Sorority Life in Rural Nepal (Part 1)

Utraman at the hostel

Utraman at the hostel

Utraman Rai has got to be one of the bravest men that I have met. For the past year and a half, he and his wife have been living in a facility with 42 teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 18. No matter where you are in the world, teenage girls are teenage girls, and that can be a lot of emotions to handle. I don’t know many people that would willingly take on that role. But he does it with a wide, genuine smile – knowing that he is helping to make a profound difference in these girls’ lives.

Built near Salleri in the lower region of the Solukhumbu district in Nepal, this girls hostel is one of the first of its kind in the country. Edge of Seven partnered with The Small World to introduce the project to the local Nepali population in early 2010. After a couple volunteer groups helped with the construction of the 3 campus buildings, it was completed in March 2011. But these buildings are so much more than mere shelter for the girls; they are an opportunity for education, growth and a chance to help their families.

In Nepal, as is the case in many developing countries, girls often are not able to receive an education. This happens for a wide variety of reasons, but largely because females are given a majority of the household responsibilities and big portion of agriculture work while they’re undervalued as contributing members of the community and given less priority than sons and males. Rural communities in the Solukhumbu, specifically, are spread out over the mountainous terrain and often require supplies, such as water, to be transported for hours everyday. Women and girls pick up a lot of this burden and, in turn, are not afforded the time or resources to attend school. Additionally, the closest school can still be days away and the cost of living away from home can be a deal breaker. This is where the hostel comes in.

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Some of the girls that live in the hostel.

The Salleri hostel is set up to house 42 exceptionally driven girls—those committed to the education, expanding their opportunities and returning to help their communities, but that come from families that could not financially afford to send them away. Those selected girls not only get the chance to go to college, but they get free housing and a supportive community that helps with supplies and meals. In the first year alone, TSW received approximately 100 applications, having to turn away over half of those that were interested. What an amazing success! These girls are from all over the area—anywhere between three hours and three days walking from the hostel. The majority of the them are now studying in one of three fields: education, business and science.

When I spoke with Utraman, I was so curious to hear what his experience was like. I honestly expected him to be exhausted and overwhelmed. He wasn’t. It was so easy to see why he was chosen for the position; his excitement to help and play an important role for these girls was obvious. It was also easy to see why that excitement was there—these girls were so motivated and eager to take advantage of this opportunity. There is no way to live in a place like the Salleri’s girls hostel and not have a smile on your face

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Partnerships and Understanding

International development is a tricky field. The lines between what is helpful for a community versus what is harmful for a community can be blurry. Especially when the help is coming from a foreign (often Western) country. As citizens of developed nations, we often like to think that we know what’s best for other countries without having a complete understanding of the environment that we’re entering. Many organizations and their projects base the needs-assessment for developing communities on the needs the we, as foreigners, see as priorities. But in reality, the focus should be on the perceptions and actualities of the country being helped. We should be sure that we are not imposing our priorities and our culture on these nations, but rather aiding their development in a way that enhances their own cultures.

International development needs a more effective and more thorough, anthropological approach to its work. Before saying these are your needs and here is how you should fix it, every group should ensure that they understand the actual situation at hand. What is the culture here? What is most important to the people? What systems do they have in place already? What are the obstacles (politics, resources, etc) that exist? What do the locals see as their greatest needs? What technologies exist already in this area? How will this affect the various members of the community?

Edge of Seven volunteer working with The Mountain Fund staff member on building project.

Edge of Seven volunteer working with The Mountain Fund staff member.

One way to ensure that the correct approach is taken is to pursue partnerships with organizations that already exist in the particular community. I was lucky to observe Edge of Seven’s partnerships first-hand this fall. Having been involved with the organization for over a year, I’m familiar with all of the efforts that go on State-side and the projects that each team member takes on to educate the public on our mission, bring in donations and gather volunteers for our trips abroad each year. But the partnerships that are formed with organizations in the communities that they help are the pieces of the puzzle that makes the operations work—this is what drew me to Edge of Seven originally.

Being involved with local Nepali groups gives Edge of Seven a leg-up in the international field. They know exactly where the needed resources are. They are able to communicate daily and more effectively with the people of the community. They are able to help maintain the project site even when we don’t have a staff member present. All while being able to focus on providing the financial and volunteer support needed to complete each project.

