Previous Projects and Events – 2019
Here is a short summary of our projects in 2019:
- School is in Session – Climate Change – unprecedented snowfall
- Public Health – Safe Drinking Water – Testing / Assessment
- REED – Year 1 Teacher Training at Dunai – Completed!
- Karang Hostel in Kathmandu
- 200 Days for Girls menstrual hygiene kits
- Dorje Dolma Book Tour – Yak Girl!
- Solar Lights by LuminAID
- Additional “Ways to Donate”
- The high passes were extremely difficult to cross this year due to an unprecedented amount of snowfall. Climate change is real here; in 2017 there was little to no snow in the passes and in 2019, the amount of snow delayed passage to the villages and in some cases required lengthy detours. The heavy snowfall events caused severe problems in the Dolpo. One child from Saldang was killed by an avalanche. Many animals were trapped in avalanches and died. Some access routes were severely damaged by avalanches.
In 2019 we funded five schools:
- Saldang – our first school, we are working in conjunction with Freunde Nepal of Germany
- Komang – our second school, in conjunction with Tripod of Koma from Sweden
- Karang – the third school, we added Karang with a grant in 2016; we are now the primary sponsor for this school with some ancillary support from Switzerland and the US
- Ku – in 2018 we provided a one-time grant to Ku. After meeting with the school coordinator in December we decided to continue our support. This school has multiple sponsors.
- Tiling – this is a new school for us. In February, I met with the people from Tiling when they lost a primary sponsor. For 2019, we have agreed to a one-time grant to fund the transport of all supplies and to purchase food supplies for teachers and for student lunches.
We determined that, once the schools were funded, it was critical that we begin to meet challenges in areas of public health and improved medical care access. Water and sanitation-related diseases are some of the primary reasons children don’t make it to their fifth birthday.
Public Health – Safe Drinking Water
Nurses from the Upper Dolpo and public health specialists maintain that at least 50% of the Dolpo’s health problems are related to contaminated drinking water. Many get sick with vomiting and diarrhea, especially during the rainy season when water from the hillsides, littered with dung, collects in the water courses. Diarrhea killed a five-year-old child at Saldang this summer and one project teacher came perilously close to death. Even after infusing four bags of saline the nurse was still not sure the teacher would survive the night.
We have begun work with ENPHO, (Environment and Public Health Organization). They are a NGO that specializes in the “WASH” program (water purification, sanitation – compost toilets and general hygiene practices). WASH was started by CAWST, a Canadian NGO. Both NGOs work with people in impoverished areas; they are experts in providing cost effective, simple technologies for access to safe drinking water, compost toilets and hygiene.
Clean water really does save lives.
Bipin Dangol, Executive Director, met with us to introduce ENPHO programs to school coordinators
REED – Teacher Training Initiative
Altitude Project, along with 8 other NGOs from around the world, provided funding for the first year of a teacher training program. Sixty teachers from the Upper Dolpo received ten days of training in Dunai in the Lower Dolpo. This training is important – most of the project teachers are not trained as teachers. They are people from the Dolpo who have completed high school and / or college in Kathmandu and that wish to return to help people in their villages. Part of the training program includes follow-up in the field to help the teachers implement their new skills. This is an exciting initiative and we are proud to be part of it. It will improve the learning outcomes for students and it provides a path to certification for these teachers. The training program will be ongoing for at least two more years.
The health posts at Namdo, Saldang and Karang provide very basic care. They are closed in the winter, the time of year when people get very sick! Very treatable diseases and injuries can be life altering, or life ending.
The infant mortality rate is ~50% here and ~25% of mothers die during childbirth. There is an amazing hospital at Bhejir (funded by American and Swiss donors) but patients must cross a 5,000+ meter pass to get there – not an easy task even when healthy! A long-term goal is to create a similar small-scale hospital at either Saldang or Karang that could provide a higher level of health care with basic testing like blood chemistry and ultrasound. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the annual budget of the hospital at Bhejir is only $35,000 US. Last year they treated ~1,000 patients.
Most nurses in the Upper Dolpo are originally from this region and have returned to help their villages. Tashi Bhuti Lama, originally from Bhejir, decided to become a nurse at age 3 when she witnessed her mother’s death during childbirth. Now 29 years-old, she is a shining example of how education in the Dolpo helps their communities.
9 year old Jigme lost his hand, and nearly his life, because he lived several weeks away from medical help, and antibiotics, in Kathmandu. His story underscores the desperate need for a small hospital in Karang or Saldang that is open year round.
