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People Making Changes Issue 35 -
Ngima Dorji Sherpa

Dorothy - 13/3/98

For further background you may want to read the related articles about Barry Sligh...

Forced to educate himself, Ngima now works to give others the chance of schooling to change their lives...
Ngima Dorji Sherpa was a name that came up in the last two articles in People Making Changes describing how Barry Sligh and his team were working to raise money for schools in remote villages in Nepal. Ngima Dorji is the Sherpa who is organising the building of the schools. Ngima is at present in New Zealand and I had the chance to talk to him about his life and his contact with the New Zealanders he met on the Dendrology Society trek.

Life in Pangkoma village
Ngima grew up in Pangkoma village in the Everest area, the second child in a family of eight children. It is a truly remote village. People have to walk for at least five days to reach the motor road at Jiri. Some 1600 Sherpas live in Pangkoma, and they have traditionally supported themselves by farming. They look after the animals - sheep, yaks, goats and cows. The cows are hand milked by the women and a hollowed out log serves as a bucket. Grass is cut and dried to feed the animals in the winter. Some crops are grown, mainly potatoes, maize and millet. Now some of the people work for the trekking companies. The village people have few resources and are very supportive of each other. There are no government benefits to assist those who cannot work.

Ngima starts work aged twelve
Ngima's father died young and at the age of twelve Ngima started work as a trekking porter to help support the family. He could not have gone to school as it would have meant a two hour walk down a mountain track to get there each day. After two and half years as a porter he became a kitchen boy and after another one and half years he was promoted to guiding.

Self tutoring begins
From the time he was fourteen he began teaching himself to read and write - first Nepali which has its own system of writing, and then English from a Nepali/English dictionary. He practised his English by talking to the English-speaking trekkers. In 1991 he was sponsored for three months in the United Kingdom to improve his English. While there he realised how important education was and what a difference it made to people's lives.

Promotion to guiding
While he was working as a guide the trekkers were given forms to fill in evaluating the service of the guides. Ngima was rated so highly that he was appointed to lead increasingly large groups. In one year the size of the group he led went from two to twenty five. He continued to work as a guide for six years.

Establishment of Nepal Myths and Mountain Trails (P.) Ltd

Ngima with a trekking party
Ngima with a trekking party
Two years ago he was persuaded by some of the trekkers that he should start his own company. They showed their support of him by returning to Nepal to trek with his company. In just two years the company has flourished and during the last year, its second year in operation, organised and guided twenty seven trekking expeditions and ten peak-climbing expeditions in the smaller mountains in the Himalayas.

A range of treks offered
The trekking season is from March to mid May and from the end of September to the beginning of December. Different treks are organised to suit people with varying fitness. They range in length from five days to twenty six days. The most popular choice is a full trek where the group camps out each night. There are also lodge treks which cost less and are staffed by a guide and a porter. Treks are organised in both Nepal and Tibet.

Great care is taken to acclimatise trekkers to increasing altitudes to avoid problems with altitude sickness.

Sightseeing and rafting tours
Sightseeing tours are available for partners or friends who don't wish to go trekking. Tours include visits to Nepali villages, to monasteries, to areas which give wonderful mountain views, and to hills covered with flowering rhododendrons and other plants in season. Rafting tours in the beautiful rivers and gorges of Nepal are also very popular. In the summer it is often too wet and cloudy for mountain views so tours are offered in Tibet for visitors to see the way of life there and in Nepal to see the plants.

Marriage and family
Ngima is married and has two young sons. His wife is involved in Ngima's business. She runs a hostel and teahouse catering for trekkers in Khari Khola.

Resolve to work for the education of the Sherpa people
Running a business of this size would daunt many highly educated people. Ngima, who is largely self educated, copes with management and with participation in many of the treks. However, he realises that for the people in the remote villages of the Everest region to improve their lives education is essential.

School in Pangkoma
He returned from England in 1991 determined that his village would have a proper school to offer education to the children. Only 25% of the people in the area can read and write. A primary school was started in the village by Sir Edmund Hillary in the 1960s. It was a small building made of wood and stone with a slate roof. Children could get a little basic education there, but for any secondary education they had to go to Khari Khola. In 1990 the Pangkoma school partially collapsed and it was too dangerous for the children to attend school there. The school had been handed over to the government some years earlier, but there was no government funding for rebuilding it.

Ngima set out to raise money for a school for sixty children. The people of the village gave what they could. Ngima designed the building and acted as overseer during the construction. When the building of five rooms was finished there was no more money.

New Zealanders start fund raising
The story of how the New Zealanders became involved in the scheme is told in People Making Changes 33 and 34. They raised money for the stove, the wooden floor, the stone fence and the toilet block. The tree plantation was established. Once the school was finished the government then paid the wages for the teachers.

Barry and Ngima in the bamboo school at Mera
Barry and Ngima in the bamboo school at Mera
Another school desperately needed
The project was featured in the news media on its completion and Ngima received seven applications from other villages needing a school or a hospital. He was invited to the site of the Mera primary school to see the situation in that area. Ngima felt that it was a sad place. The people were very poor and uneducated and had a poor quality of life. Quite young children were working as carriers for the trekking companies, to try to earn enough for their families to survive. The school was a bamboo structure offering little protection from the elements.

From the seven applications Ngima chose to support next the plan for a school at Mera, as it seemed to him to be the place with the greatest need. The locals had collected the stones to build a school and made the window frames Ngima faxed Barry Sligh and the fund-raising team in New Zealand went into action again. US$2000 was taken personally when the team went to Pangkoma with the stove. Another US$3500 is needed.

Ngima writes on the bark of the betula utilis
Ngima writes on the bark of the betula utilis
Sale of betula utilis trees
The bark of this birch tree is used in remote areas in place of paper.. Plants are being raised here for sale to help the school funds. It is a very attractive tree rarely seen in New Zealand, and unlike other birch it grows in harmony with rhododendrons and does not rob the soil of nutrients needed for surrounding plant life.

The future Ngima sees for the villagers
Ngima believes that with education the people of Pangkoma and other villages will have more choice in their lives. Some will continue to be farmers, but others will build businesses associated with the tourist opportunities that are possible in their beautiful country. He has been able to offer employment to some of his family.

The team is supporting Ngima's sister by paying her fees to go to boarding school in Kathmandu. She hopes to train as a teacher and return to her village to teach in the school there.

This is the life pattern Ngima is working for - enrichment of village life, rather than a move to the city.

Contact Information
For information about trekking you can contact Ngima at:

Nepal Myths and Mountain Trails (P.) Ltd.
G.P.O Box 5571
Naxal
Kathmandu
NEPAL
Telephone: 429 894
Fax: 977-1-429674
Email: xnmm@trails.mos.com.np

If you wish to send a donation to the school building fund or buy the plants on sale to raise funds contact:

Barry Sligh
Taunton Gardens
Governors Bay Rd
R.D. 1
Governors Bay.
Telephone/Fax: (03) 329 9746




 
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