Rebuilding Nepal, one life at a time | VailDaily.com

Rebuilding Nepal, one life at a time

With money raised in the Vail Valley, the local Sherpa Foundation helped rebuild and repair 103 homes in Nepal's Cheplung village, after two major earthquakes and countless aftershocks rocked the region.
Special to the Daily |

To help

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

To donate, go to sherpafoundation.org.

EDWARDS — Pemba Sherpa of the Sherpa Foundation went to Nepal with plans to rebuild 57 earthquake-destroyed homes.

Instead they rebuilt 103, all with the money raised in a few months in the Vail Valley.

First, give yourselves a pat on the back for helping make that possible.

Second, as long as your hand is back there, reach for your wallet because there’s still work to do.

“I feel honored to represent the Vail Valley in successfully completing this mission. I feel fortunate to call this valley my home and gain the trust of the locals who helped raise money to help. People need to know that there is a local organization doing this. But there is so much more to do.”

It begins at home

Pemba owns and runs Sherpa Painting. He was raised in Nepal’s Cheplung Village, where he spent the past two months coordinating everything from distributing money to delivering building materials.

The homecoming was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

“Receiving the money, they were so happy. Giving it to them gave me a feeling that is indescribable,” Pemba said. “The locals were overjoyed the day we distributed the money. They danced until 4 o’clock in the morning.”

When two major earthquakes rocked Nepal last spring and killed 12,000 people, Pemba’s first inclination was a jump on a plane. Instead, he launched the nonprofit Sherpa Foundation and raised more than $100,000 in a few months.

They made the money stretch.

Not only did they build houses, they rebuilt families’ living standards.

“People like to donate for education and buildings, and there are very many of those,” Pemba said. “Very few support basic family needs. They need good homes to be able to learn, to concentrate.”

Home field advantage

Pemba was there earlier this year to visit, but when he returned two months ago, he saw the devastation first hand.

“It was heartbreaking to see how everyone and everything was shaken and broken, especially the spirit of the people,” Pemba said.

The Nepali people are among the warmest on earth, but were unable to help each other.

“They were panicked. The earthquakes and aftershocks just kept coming and coming,” Pemba said.

When he arrived, he didn’t tell anyone he’d brought the money the Sherpa Foundation raised. He spent two weeks investigating and getting the facts.

“Money is a funny thing. It walks pretty fast,” Pemba said.

He wanted to make sure the money went where it was supposed to. It did, he said.

That’s all part of Pemba’s home court advantage.

“Pemba’s friends and connections make it all happen. It was amazing to watch what he was able to get done,” said Tyler Wells, of Alpenglo Media, which is putting together a Sherpa Foundation documentary to show the earthquake’s devastation and what life was like before it hit.

Like the day Wells was flying a drone, doing some filming. Apparently it’s illegal to fly drones in Nepal without government permission. Wells could have had his drone and all his video gear confiscated and been fined $10,000. Pemba somehow smoothed everything over. No one’s sure how.

Plus there’s the Sherpa Foundation’s home field advantage.

“What could be better than to have people working there who know everything about the region?” Pemba said.

Getting it all on film

Wells spent most of those two months in Nepal with Pemba, and he isn’t taking a cut. Alpenglo does wedding videos and other kinds of video, and he figures he’ll be fine. Pemba doesn’t take a salary either, nor does the Sherpa Foundation employ anyone who does.

That makes the Sherpa Foundation one of the rare nonprofits that funnels every dime to the people it helps.

“Everything starts in the home,” Pemba said. “Poor kids want to go to school, but their homes have no light or no heat. Some organizations want to build schools while the families are sleeping on a dirt floor.”

Hope through help

It’s different than anything we can conceive of in America. Suddenly the people of Nepal’s homes were destroyed and they had nothing and were expecting no help from anyone. There’s no homeowners insurance in Nepal, Wells said.

People were living moldy tents with dirt floors, Wells said.

There’s no such thing as central heat. There’s usually one old-fashioned heating stove for the whole house. Wells slept in a zero degree bag when he was there in November.

They’re putting solar cells on the homes, and for many it is the first time they’ve had electricity or lights in their homes.

Please visit Nepal

Although the earthquakes have made tourists a little skittish, Pemba is encouraging Americans to visit. Nepal needs it now more than ever. Hire a guide for a few days or weeks and a family gets to eat for a year.

“The trekking season is short, and Nepal and the Sherpa people need tourism. It’s safe in the mountains. The food is even better in the mountains. It’s all organic,” Pemba said.

The flights go into remote regions filled with building materials and haul passengers out. If the tourists don’t fly, neither do materials.

One day there was one flight out of Cheplung Village, theirs, Wells said. They were happy to wait on the tarmac for the materials to be unloaded before they could get aboard to fly to Kathmandu.

Every piece of construction material has to be flown in, then carried for miles on people’s backs.

A human can carry a small refrigerator, or five to six sheets of plywood, or metal roofing material, or concrete, or rebar.

Everything is done by hand. There are no excavators or backhoes. They smash rocks to make building materials.

Cinder blocks are made by pouring material into a mold.

“That’s every day for them. That’s what they expect,” Wells said. “They do not expect two major earthquakes back-to-back, and thousands of aftershocks all summer.”

They spent months trying to rebuild emotionally as they tried to rebuild their homes.

Rebuilding efforts are also hampered by a blockade by India’s government, which doesn’t like some of the provisions in Nepal’s new constitution.

“No matter what happens between the governments, it’s the poor who suffer,” Pemba said.

“They still need a lot of help,” Wells said. “Hopefully we get to do more for these people.”

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