Enjoy the video. His joy is contagious! Altitude Project initiated contact with Victoria Hand Project and I was privileged to be with Jigme in Kathmandu for the final fitting of his new prosthetic hand. I met with him 2 months later and he said it is so much like a real hand that he sometimes forgets that it is not.
Yak Girl – Dorje Dolma ‘YAK GIRL’ book tour!
Dorje was extremely well received at each stop on her book tour (9 events in 7 days!). At venues in Nelson, Vernon and Kelowna attendance records were smashed. One of Altitude’s goals with this project was to broaden our audience about our work in the Dolpo. Mission accomplished! The number of new donors and people interested in Altitude Project as a result of Dorje Dolma’s “Yak Girl” book tour last winter exceeded expectations.
An award winning documentary, about her brother, The Only Son, was screened at the Nelson Civic Theatre, February 4.
The next event for Dorje was to be the keynote speaker at the WOW Women’s Achiever Awards in Kathmandu as part of International Women’s Day celebrations. Turkish Airlines and Hyatt Regency sponsored her trip! Please visit her website to see her latest news. And buy her book!
“A rare and fascinating testimony, told from the inside, of a little girl who made an incredible trip from inner Dolpo to America—and from the Middle Ages to the 21st century.”
—Eric Valli, director of the Oscar-nominated film Himalaya
This unusual memoir immerses the reader in the fascinating story of a spirited girl in a remote, undeveloped region of Nepal near the border of Tibet, a place made known to the world in Peter Matthiesen’s The Snow Leopard. Life above 13,000 feet in northern Dolpo―often called the last paradise because of its breathtaking snow-capped peaks, untouched beauty, and hand-irrigated green pastures―was one of constant risk and harsh survival. In the 1980s, Dolpo had no running water, electricity, motor vehicles, phones, school, or doctors, other than the local lamas, trained in the use of herbs and prayer.
Dorje Dolma’s life centered around the care of her numerous younger brothers and sisters and the family’s sheep, goats, and yaks. At age five she began herding and was soon taking the animals high in the mountains, where she fought off predatory wolves and snow leopards. Covering her first ten years, the story takes Dorje from her primitive mountain village to the bewildering city of Kathmandu, and finally to a new home in America, where she receives life saving surgery.
With humor, soul, and insightful detail, the author gives us vividly told vignettes of daily life and the practice of centuries-old Tibetan traditions. She details the heartbreaking trials, natural splendors, and familial joys of growing up in this mysterious, faraway part of the world with its vanishing culture. The sharp increase in recent years of western trekkers to the area, and the introduction of modern communication and transportation, is causing rapid change in Dolpo. This wonderful and surprising tale of survival, loss, and self-reflection offers us entry to this difficult, yet magical place.
Above all, this is the inspiring story of an indomitable spirit conquering all obstacles, a tale of a girl with a disability on her way to becoming a dynamic woman in a new world.
Dorje at the Jaipur Literature Festival, in a panel discussion, and with Simon Winchester and Wade Davis
THE ONLY SON
was screened at the Nelson Civic Theatre.
Tickets were $11.
All proceeds went to the people of the Dolpo
The Only Son is a documentary about Yak Girl Dorje Dolma’s family and the challenge of keeping Dolpo’s ancient culture alive. Dorje’s brother, Pema, grew up in the Rokpa Children’s Home in Kathmandu. The film centres on their parent’s expectation that Pema will return to Dolpo when he graduates, marry a Dolpa woman, and manage the family land.
photo courtesy of Wiro Felix
Thanks to the kind generosity of so many, Altitude Project reached our goal of $30,000. and was able to support all projects planned for the year!
Here is a short summary of our projects in 2018:
Support for 3 schools: Provide primary education for a minimum of 160 students, hire and pay teachers; purchase school supplies!
Saldang school required less support for regular operating costs in 2018 than in the past two years, as the German group, Freunde Nepal, was able to gain some ground on their fundraising since we began helping them two years ago.
However, there was a continuing need to repair and replace more roofs and we were asked to help with this infrastructure project. Learn more
We continued to support Tenzin Norbu, a Saldang graduate, he entered class 8 this year. Saldang School only goes to class 6. The schools at Karang and Komas go to class 5. In order to continue their education at a Tibetan high school, students must move to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal and a world away from the Dolpo. Please read more, these are truly amazing kids!
We helped the school at Komas in 2017 and continued with the same level of support in 2018. This school is also supported by a group from Sweden and a woman from Germany, and we are coordinating our efforts with them.
