, falling one atop another, can blanket the tallest mountains in pure whiteness.“ Sherpa Buddhist aphorism
Born in 1979 in Brighton, UK, Hattie Spence, a linguist, translator and currently trainee nurse, was initially attracted to Nepal as a result of her passion for mountains, inherited from her father. She has spent countless hours absorbing mountain(eering) literature, many summers in the Swiss, Austrian and Bavarian Alps as a waitress, tour guide and tourist, and eventually graduated to the Himalaya in the summer of 2011. Here, she fulfilled a long-held wish to see Everest, or, as it should really be known, Chomolungma, during a trek to Everest Base Camp.
This trip was her first exposure to the astounding beauty of Nepal, which is, sadly, rivalled by an inordinate level of poverty. As so many before her, she left feeling troubled by the various political and social injustices within the country which deprive the population of basic rights including academic and health-related education and access to medical care, and returned to her adopted home of Berlin determined to find a way to make a positive contribution to the welcoming, friendly citizens of a country which had grown so close to her heart.
A suitable opportunity would not arise until two years later, during a second trip to Nepal. Although meanwhile sponsoring a young Nepalese girl to continue her education via Nepal Kinderhilfe e.V., Hattie was becoming increasingly attached to and fascinated by the country, and, in particular, the Sherpa people, and sought a chance to establish an independent project to support young Sherpa girls with their schooling. Having enjoyed a privileged education herself, she is fully aware of its importance as far as forging an independent future is concerned, particularly for girls in a region such as Nepal. The meeting with Gelbu Sherpa on the Annapurna circuit trek provided this opportunity, and the idea for Sisters of Solukhumbu was born.
Together with Gelbu, Hattie initially aims to find sponsors for ten girls from the village of Salung who wish to continue their education in Kathmandu. A strong believer in equality who endeavours to evade attempts to introduce hierarchy and difference where this promotes divisiveness instead of solidarity, she views the project as a very personal (ad)venture which will offer personal growth, opportunities to learn from and work with others and, hopefully, a chance to provide positive assistance to girls in Nepal in equal measure.
The Sisters of Solukhumbu project was initiated in 2013, and sprang from a series of conversations held on the Annapurna Circuit trek. After visiting Nepal as a western tourist and, particularly, as a woman several times, I have witnessed first-hand how crucial a contribution to both sustainable tourism and the long-term support and encouragement of this captivating country with its dynamic, generous and welcoming population is. And one of the most sustainable investments in the future of this society is education, the rising costs of which surpass the meagre budgets of many parents of children living in remote rural areas.
A second sustainable investment in terms of development aid for Nepal is in its young, strong-willed female population, which is gradually discovering its voice and opportunities. Women are traditionally accorded a low status in Nepalese society, and struggle to emerge from beneath the yoke of paternalistic tradition. As the 12th edition of the Rough Guide to Nepal dispiritingly states: “Rural women may still be considered their husband’s or fathers’ chattel. They…rise before dawn to clean the house, do the hardest fieldwork and all of the cooking. Women wait for men to finish eating before they begin” (p. 417).
Teenage arranged marriage is still prevalent, as is institutionalised domestic violence. A burgeoning sex trafficking industry is also in operation, with some 10 - 15,000 Nepali girls and woman, 20% of whom are under sixteen years of age, rounded up and sent to India each year. “To poor families in Nepal, a daughter is a financial burden; when a broker comes offering thousands of rupees for a pubescent girl, many agree” (ibid., p. 418). The logical result of this unscrupulous exploitation: exploding HIV infection rates, stigmatisation, ostracism and a generation of emotionally damaged, insufficiently educated young women with limited social and cultural opportunities.
Against this sobering background, it is clear that one possible solution to the predicament of many of these low-status women is to increase the breadth and depth of their education and, with it, their potential earning power and independence. Awareness-raising in the fields of literacy, family planning and empowerment is a top priority.
The Sisters of Solukhumbu project seeks to promote change in the abovementioned areas in a very concrete manner. Focusing on the small mountain village of Salung, located at 2,960 m between Junbesi and Taksindu in the region of Solukhumbu (Everest region), we aim to provide school sponsorship for young Sherpa girls aged 15 and years and above who wish to complete their secondary school studies and pursue further educational opportunities.
The level of rural education cannot be compared with the standards achieved and expected in Kathmandu. Chronically underfunded, government schools in rural areas are beset by troubles including poor management (due in part to community-managed schools), underpaid, poorly trained and sometimes unqualified teachers, inadequate resources, execrable toilet facilities and overfilled classes. The only way to guarantee an acceptable educational standard is to move to Kathmandu, in itself problematic in the face of an increasing rural exodus. However, it is a vicious circle which currently resists resolution.
