Triumph amid tragedy | VailDaily.com

Triumph amid tragedy

EAGLE COUNTY — Building homes and lives begins with a good foundation. In the part of Nepal where Pemba Tenzing Sherpa was born and raised, a home's foundation is built by chipping space out of the mountain rock. Foundation rocks are hammered by hand to make them fit together as tightly as possible.

Disaster relief in a place like Nepal is not for Facebook groups or the faint of heart. It's also the experience of a lifetime; you are literally saving lives, says Pemba, who now lives in Eagle County.

Where the Sherpa Foundation and Pemba Sherpa have been working for the last couple months, homes are generally built on mountainsides. The people for whom they're building a house almost never own the land downhill from them. Workers dig out the dirt and rocks and load it in a basket. The baskets are hung over people's foreheads and carried up — up because everything in Nepal feels like up — to dump the rubble on the land they do own.

Hero's welcome

Pemba and others from the Sherpa Foundation have been in remote Nepal for weeks and will stay for several more. Before they leave, they'll help rebuild 12 houses and repair a dozen more.

On the first day, they flew from Kathmandu to Lukla Airport, the world's most dangerous airport, to meet two Russian Mi-17 military helicopters loaded with enough roofing supplies for 12 homes.

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The local community met them with a hero's welcome.

The welcome soon dispersed as men strapped those galvanized metal roofing sheets to their backs and heads, and carried them away to the 12 homes that would be rebuilt on this trip.

That's how everything is delivered in that part of Nepal. No trucks or cars, only the occasional yak to help carry the loads.

The Sherpa Foundation roofing is blue galvanized steel, heavier gauge than most others. You can tell it's a Sherpa Foundation because it's blue, and because the houses have big red Sherpa Foundation banners hanging on them.

Quakes and floods

Record flooding followed the 2015 earthquakes that killed 9,000 people and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands more. Rebuilding and relief projects are everywhere in Nepal.

One family bought a bit of land along a popular trekking trail with hopes of building a teahouse and generating some income. Between the earthquakes and floods the teahouse is gone, along with their dreams.

A woman's husband died last year, leaving her with two small children. The three live in what amounts to a woven basket. To get water she has to walk a half-mile down to the river. She burns yak dung for heat.

Stories like these are everywhere in Nepal.

On their way trekking from the Lukla Airport, this team from Eagle County saw houses still in rubble from the earthquakes. On their way back down a week later, they saw that workers had hand chiseled enough stones to rebuild a house.

No one gets paid

The Sherpa Foundation raises money all year and sends it to Nepal to fund rebuilding projects.

"Any donation is so appreciated, all the way from the Himalayas," Pemba said in a phone call from Kathmandu.

Everything is inspected before any materials or any funds are handed over.

"It's easy to be fooled, and many organizations are. I'm local. This is my community and my people," Pemba said. "Both the Vail Valley and the Khumbu Valley are my community and my people."

The Sherpa Foundation has received more donations since they've been in Nepal, but so much more is needed, Pemba said.

"There are still so many families who need help. There is so much more we need to do, so many more families," he added.

"Someday, when people who are traveling in the Everest region of Nepal, I hope they will be very proud of what they accomplished and supported," Pemba said.

Pemba launched the Sherpa Foundation after the earthquakes. No one takes a dime for their Sherpa Foundation work. Every penny goes to help the people of Nepal. The money does not filter through any governments.

"My job and dedication is to make sure the trust and support from the people of the valley gets to the people of Nepal who need it most. I will do everything to fulfill that commitment," Pemba said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached by calling 970-748-2935 and emailing 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 and for more information, go to sherpafoundation.org.