The school desperately needed a new toilet block consisting of three toilets; girls, boys and staff – currently there is one toilet that works. Altitude Project provided funding for this much needed project. The work was done very early in the season.
We became involved with the school at Karang to a very minor extent in 2017. We visited this school in October 2017 and learned of their complete loss of sponsorship. In 2018 we became their the primary sponsor.
The infrastructure at this school is in good condition and they have a very good greenhouse.
Himalayan Komang Hostel
Nyima Bhuti is a young woman from Komas who manages the hostel in Kathmandu for Komas students who are going to high school. She is the daughter of Tulku lama, who runs the school at Komas.
Nyima has been managing the hostel for four years without any compensation because there was no money. She cares for 26 children, getting them to rise early for their Tibetan lessons and prayer time before their regular school session begins. We were able to pay her a nominal salary for the tremendous work that she does for the children from her village.
Purchase of 125 portable solar lights for villagers
In October of 2017 when we trekked to the Upper Dolpo to visit the schools, we took 15 portable solar lights. The cost of each light is ~ $20 US. They provide ~ 150 lumens and can be hung like a lantern – a very practical design. We wanted to test their durability and usefulness so only took a few.
Very quickly there was a request for 125 more lights, complete with names of individuals and their village location. Many families in the Dolpo rely on fire as their only light source and these lights proved to be extremely useful; as a general light in the home, to travel to the toilet at night; to help students read and study in the evenings, and to visit neighbours.
Many of the older adults suffer from very poor eyesight due to exposure to long hours of sunlight working in the fields at such high elevation (14,000 feet!). They say these lights have really improved their quality of life.
We are able to purchase these lights at a considerable discount for charitable purposes through LuminAID and offer very special thanks for their help!
LuminAid shipped the lights to Kathmandu. There was some difficulty clearing the shipment through customs in Kathmandu but our good friends at Happy Feet Mountaineering Pvt. Ltd. were able to navigate the requirements in time for them to be transported to the Upper Dolpo and distributed to the people identified by Pema.
The 2017 fundraising campaign for Saldang School was a huge success! The goal was $15,000 and we raised $17,700 thanks to 100+ people!
Seedlings in the spring, vegetables in the summer and fall, a bright and warm classroom in the winter, the greenhouse project has been a great success! They have already asked for help building a second one.
2) The purchase of a Thuraya Satellite Phone
so the school can communicate with the outside world to provide periodic updates but most importantly in case of medical emergencies. This is potentially life saving.
Peter Werth was able to purchase the Thuraya Satellite phone for us in the US for half what it would have cost Pema in Nepal. He was on his way to Kathmandu so he delivered it too. Thank you Peter!
4) The completion of the perimeter compound wall
5) A New Source of Water for the School
There was one water supply pipe to the village; it supported domestic needs, irrigation needs and the school. The village complained that the school used too much of this precious resource. Pema located a new spring in the mountain, and needed financial assistance from us to run a new pipe from there to the school.
6) And we asked Pema, the school coordinator, to purchase some footballs and skipping ropes, and also a warm pair of socks for each child!
7) We contacted LuminAID, a company that manufactures innovative, light weight solar lights. They provided the lights at a discounted price that they offer to non-profit societies.
I was able to take some to the Dolpo in October to distribute to households that Pema felt would benefit from having a light.
8) We were able to provide funds to accommodate Tenzin,
a 2016 graduate from Class 6 in Saldang who was not able to be accommodated at Shelter108. He will attend the Srongtsen Bhrikuti Boarding High School, also in Kathmandu. It is a school of the Tibetan Exile Government.
We received a grateful thank you letter from Tenzin. We also received a message from Tenzin’s father that he “is very much happy and blessed with the support from Altitude project and wishes to convey his warm gratitude and appreciation for the help”.
We discovered that two neighbouring schools were also desperate for additional support in 2017:
1) The school at Komas,
a full day’s walk to the east from Saldang lost the support of its French founder and benefactor. He was killed in a very unfortunate para-sailing accident. Some people from Sweden and a generous woman from Germany had already stepped up to provide some support but they were still short of funds and Altitude Project was able to fill that gap!
2) The school at Karang,
a two hour walk to the north of Saldang, also lost its support from the group that had been sponsoring it. The circumstances around the loss of funding are not completely understood but they lost all of it. They are very fortunate to have Peter Werth of Himalaya Currents step in with some major support. Altitude Project was able to contribute a modest sum to help as well.
Location of Saldang, Karang and Khoma
Thank you to all who were able to donate this time!
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
― Albert Einstein