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Edge of Seven trekkers spend the day at the Salleri girls hostel with The Small World staff members.

Because of the local partners, Edge of Seven and other similarly-structured organizations are able to operate more efficiently and provide effective assistance to communities in need.

2 months and 25 words later…

The intention to learn the language is always there. At minimum, being able to say hello and ask where is the restroom is located is always nice. I thought that having worked with an organization focused on Nepal (Edge of Seven) for over a year and finally getting to visit the country and see our projects, I would have an extra motivation to put the effort into learning a bit of the language before leaving the States.

Apparently I overestimated that motivation. I arrived to Nepal this fall still uncertain as to why Kathmandu sometimes excluded its “h” and knowing exactly one word: namaste! (And let’s be real, I only knew this word because most yoga studios in Colorado fully embrace this greeting.)

But I tried my best once I got to the country to learn what I could. Luckily, I had two stellar guides for my first couple of weeks to help we with some basics.

First were the greetings:

  •  Dhan-ya-bahd          Thank you
  • Na-ma-ste (Na-ma-skahr)          Hello/Goodbye (polite)
  • Ta-pai-lai kas-to cha?          How are you?
  • Ma-lai sun-cai cha.          I’m fine.
  • Ta-pai-ko nam ke ho?           What’s your name?
  • Mero nam Tamara ho.             My name is Tamara.

Then there were our basic needs:

  •  Chi-yah             Tea
  • Khah-nah          Food
  • Pah-ni               Water
  • Char-pi              Toilet

And just so we could complain a bit easier in the native language:

  •  Ma-lai tha-kai lahg-yo.       I’m tired.
  • Ma-lai bhok lahg-yo.            I’m hungry.
  • Ma-lai tir-khah lahg-yo.        I’m thirsty.
  • U-kah-lo                 Uphill
  • O-rah-lo                 Downhill
  • Tu-lo             Big
  • Sah-no            Small

A few weeks into the trip, I started to pick up on some more food names that made it a bit easier for me to ask for things.

  •  Chi-ni             Sugar
  • Shyau             Apple
  • Sun-ta-lah      Orange
  • Ke-rah           Banana
  • Phar-shi       Pumpkin
  • Kah-kro       Cucumber
  • Ka-re-lo       Green bitter squash
  • Ah-lu             Potato

I got down one question that inevitably got a response back in Nepali which I could never understand:

  •  Kah-ti rup-ya?           How much does it cost? (How many rupees?)

But probably one of the best words that I learned in Nepal was pug-yo (That’s enough or I’m not interested). When dealing with the throngs of vendors trying to sell you everything you don’t need or waving off the third helping of dal baht from the very generous family, this word will give you the peace that you need.

After two months spent in Nepal, I would say that my total vocab was more accurately up to about 60 words. Not too bad for a foreigner with no prior knowledge of the language, I guess. But having some of these words down is so helpful when traveling through the country and, when I go back (and it will happen), I have that base to build on.

Mountains Unlike Any Others

By Tamara Arredondo

I would not classify myself as an outdoorsy type of person. I have always enjoyed a good hike or a day on the lake, but I’ve never claimed to have felt that connection to nature and the outdoors that many of my friends have. Escaping the city for a while is a nice relief here and there, but there seems to be an eagerness that slowly rises in me to return to work and start checking things off of that to-do list again.

That was until I met the Himalayas—they are something special.

Himalayan horizon

My first introduction came as I flew into Kathmandu. I could see the peaks of many of the mountains over the clouds from my plane window. The mountains aren’t always visible from the Kathmandu valley due to the haze that frequently engulfs the city. However, they highlight the northern horizon often and tempt the valley dwellers to come visit them. I gave in.

The Solukhumbu region of Nepal is the epicenter of world-class mountains. Clearly, Everest is there. Going into the trek, I was ready for the remoteness of Nepal and ready to be amazed. But there was no way that I could have imagined the extent of it. The Himalayas are massive—they just dwarf the Rockies. In Nepal, there is a qualification system: snow on top is called a mountain, no snow on top is called a hill. Let me just say there are some enormous Nepali hills.

