Steamboat-Fort Collins nonprofit extends a hand to Sherpa communities in Nepal |

Steamboat-Fort Collins nonprofit extends a hand to Sherpa communities in Nepal

Dawa Yangzum

When Maya Sherpa was eight years old, she studied in the Solukhumbu region of Nepal, meeting Sherpa children her own age and witnessing their way of life. During her time there, she realized that, although rich in culture, remote Sherpa communities did not have the resources she did growing up. From there, she and her family created the Maya Sherpa Project, with the intention of providing Sherpa communities with resources for a holistically sustainable life.

The Maya Sherpa Project reaches out to Sherpa villages that generally do not receive the benefits of the tourism industry because they are not on trekking circuits. Since the government does not have the capacity to extend its services to these remote villages, access to health care, education and environmental sustainability techniques is limited.

Through the Maya Sherpa Project’s fundraising efforts and service trips, members of the nonprofit can provide these resources to this type of village, specifically the remote village of Mera in the Solukhumbu region of the Himalayas.

The nonprofit, based in Steamboat and Fort Collins, organized its first service trip in May 2011 after Fort Collins resident Dawa Sherpa’s daughter, Maya Sherpa, attended school in the Solukhumbu region and made it her mission to help villages like the one in which she had lived.

During the trip, members, including Steamboat resident and board member Pattie Moon, provided secular education for the monks, health care assessments and worked on tree reforestation and erosion control projects.

Since then, the Maya Sherpa Project has sent out other service treks, including one in October 2013, established scholarships for girls in Mera and begun drafting plans for community projects addressing the April 2014 avalanche and the April 2015 earthquake.

The Maya Sherpa Project is accepting donations for these disaster-relief community projects exclusively for education of victims by rebuilding the schools, clinics and monasteries

“Monasteries are really the social center of these villages and essential to their daily lives,” Moon said. “If winter comes, and someone doesn’t have a home, they have the school and the monastery to live in.”

The Maya Sherpa project also generates some of this fundraising from talks given in Colorado by one of the best female mountaineers in the world, Dawa Yangzum.

Yangzum grew up in a Sherpa community in a remote village near the Katmandu Valley. Although she only has a third-grade education, Yangzum launched herself into the world of climbing, a world that is generally not welcoming to a Nepali woman.

Her major summits include Mt. Everest and K2, the second highest mountain in the world and arguably one of the most technical climbs. In 2016, she plans to climb Kanchenjunga, the third-tallest mountain in the world.

“Most females don’t get the opportunity or aren’t allowed to go away for three months climbing,” Yangzum said. “Most people say, ‘I’m really proud of you,’ but others say this is not my job, and I’m wasting my time.”

At her talk at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday at the Bud Werner Memorial Library, Yangzum, who currently lives in Fort Collins, will present to the Steamboat community her accomplishments and life as female Sherpa climber.

“If I can’t be in Nepal doing relief, at least I can help fundraise,” she said.

Regardless of the benefits the Sherpas derives from the Maya Sherpa Project’s efforts, Moon stresses the mutualistic nature of the relationship she and the other members have developed with the Sherpa communities.

“We don’t want to change them, and so we have created an exchange of cultures that has introduced me to the amazing people in Sherpa communities,” Moon said. “Like many people, we went for the mountains, but go back for the people.”

To reach Liz Forster, call 970-871-4374, email or follow her on Twitter @LizMForster

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