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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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.