Mirroring the adage “If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must go to Mohammed”, Sisters of Solukhumbu will finance the girls’ move to Kathmandu, their accommodation, board, supervision, school fees, uniforms and equipment and ensure that their ties with their home village are maintained via conversations with and visits to their parents and siblings. They will receive a wider education, consolidate their foreign language skills and, most importantly, be able to broaden their horizons and make informed choices about the paths they would like to pursue in future. Perhaps they will return to Salung and live there happily, perhaps go on to university studies in any number of different fields, perhaps marry and settle in Kathmandu or elsewhere, perhaps emigrate. But the choice will, hopefully, be their own.
It is important to emphasise that, in establishing this project, we do not intend to impose Western thinking and standards on Nepali cultural practices and traditions or seek to change those in an overt and imperious manner. Each country, including all our Western lands, develops at its own pace and has specific tasks to fulfil. We seek, instead, a cultural exchange and equal collaboration with the Nepalese people and firmly believe that we can learn from and teach one another a great deal. This approach is reflected in our choice of project leaders: one from Nepal, one from the UK.
To realise these aims, we are seeking dedicated individuals willing to commit themselves to the sponsorship of our “Sisters”, ideally for as long as they decide to continue their education. This financial pledge, which includes living costs in Kathmandu, school fees and equipment, provides the children with a sense of stability and motivation to complete their studies, and naturally also gives the Sisters of Solukhumbu project a strong basis for future development. We would like willing sponsors to strike up personal relationships with the girls via letter and, eventually, e-mail, and share in their progress, achievements, challenges and lives. We aim, in the process, to create an opportunity for cross-cultural exchange from which you, as sponsors, as well as the children, will benefit immeasurably.
As the project is run on a purely voluntary basis, it goes without saying that your entire donation will be used to support our “Sisters”.
An annual donation of € 360, the equivalent of € 30 a month, covers an entire year’s worth of school fees and equipment, and a further € 360 covers living costs in Kathmandu, supervision and support by dedicated individuals and all ancillary expenses. As a result, just two donors can fund the complete education and living expenses of one girl for a whole year.
However, no matter how much you choose to or are able to give, every donation will be warmly welcomed.
All donors will be issued with a tax-deductible donation receipt as a matter of course (for German citizens only).
We are very fortunate to be supported in our undertaking by the Nepal Children’s Aid Association (Nepal Kinderhilfe e.V.), a non-profit organisation based in Germany.
Its founders believe that bundling resources is the most effective way to provide aid, and therefore welcome the addition of new projects to complement their own dedicated efforts to help the children of Nepal.
They have generously allowed us to post information about „Sisters of Solukhumbu“ on their website and have agreed to play a pivotal role in the transfer of sponsorship funds from Germany to Nepal.
Nestling against the mountainside at an altitude of 2,960 metres, the small village of Salung is almost dwarfed by the giant scale of the Himalayan scenery which surrounds it.
Home to just seven or eight families of Pinasa, Salaka, Khambache and Goparma Sherpa ethnicities, the remainder of the 100-strong population resides in the outlying hamlets of Tongnasa, Meragangdok, Chhatung and Gonbo, some of which are an hour’s hard hike away. A habitual halt for tourists trekking from Jiri to Lukla, Salung and its inhabitants are sustained, unsurprisingly, by trekking, portering, animal husbandry and farming.
Some young boys are employed at sawmills, while others chop down Nepal’s ever-dwindling stocks of trees to sell as firewood while their strength allows. Unfortunately, the strenuous physical nature of this activity, coupled with a lack of intellectual stimulation, causes many of these comparatively wealthy workers to become alcohol-dependent.
Although the village has a small kindergarten, children of school age are obliged to walk to the nearest school in Junbesi, a four-hour round trip. Understandably, the majority of the girls choose to board in this larger town during the week, only returning home at weekends.
In Junbesi, the children are expected to be largely self-sufficient, purchasing food for themselves at the local market and cooking it, and also disciplining themselves to complete homework assignments. However, this school only caters to pupils up to the 10th grade, so those 15-year-olds wishing to pursue further education are faced with the often unrealistic and hopelessly expensive proposition of moving to the capital, Kathmandu, to continue their studies. It is precisely this financial dilemma that the „Sisters of Solukhumbu“ project seeks to address.
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