Building a school, high in the Himalayas |

Building a school, high in the Himalayas

Special to the DailyTwo 11-year old monks in training befriend Holly Domke at a local

VAIL ” There are no roads leading to Chulemu, a tiny village tucked away in the mountainous jungles of Nepal.

So building a new schoolhouse for the villagers there requires a good pair of hiking boots, a strong back and lots of mud.

On a 17-day service trip to Nepal, students from Vail Mountain School worked side by side with the locals in Chulemu to find mud, haul it back to the village and pack it into the school house walls for insulation and waterproofing.

They hauled large boards on their backs for a quarter mile to build the inside walls. The nails were a two-hour hike away. They also went further into the forest to collect a rare, special mud that could be turned into a natural paint.

The new school house will significantly increase the quality of life for the children there, who in the past had to walk two hours to get to school, said Ryan Gray, a teacher at Vail Mountain School and a leader on the trip. A good education is one of the few things that can lead the children here out of a life of poverty.

The trip, taken this past summer, was part of the school’s Ethically Engaged Youth program, which organizes in-depth service projects in some of the most impoverished areas of the world. Students leave the trips with a better understanding of what sort of economic, cultural and geographic conditions create poverty in the world.

The school also has organized similar service trips to India and New Orleans.

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries. Landlocked by India and China and nestled in the Himalayas, exporting and importing goods are difficult and expensive, and electricity is scarce, said Vail Mountain School senior Devon Ferguson.

Its one pull is tourism, as adventurous mountaineers flock to Nepal to find eight of the 10 highest peaks in the world, including the tallest, Mount Everest. Even tourism, though, has slowed down because of government instability, the students said.

“In Nepal, it’s all about survival,” said Forrest Graves, a senior. “Making money to spend is secondary to having enough food or a place to stay.”

Starting in the capital of Kathmandu, the students began an eight-day trek by foot through the mountains, stopping for a night in a monastery and staying four days in the village of Chulemu, where the students helped build the school and stayed with Nepalese families, said Joely Denkinger, who graduated from the school this past year. The students also helped build a volleyball court, with volleyball being one of their favorite pastimes.

The students then went back to Kathmandu, where they visited children at the Friendship House, which protects young girls from being sold into child labor and sex trade. They also visited youth at the Nutritional Rehabilitation Home, which works to restore the health of severely malnourished children while teaching mothers about nutrition.

The students didn’t really do service projects at the Friendship house or the Nutritional Rehabilitation Home ” the mission was really to learn more about each other’s culture, Gray said.

Most of the students described some sort of culture shock. Holly Domke, a junior, said she had a hard time wrapping her head around places with no electricity or plumbing, cities where trash literally covered the street and where there wasn’t a paved road in site.

At first, she wanted to go home, but then it turned into one of the most life changing, and wonderful, experiences she could hope for, she said at a presentation at Vail Mountain School.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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