Prior to my trek in the Himalayas along the route to Everest Base Camp, I spent 3 days in the village of Kumari, Nepal thanks to Trekking for Kids‘ work to support this village. The village, as many places in Nepal, was severely impacted by the April 2015 earthquake that struck the country.
The recently-built medical clinic was quite damaged and the school that served about 400 children was pretty much destroyed.
Trekking for Kids had planned a trip to Nepal (it has been going there for years to bring hope to orphaned kids via its treks) and chose to direct the funds raised by us trekkers towards the re-construction of the school. The school certainly will provide a better environment for the kids to receive education but it will also encourage parents to send the kids to school which helps reduce the risk that human trafficking poses for these children.
Our stay in Kumari
We left Kathmandu on our way to Kumari, a village development center in the Nuwakot district. Though it seems to be about 30 miles from Kathmandu, as the eagle flies, it took us about 3.5 hours. The first 1.5 hrs were on a paved road that we left after a quick stop at a roadside kiosk. From then on, we took a dirt and bumpy road that in the rainy season is impassable, driving past terraced hills and lots of green. Occasionally we would pass small rural homes and saw a little bit of life in the countryside.
In Kumari, we stayed in the medical clinic compound, a very large space that was fenced and gated. The medical clinic laid near the far end and had been badly damaged by the April 2015 quake. Though damaged, a couple of spaces were still in use for examinations and to house the pharmacy. Behind the clinic, there was a small structure housing the women’s and the men’s restrooms (2 stalls each) plus one basic shower. Along the sides of the compound were tents used by our group and others supporting the construction work and our visit. I imagine the tents were donated post-quake to help with temporary housing for locals but I think I heard tents were not very successful in Nepal as they were too foreign for regular folks. Not sure if our tents were indeed originally intended for that temporary shelter but they look pretty clean and unused. I will have to say that they were a little larger than the small two-people tents I have used before so I was glad for the extra “comfort.”
Staying in the compound was far better than I had been expected. The grounds are well kept, the indoor restroom was a pleasant surprise, and though I only used it one of the 3 days, it was nice to take a shower after a day’s hard work. The compound also had a kitchen and outdoor (covered) seating area so all our meals were there. I tended to wake up very early and enjoyed a cup of tea while soaking in the quiet and sunrise. It was a little cold at night but not frigid. We were a 5-minute walk to the work site (the school grounds) so all-in-all, I was pleased with the setup they had prepared to host us, not having too much time traveling to- and from- the work site so we could maximize time at the site.
A grand Kumari welcome!
When our small caravan was approaching the medical compound, we noticed a lot of people were there waiting for us. The more we walked, the more it seemed the entire district had come to welcome us. We left our stuff in the cars (someone would take care of that) and after an initial greeting which included music, we were taken up a dirt road towards the school grounds which were located above the medical compound.
As we made the final turn up the dirt road that passes the school grounds, we noticed schoolchildren were lined up waiting for us – loaded with long necklaces made from orange marigolds (like Hawaiian leis). As we walked along the kids, teachers, and others, these “leis” were placed on our necks. They must have spent long days making these (the flowers were all fresh)!! Some of us ended with a heavy yoke of these leis around our necks but it was a very joyful welcome – much appreciated!
After we got to the covered space that had been set up for the welcome ceremony, we took our seats and then all the children and other locals stood behind us. At the end of the ceremony, 3 hours later or so, I was very impressed the locals stayed the entire time, in the sun. There were some local figures present but maybe the draw was the two emcees (MCs) who I take had come from Kathmandu and were well-known. The ceremony entailed many speeches in Nepali or in English as well as some dances/songs by the local kids. I soaked it all in though, at that point, none of us had eaten anything since breakfast and I, for one, was hungry and trying hard not to pull something out of my day pack when so many in the crowd were probably as hungry as I was.
Trekkers like me commit to fundraise $1,000 towards the projects chosen for the specific trek. The projects funded are normally anchored on capital improvements or new infrastructure. In this Nepal trek, the school was the main project our funds would support. I am proud to say that my group of trekkers and I raised over $33,000, much higher than the minimum we each committed to raise (thanks to any of you who donated!). This allowed us to also fund the construction of new indoor restroom facilities at the school, something the children had never had before: one restroom with several stalls for the girls, and the same for the boys. When I go in these treks, I often leave pondering the things I have taken for granted all my life… and I am humbled at the blessings in my life.
One of the three days was focused on us pitching in in the construction efforts. Trekking for Kids’ approach is to ensure local labor performs the projects and local materials are used. But trekkers get to get down and dirty lending a hand. In these projects, trekkers got to help both with preparing the foundation for two of the new school buildings as well as with pouring the new roof for the restroom building.
I worked in the crew that helped dig the trenches for the school buildings’ foundations and then “harvested” rocks from the debris field from the former school building from the side of the hill and tossed them (via human chain) up to fill the bottom layer of the trenches. While we were happy to help, it was clear the locals who worked on the project and the local teen youth group that was volunteering to help were much more effective and fast than we were… It was certainly an honor to be able to humble ourselves for such a good cause.
Other trekkers helped prep the restroom roof before the concrete was poured by framing the area and cutting and setting up the rebar. At the point the concrete was being mixed and poured, the locals took over. It was interesting to watch their methods!
And just having fun
Working on the projects is something trekkers enjoy doing but trekkers always enjoy the opportunity to be with the kids. The kids made us smile with the great welcome they gave us so I certainly enjoyed giving back in this way to them. We got to be with the kids during school hours and afterwards, including one afternoon dedicated to fun and games that went late. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the mini-carnival games, the arts and crafts, and a good early dinner!
As for me
The treks themselves, of course, helped keep me challenged and appreciating my own life’s blessings. But, in the end, I would not be doing these treks if it were not for the opportunity to make a difference, however small, in the lives of children around the world. It is faces like these that keep me prioritizing my travel budget and vacation time for doing these treks (at the expense of doing more with my own friends and family), that keep me “pestering” friends and family for donations to fund the projects, and that keep me accepting conditions during my treks that are less than what I’d prefer during my vacations. Take a look, can you blame me?
Check out Trekking for Kids and pass the word about this great organization to others via word of mouth and social media!