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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Friday Supplement - Sherpa Children Get Free Education

Jiban Ghimire, managing director of the Sherpa Shangri-La Treks & Expeditions (P) Ltd., says that the philanthropic organization has become to limelight widely because of its efforts to impart international-level education to the underprivileged rural Sherpa children.

Ghimire, who is also a local coordinator of the Sherpa Education Fund, says that the children, their parents and relatives and foreign donors are happy. This could be because of financial transparency.

"We receive bills from the school and forward them to the Foundation in the United States. The Foundation directly sends money to the school," he says.

He says that they are planning to entrust ex-students with the responsibility as volunteers. "As they better know who are financially poor in their localities, they will select the needy for the scholarships,"

Nine-year-old Pema Yanji Sherpa knows no bounds of her happiness as she has got an opportunity to pursue her education at a good school in Kathmandu.

The three-grader girl is from a remote mountain village of Thame, Solukhumbu district. "I am very happy that I have been given such a chance," she says.

She does not know what she is going to be in the future. But she is confident that she will not have to graze yaks or do other physical works for making her living after having better education.

Phurba Sherpa, 16, from the same village, is another schoolboy to get a scholarship through the Sherpa Education Fund, which is under the Alpine Ascents Foundation.

The nine-grader student has received the scholarship since he joined the kindergarten.

In 1999, the Sherpa Education Fund was established by Alpine Ascents International, a global expedition and mountain guiding company in America. The Fund aims to help educate the Sherpa children and contribute to the development of their community.

At the outset, the organization sponsored six children at a private boarding school in the capital city. With the help of this charity organization, a total of 20 children from the Khumbu Region are now studying at the Kathmandu Valley Higher Secondary School. They are getting full scholarships that include fees for tuition and hostel, books, uniforms and medical expenses. Of the total number, there are 12 boys and the remaining eight are girls. They are studying from grade two to 11.

The assistance has become a boon for the Sherpa children belonging to financially weak families. "Had we not received scholarships, we would not have been able to get education in such a school," says five-grader Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who is from Phortse village of the same region.

The education project is a brainchild of Todd Burleson, President and founder of Alpine Ascents International. Todd’s colleague Peter Athans, another renowned climber, was also involved in the project.

Todd, who is a ‘Seven Summit’ summitteer, had carried out rescue operations on Mount Everest in 1996 when a lot of climbers had lost their lives due to avalanches. Many Sherpa children of Khumjung had also become orphans. Several local women had turned into widows.

"When we were returning from Mount Everest, we found several school-age children looking after yaks in Khumjung village. We also see some women chasing yaks by carrying their babies on their back," Todd recalls.

He says that since those were heart-touching scenes, they thought of doing something for providing such underprivileged children with education.

Appreciating the Sherpas for their climbing skills, generosity and helpfulness, he says that the Foundation will continue to grow and extend assistance to them. "All donations we collect from our clients for the education of these children are fully tax deductible," he says.

He says that the Foundation has a long-term vision of supporting the children ‘s education. "If they want to pursue higher education abroad, we will assist them," he says.

A recipient of the American Alpine Club’s prestigious David J. Sowles Award for his rescue efforts on the world’s tallest mountain in 1996, Todd says that the Foundation is dedicated to transforming the lives of the Sherpas living in the Himalayas.

Regarding the children’s performances at the school, Doma Lama, a social science teacher at the Kathmandu Valley School, says that they have been doing well.

Lama, however, says that they require counseling, as they are from a totally new social and natural environment. "Some of them seem to be haunted by inferiority complex because they are older than the local students. So, we need to make extra efforts for their adjustment," she says.

She says that the school encourages them to participate in sports and other extra-curricular activities such as sports as per their interest.

As their parents and relatives sometimes come to the school to see them and they also go home during the time of Dashain festival, they are not found being home-sick. "After two or three months of their enrollment, they start feeling comfortable," she says.