After my Everest/Lhotse double climb, I went on a further adventure: an intense 10-day trek to visit the remote village Chhitre where we are building the school as described on the page CHARITY PROJECT. Ang Gelu, my climbing Sherpa and camera man that I had worked closely with for the entire expedition, also came along on this part of the journey – and it worked out extremely well, because actually he is from a neighboring village to Chhitre – i.e. a few hours trek away, so we could visit Chhitre and then also his family home.
The dZi Foundation people had described Chhitre as a very remote village, and when they said remote they actually meant REMOTE! haha! So, after trekking 3 days together with Austrian father & son Josef & Lukas as well as Golli from Iceland to Lukla (where they flew out to Kathmandu), Ang Gelu and I continued down-valley from there. After a 3 day trek (6 days from base camp), we got to the (relatively) larger village Lokhim, where we met Jitna Rai from dZi Foundation who is from/living there. We had a great dinner there with Jitna and the headmaster of the local school.
The next morning we were invited to Jitna’s house, where we had breakfast. We then continued onward the next day to Chhitre, during heavily pouring rain and through the jungle where we were constantly attacked by blood-sucking leeches. Anticipating the leeches, Ang Gelu made a special weapon against them – a stick with a bag of salt tied to it at the end – like a “salt lollipop”… This makes the leeches let go of their suction and curl up, making it easier to get them off you…
Once in Chhitre, we stayed with a local family. After a quick lunch, we got back out in the rain and headed up to where the school is being built. Next to the school ground is a temporary rain shelter under which they are currently conducting the education of these children, and in the pouring rain it was a very convincing image that this school needs to be finished very soon (please DONATE)!. All the school kids were there, and probably half the village had gathered to join in in the ceremony to thank the dZi Foundation for its work, and me for my fundraising and own contribution efforts, and to congratulate Ang Gelu and myself on our Everest/Lhotse double ascent. Whilst all the speeches were in Nepali, even I could understand from the number of times I heard “Danebad” (thank you), the bowing and general body language, that these people are extremely grateful for the help they are getting. This gratitude is also demonstrated by the amount they are contributing themselves through local labor, without which the monetary fundraising need would be much higher. The government would not have rebuilt this school (after the previous one was rendered unusable after the earthquake) within any reasonable time frame, if ever! And these kids would not had had a chance of receiving a basic education without our support.
The ceremony was emotionally moving for me; to see these peoples’ gratitude. In particular the “Kata” ceremony. As people who have visited Nepal will have seen, the Nepalis always greet you and bid you farewell by putting a special “scarf”, called Kata, around your neck, and it is also used to say Thank You. The standard Kata is of a light yellow/beige/golden coloring, but there are white and red ones too, and “fancy ones” with more ornamentation.
During the ceremony, each and every school kid came over one by one and put a Kata around my neck. They were in the ages 4 to 11 years, and the small ones were particularly cute when they could hardly reach my neck even if I bowed over as much as I could, and some of them were a bit shy – and maybe a bit nervous getting that close to that strange-looking creature that was me! There is a strong chance I’m the only foreigner who has visited Chhitre, and maybe the only one that ever will! And a blond somewhat long-haired and unshaven Viking at that…!
We also inspected the work-in-progress of the school construction, which looked good and robust. I even put a stone myself, perhaps more symbolically rather than heavy lifting – after all it was raining heavily! Jitna from dZi demonstrated how transparent the local accounting is by marking all expenses on a huge billboard that anyone can inspect.
That evening we had an interesting meal with a freshly slaughtered chicken – actually rooster, and I even ate the rooster’s comb (or rather, tasted before I asked Ang Gelu: “Which part of the chicken is this?” and he said “I think it’s the hair”)!
The next day, after the visit in Chhitre we continued trekking to Ang Gelu’s home village Harishe, where we met his mother and two of his sisters who are living there. Ang Gelu’s father passed away a few months ago, and AG had been there about three months ago for the funeral, so I think he was happy to be able to see his family so soon again.
From Harishe, we then had to trek for a long day to the village of Lamidada where there is an air strip where we were going to catch a flight to Kathmandu. It was a 10-11 hour trekking day, so we finished with a real hardcore exercise!
In Lamidada, we had arranged to meet a group from dZi Foundation, including Ben Ayers – Nepal country director, who had been out doing field work in another village. They had helped us arrange flight tickets. The next day, after waiting all day – and everyone from dZi Foundation was convinced (based on numerous previous experiences) – that our flight was going to get canceled, our good karma continued – and the flight actually arrived, and left with all of us onboard to Kathmandu – and landed safely albeit after a shaky/scary ride! Otherwise we could have been stuck there indefinitely with no other means of transportation, and maximum two “scheduled” flights a week (prone to cancellation)!
Since we left Lukla, the first foreigner (non-Nepali) I saw was Ben Ayers (Nepal Country Director, dZi Foundation) in Lamidada. It was really the definition of “off the beaten track”. We stopped along the road for lunch in various family homes, and stopped in villages staying with families (often all of us sleeping in the same room) and having dinner and breakfast with them. Without Ang Gelu, I would have been more lost than I could possibly imagine – well, it would have been impossible.
So, this trek post our expedition, and post the trek to Lukla with the Austrian/Icelandic group (btw – half the expedition team “cheated” and heli’d out of base camp instead of trekking!), I then had this other total adventure, which was one of the most interesting trips I have been on from a cultural perspective. It was also very tough physically, because not only was it super hot and humid below Lukla, but we also had to cross an innumerable hills which meant having to go up & down a lot, sometimes as much as 1,000m down, to cross the river, and then up 1,000m!
But it was definitely worth it, in particular to see first-hand the amazing work dZi Foundation is doing, and to see how grateful these villagers are that someone is helping their remote villages – and in a sustainable way, where they are fully involved and will keep things running even after specific charity projects have been completed.
After our return to Kathmandu, I spent a few more days visiting places in town that I hadn’t seen before, as well as meeting Ang Gelu’s 18-month old daughter, and another one of his sisters. I also visited the dZi Foundation office and met the rest of their team.
Prior to leaving on my expedition, I had already done significant due diligence on dZi Foundation through various sources, and e.g. by reviewing their publicly available financial reporting. Meeting the local team in Nepal in person, many of whom I had already corresponded with, and in particular seeing the fieldwork first-hand and seeing the direct effect of the donations from me and my friends/family/supporters – all of this was incredible, and reconfirmed to me that dZi Foundation is doing amazing work in local communities for sustainable change, in an efficient way with low friction costs.
I really hope I can convey this message to you and that you will find it worthwhile to donate to dZi Foundation. All amounts are welcome, and I would encourage you if you have been looking for a great charity to support, to trust my due diligence and DONATE generously.