Beyond Mountaineering — Rebuilding Schools in Rural Nepal
This post is a guest post from Robert Grote of Peak Elevation Expeditions and Beyond the Mountains. We are working with Robert to host a special fundraising event and benefit concert on September 11, 2016 – Beyond the Mountains: A Benfit for Nepal
On April 22nd, 2015 I boarded a late-night plane departing Kathmandu. I had been guiding treks in Nepal for the two months prior, I was now on my way to a brief vacation in Italy before returning to Lancaster, and by the time I landed in Florence an 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the epicenter just east of Lamjung district in Barpak, Gorkha district just west of Kathmandu and the extraordinary country I had left was thrust into terrible chaos.
Over the ensuing weeks and hundreds of aftershocks, nine thousand Nepalis would lose their lives, entire villages were flattened, Nepal would suffer ten billion dollars worth of damage, and a cycle of long-term secondary effects would begin–for example, an immediate spike in infant malnourishment, an immediate spike in kidnapping and human trafficking–that as of yet has not ended.
None of that I knew when I landed in Italy, of course.
I didn’t know anything when I landed in Italy other than I had left behind friends, and family, and even clients, and because I had I spent the next week trying as hard as I could to reach everyone I knew, to make sure they were safe and okay. I’ve been a guide and a mountaineer for most of my adult life, I’ve travelled and worked in Nepal for twenty years, my adventure travel company (Peak Elevation Expeditions) has come to specialize in the Himalaya, and for those reasons — and for all that Nepal and the Nepali people have given me — I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to “give back”. For example, for more than 12 years my wife and I have supported a daughter, and have become “mom and dad” to several more children at the SMD School in Boudha. For another, a percentage of Peak Elevation’s fees go to various programs working in education and with children, such as Shree Mangal Dvip School in Boudha, Nepal, The Himalayan Children’s Fund, and The Ninos Project Cusco Peru.
I was lucky — the people I knew and loved were safe. But of course, many, many people were not at all.
What became clear was that by May of 2015, the countryside villages in Nepal needed immediate support. As tends to happen in similar situations — see for example, the earthquake in Haiti — financial and physical aid bottlenecks in capital cities, remote areas go ignored and even abandoned, it’s often the case that small, highly-targeted relief work is more effective than larger institutionalized endeavors, and thus within a week of getting back to Lancaster I opened up a GoFundMe account to raise money for relief efforts at the SMD School, the Tsum and Nubri Valley’s in the Manaslu area, Briddim village, Langtang and the Bhakanje Village of Solu Khumbu.
Six weeks after the earthquake our account had raised over $25,000 worth of supplies and hard currency, and a small team and I headed back to Nepal to deliver relief. Kathmandu was still in chaos, the infrastructure was destroyed, the villages had received no support whatsoever, and the burgeoning monsoon season (and the mud slides, flooding, and spreading disease) were upon them. We divided up the funds and supplies we had raised between several regions we visited on the trip, we built relationships throughout the Bhakanje region, and we committed to sponsoring the rebuild of the thousand year old Bhakanje monastery which was destroyed in the earthquake.
And that’s only the beginning.
After the trip, Kate Wallace and I began a non-profit — Beyond the Mountains — committed to rebuilding schools and school hostels, to improving educational infrastructure, and to keeping children healthy and safe in remote areas. Since, we’ve assembled a board of directors consisting of Americans and Nepalis — a board with financial, educational, and non-profit experience — we’ve established Beyond the Mountains as a registered 501(c)3, we’ve run three additional non-profit expeditions to Bhakanje, we’ve partnered with the Kathmandu rotary club, and we’ve toured a number of different Nepalese schools.
All so that we may better fulfill our mission: to provide educational opportunities where there are none, and to use education as a means to improve the lives of children in underdeveloped parts of the world.
Beyond the Bhakanje monastery, we’ve pledged to cover the full salary of a teacher at the Bhakanje secondary school, and we are in the process of fundraising to rebuild the school hostel at the Buddha Ma Vi School in the Manaslu area of Nepal. These hostels are critical to insure the safety of Nepalese school children — students attending such village schools often walk two hours to and from school, and in so doing suffer from fatigue and from the elements, and risk becoming victims of kidnapping and trafficking in a country where more than fifteen thousand school children are trafficked annually. This particular hostel was a large one, it kept more than 140 students safe and close to their school, and its loss has been a significant one for the larger Manaslu area community.
And, of course, our work will continue to grow — in both scale and scope. We’ll be returning to Manaslu in October, both to check-in on the hostel project, and to explore other opportunities to partner with and support nearby schools and teachers. The work ahead is daunting, but we look forward to making a change in rural Nepal — and beyond Nepal — as we gain new partners and more support.