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.

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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/