Pemba Sherpa launched Sherpa Foundation and is receiving Nepal’s equivalent of knighthood | VailDaily.com

Pemba Sherpa launched Sherpa Foundation and is receiving Nepal’s equivalent of knighthood

VAIL — Pemba Sherpa is a little behind with his thank-you letters. He hopes you understand.

He's scrambling before he heads back to Nepal for two-and-a-half months so the Sherpa Foundation can rebuild more homes and lives devastated by earthquakes, mudslides and hopelessness.

As you recall, Pemba and the Sherpa Foundation were in Nepal last year, repairing 96 homes and rebuilding 12 others reduced to earthquake rubble.

While he's there, he'll keep running his Sherpa Painting business and answering his cell phone in the middle of the night because customers forget that the time difference between Nepal and Colorado is 11 hours and 45 minutes.

Sir Pemba

You can also call to congratulate him because he's about to be awarded Nepal's equivalent of knighthood and Medal of Honor.

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The Most Puissant Order of the Gorkha Dakshina Bahu (Order of the Gurkha Right Arm or Hand) is one of Nepal's highest civilian or military honors. It had been bestowed by the king since 1896.

Pemba will receive one of the first bestowed by Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Nepal's first female head of state, elected last October.

"We're looking forward to bringing it back to this community, as an honor for the good work done here for the people of Nepal," Pemba said.

He wasn't looking for fame, and certainly has not found fortune doing running the Sherpa Foundation.

"Lots of people seek fame and publicity, but the Sherpa Foundation sought none of it. Still, by keeping it quiet, word got out. Maybe this will encourage others to do try to change things for people," Pemba said.

For love, not money

No one is paid one thin dime for their Sherpa Foundation work. There are no salaries and no administration costs.

Every cent is spent in Nepal to help people. They even buy their own plane tickets.

Some of his board members tell him to hire someone to answer the phone, at least.

He smiles warmly and says that's money that could provide someone a new roof or keep a kid warm and dry through another brutal Nepali winter.

Pemba and nine other Vail Valley locals leave on Thursday and are headed back to Nepal for more relief work and a trek or two. Pemba will be there for longer than two months, working and helping other people rebuild their homes.

Nepal's economy relies almost completely on tourism, so Pemba is taking nine Eagle County people to his native country, where they'll be guided to Everest Base Camp, but along a route that only locals know.

"Most people who go to Everest Base Camp get there by taking a particular route. It's a little like driving through the Vail Valley on Interstate 70. There's so much you don't see. These people will get to see places and meet people that almost no other tourists can," Pemba said.

It's also better for the guides. They'll earn 50 percent more working with the Sherpa Foundation than they would from a for-profit company, because the Sherpa Foundation doesn't take a cut of that either.

People power

He recently ordered metal roofing material for 12 homes, and it should be there about the same time he is. Transporting it will take your breath away.

Each bundle of metal roofing weighs 85 kilos, or 187 pounds.

Each house needs eight bundles.

Each of those 96 bundles has to be carried on the backs of Nepali people. There are no roads. Yaks will handle some of it, but yaks can't climb some of these paths and hills. So it's people power, all the way from the Lukla airport — the most dangerous airport in the world — to the village where they'll be working.

That's a four-day trek.

Pemba isn't asking anyone to do anything he hasn't done himself. He was a porter as a kid and hauled these kinds of loads and more.

His village was so remote that he didn't see a car until he was 12 years old.

"It's still that way," he said.

By the way, six of those homes are in Surke village and were repaired after the earthquakes, only to be washed away in the mud.

Globally local

You get there by connecting locals here to locals there. Pemba is a local in both the Vail Valley and Nepal.

Last year Nepal was a mess. First the earthquakes, then the monsoons and mudslides. In the middle of all that was a feud with India that kept building supplies from getting through. – unless you know someone. The Sherpa Foundation's building materials found their way to the villages where they were needed.

"I'm just the delivery guy. I just know where things need to be delivered," Pemba said.

When the earthquakes hit, 800,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, and 10,000 people were killed.

That first year they repaired 96 homes and built 12 more, all for a little more than $115,000 — every penny was raised locally.

A little money goes a long way in Nepal, and they spend no more than $7,000 on a home.

But those earthquakes softened the ground and were followed by Nepal's worst rains in 34 years. Thousands more houses were damaged or destroyed in mudslides.

That hopelessness pushed many Nepali people to suicide, Pemba said.

"When their homes were devastated, they had no hope. The permanent solution is a home where they can feel safe," Pemba said.

People's attention spans are short, and they easily forget faraway places.

He explains it again and again to anyone who asks.

"Many people don't know what happened there, or even where Nepal is," Pemba said. "Nepal is being pushed to the back burner. I want them to know they're still there and they still desperately need help."

How was this done

In those rare moments when his world is quiet, he asks his wife how all this happened. With lots of help, one person and one village at a time, comes his answer.

"We are so sincerely grateful to everyone, and especially our hard-working board members," Pemba said. "When you build 12 complete homes in the Everest region with the Sherpa Foundation banner hanging there, the community sees it."

You can still help.

"When people learn how much how much has been done, and how much must still be done, their generosity opens up," Pemba said.

Staff writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

To help

The Sherpa Foundation is a local 501-C-3 non-profit that puts money directly into Nepali villages devastated by the earthquakes, monsoon mudslides, and crushing poverty.

To donate and for more information, go to sherpafoundation.org.