Sherpa Foundation is on the ground in Nepal | VailDaily.com

Sherpa Foundation is on the ground in Nepal

EAGLE COUNTY — This is a victory story. Actually, it's dozens of victory stories.

When earthquakes rocked Nepal and killed more than 8,000 people, Pemba Sherpa resisted the urge to jump on a plane and fly home to Cheplung village, where he grew up.

Instead, he stayed here in the Vail Valley and waded through the long, tedious process of starting the nonprofit Sherpa Foundation. They raised awareness; they raised money; they raised support.

A couple of weeks ago, Pemba, Tyler Wells and Barrett Langendorfer, with Alpenglo Media, finally boarded a plane and are in Cheplung village, passing out the money they raised.

When you have nothing, and what you have is under tons of earthquake rubble, it's all the money in the world — their world, at least.

"Some people said they had never counted that much money at one time in their lives," Pemba said. "People were amazed. They had never experienced anything like it."

Recommended Stories For You

74 homes

The entire village gathered in the big square around a Stupa, and they started passing out money from the Sherpa Foundation — enough money to repair 74 homes, just in time to provide protection from the brutal Himalayan winter.

Pemba owns and runs a successful local business, Sherpa Painting. He grew up in Cheplung village, but it's been a while since he has been back, he said.

"Returning after so many years, it's amazing how they live their lives, what they have to do to get by. It's how I grew up. When you see it, you might think, 'I can't believe I did that,'" Pemba said.

But he did.

Hike to help

During that ceremony they passed out about the same amount of money to everyone. During the next few days they hiked from house to house, passing out more money, according to how badly damaged peoples homes were.

They'd take a photo, count the number of people living there and figure out who needs what. That took three days. The valley is miles long, starts at 9,000 feet above sea level and goes up toward Everest base camp.

Building supplies started rolling in the day after the celebration in the village square.

Delivery is a Herculean task. Most things must be flown from Kathmandu to Lukla, and then hauled on foot to Cheplung village.

A shipment of solar panels arrived from Interplex Energy in Denver. Sherpa Foundation board member Dr. Jon Kedrowski helped coordinate that delivery.

One family lives in a shack with walls so thin you can see through them. It wasn't on their list, but Pemba and Tyler wandered over there anyway. They found six kids living there.

"They don't have a light in the house. Can you imagine putting a light in someone's house who has never had one?" Pemba asked.

Reuse and rebuild

Langendorfer rolls out of bed at 6 a.m. most mornings, greets people with a cheerful "Namaste" and smiles as he welcomes another exciting day of pulling nails from wood with a hammer, and straightening those nails with a rock.

"It may not be the most exciting job, but it may be the most rewarding," Langendorfer said.

They reuse everything — wood, nails — everything.

"There is no running to Home Depot," Langendorfer said.

As he labors away, he looks at the Stupa he helped build two years ago. The incense is wafting toward the mountains, up the road toward Mt. Everest.

Capturing the gratitude

Wells has been recording everything. Every impression, every reaction.

Weeks into this with weeks to go, he's still amazed with the dichotomy.

"It's heartbreaking. People were still living in Red Cross tents," Wells said.

And yet …

"People were so hospitable and so warm," he said.

After that ceremony where they passed out the money Vail Valley locals generously gave the Sherpa Foundation, the Cheplung villagers, who have seen every sort of death and destruction this year, even threw them a party with a traditional dinner and Sherpa dancing and singing — until about 4 a.m.

"You could see the gratitude on their faces," Wells said. "It was very effective charity.

"It's mountain culture and a tight-knit community."

Some days they're exhausted, but the work does not end.

"There's still a lot to do here," 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.

To donate, go to sherpafoundation.org