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And Everest is in a class of its own. With no previous interest or real knowledge about mountaineering, I didn’t foresee being so captivated by it. Many of the groups trekking in this region were there to visit Everest base camp. However, the highest point that we reached was a lodge just beyond Namche. Here we sat and enjoyed tea with an incredibly clear view of Everest that was only about 20 miles from us. It was breathtaking. Even from that distance, the size and majesty of this mountain was unmistakable. We sat in awe and it was easy to understand the importance that is placed on this mountain by local cultures. All 29,029 feet of Everest resonate this spirituality. That is a moment that I will never forget.

My love affair continued as I spent another several days trekking in the Annapurnas. A friend convinced me to go visit his favorite viewpoint, Poon Hill. The trek started in Nayapul and we just went up from there. This time it Fishtailwasn’t the tallest mountain that grabbed my attention; it was the most revered. Machhapuchre, translated to Fishtail in English, is one of the most recognizable mountains in Nepal (obviously shaped like a fishtail). What’s amazing is that it remains one of the only mountains that has not been climbed to its summit. The Hindu religion believes that this is the home of Shiva and the mountain has been declared sacred, forbidden to climbers. Fishtail seemed to follow us throughout our trek. Each afternoon as we reached our daily destinations, it was so comforting to sit in the sun and simply admire this mountain. There is an obvious sacredness to it. The spirituality just oozed from the whole region.

It’s hard to put into words the sensations of the Himalayas. It’s hard to accurately describe them to anyone who hasn’t experienced them. All I know is that I will go back, I have to go back.

Featured Profile: Dawa Sherpa

Written by Tamara Arredondo

A smile is worth 1,000 words. While that may not be how the colloquialism normally goes, it is so true. A good, genuine smile is definitely enough to brighten anyone’s day. Especially when it comes from Dawa Sherpa, perhaps one of the nicest individuals that I have ever had the chance to meet.

This fall I had the pleasure spending two full months in Nepal, getting to know the country, the culture and seeing Edge of Seven’s work up close. The trip began with me participating in the group’s first ever Trek With A Purpose. And it was fantastic—filled with extraordinary mountains, beautiful traditions, lots of dal baht and generous Nepali people.

One of these people was Dawa. As one of our guides throughout the two-week duration of the trek and my personal guide as I stayed in the Solukhumbu region for an extra week, I got to know Dawa fairly well and developed a great deal of respect for him. He has been very closely involved with Edge of Seven through his organization, The Small World. As an original staff member of TSW, Dawa spends the majority of his time assessing the needs of communities in the area and being the on-site lead for these (mostly construction) projects. He has been a huge asset for Edge of Seven’s and TSW’s projects, but more than that, Dawa is just an incredibly inspirational and motivating man to be around.

Dawa comes from a traditional background. He grew up in the Everest region of Nepal. His village, Nunthala, is typical of the area with a fairly low and spread-out population, one school up to grade 10 and an amazing sense of community. Like many others in the region, Dawa stopped school after grade five and became involved in the trekking industry early on. He got his first porter gig at age 13, eventually became a guide then a chef for Everest expeditions. At the time he was in school, English wasn’t part of the required curriculum. Dawa picked up it by listening to the trekkers as he worked—and he helped me immensely when I wasn’t able to communicate with my 20 words of Nepali. Now Dawa lives with his wife, Meya, and four children on their family farm in Nunthala. He travels constantly for his job—often months at a time away from his family. But believes in improving his community and country so much that he doesn’t complain.

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More than his dedication to the organization though is his overwhelming sense of generosity. It’s the little things Dawa does that impressed me. You can see the kindness in his eyes and feel the warmth in his smile. On the trek, there were some times that our bodies ached or we just wanted to complain, but when Dawa flashed that smile at us, it was the most encouragement we could have asked for. When him and I wandered the villages together, it seemed that everyone knew Dawa’s face and wanted him to come join them for a cup of tea. (We teased him that he was running for political office—always shaking hands, waving and kissing babies.) He always has a moment to help out a villager. On one particular day, we were walking to a friend’s house for dinner and came across an old woman trying to run a water tube across a pathway. Dawa asked me if we could stop for a moment and proceeded to find a pickax, dig out a little trench and connect the tube from one house to the other in the underground track. He declined her offer for tea, smiled and we continued onto to our destination. Dawa is the definition of a “Good Samaritan”.

Overall, the people of Nepal stunned me with their kindness. Dawa exemplified the values of the country. I think we need more Dawa Sherpa’s in this world.

Check out our partner organization, The Small World, at http://www.thesmallworld.org/