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Working in Partnership – a Mount Everest Legacy

PWorking in partnership: the legacy of Mount Everest 1953

When news of the world’s first successful ascent to the very top of Mount Everest hit the world’s press on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, life changed for a large number of people. Not least the team members themselves. They were led by the brilliant Lord Hunt, who not only oversaw the expedition, but welded the team of climbers from several different countries into a group of lifelong friends. Together, the group made a lasting commitment to support those who had provided them with some of the most significant help in achieving their ambition. Namely, the community of people who made the mountainous Himalayan region their home.

Sir Edmund Hillary, speaking in 1954 with New Zealand climber and fellow team member, George Lowe while in the Nepalese village of Khumjung, said: “We must do something to help these people”. There were no schools, no healthcare facilities and the Sherpas were living in harsh conditions. It was felt by everyone present that something had to be done to support the local community and help them raise their standards of living.

While the team was in the village, a young boy presented them with a petition. It read: “We have eyes but we cannot see; we have ears but we cannot hear. We know there is a big world out there, will you help us to have a school?” The team of Sherpas who lived in the area had provided Hillary, Hunt and the rest of the team incredible support during their Everest expedition in 1953. It was decided to pay that back by offering as much help as possible to the village and wider community.

Raising awareness and funds
The climbers returned home and started to raise money to help fund various activities in the region. They presented a series of lectures around the world and so inspired an influential group of people who began raising funds for the work in return. This led to the founding of a number of charitable trusts and foundations, all aimed at raising money for the Sherpas and their communities in Nepal.

Charities sprung up in New Zealand, Canada, USA, UK, Australia, France and Germany. Many of these still support charitable initiatives and collaborations in the area 70 years on. Each Trust operates as a separate entity, due to the different laws of each country but many of their members are firm friends who share their individual contributions to fund valuable work.

Making a difference
Ed Hillary’s greatest achievement, in his own words, was not reaching the summit of Mt Everest, but “the building and maintaining of schools and medical clinics for my good friends in the Himalaya…” His work is being continued by various Himalayan Trusts around the world whose work centres around providing educational and health support in the form of education and health staff training, school-, hospital- and health centre building programmes, providing access to basic needs (eg water and energy), improving hygiene standards and raising awareness about the importance of good health amongst the communities. The work is underpinned by a desire to work in partnership with the local people to “help them to help themselves”.

You can read more about the impact made by each Trust on their respective websites and other Legacy & Impact blog posts.

Although the Himalayan Trusts each have their own remits and work areas, they continue to share best practice with each other and worked together when Nepal was hit by two devastating earthquakes in quick succession in 2015. The Trusts in New Zealand, Australia and the UK launched a “Build Back Better” Campaign providing a longer term rebuild programme ensuring the rebuild of 166 safer and earthquake resistant classrooms in 47 schools. The project wouldn’t have been successful without the partnership between our local NGO’s on the ground, Government officials, local engineers and architects, local communities and the global family of Himalayan Trusts, all with the generous help of a global community of donors. A true illustration of the working in partnership legacy instilled during the 1953 expedition.

Tenzing devoted much of his life after Everest to raising awareness about socio-economic challenges faced within the Sherpa Community in the Everest region of Nepal and in Darjeeling, which he called home. Of particular interest was the welfare of widows and children of brave Sherpa climbers who died while on mountaineering expeditions, access to healthcare, preservation and celebration of Sherpa culture and access to education. His children set up the Tenzing Norgay Sherpa Foundation with the sole purpose to continue Tenzing’s humanitarian legacy of giving back to society in remote villages in and around the Darjeeling district in India and the Khumbu region of Nepal, home to the Sherpas.

Local partnerships
The various Himalayan Trusts around the world have worked for many years in partnership with REED Nepal (Rural Education and Environmental Development). REED Nepal’s activities focuses on working with the local schools to provide training of Headteachers and teachers in order to enhance the quality of teaching outcomes and learning environments for both teachers and students. Their teaching programmes cover teaching skills, child protection, gender and social inclusion,  environment and climate change and learning & life skills.

Action For Nepal (AF Nepal) is the implementing partner for health. Its main office is in Kathmandu, with a field office closer to Himalayan Trust UK’s (HTUK) work in Taplejung. The partnership is based on trust, friendship and professionalism, high standards and no waste of resources. Further, it is important to us all that this partnership extends through our work and teams, to genuine partnership with the remote mountain villagers, their community leaders, the health service personnel and the local government.

Mountaineering and exploring
Money raised from lectures by the British expedition members immediately after the successful ascent of 1953 and in particular money raised by John Hunt’s “The Ascent of Everest” resulted in the set-up of The Mount Everest Foundation (MEF) who to this day provide financial assistance in the form of grants to young aspiring climbers seeking to explore locations around the world and run their own successful expeditions. Since 1955, the MEF have supported exploratory mountaineering and scientific expeditions to the world’s mountain regions. Every year, expeditions with MEF backing return having achieved first ascents of new peaks, gathered fresh geographic knowledge or carried out novel research. Read more about some recent MEF-backed expeditions and partnerships in their blog.

The globally respected Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme (DofE) also supports young people interested in climbing and working in the region. In fact, the region’s association with the DofE goes all the way back to when Lord Hunt worked with Prince Philip to first develop the highly popular scheme that has been enjoyed by millions of young people around the world. The DofE was originally designed to be a link between schools and the workplace, giving young people the chance to develop skills outside of the classroom. This is still true today and has been further developed by their focus on volunteering, physical, skills and expedition partnerships making the DofE just as relevant now as it was in 1956.

If only the 1953 expedition members could see today what lasting legacy they started back then and how organisations that started as a direct result of 1953 have come together to celebrate their amazing achievement 70 years later.

Mary Lowe, former Secretary and current Patron of Himalayan Trust UK.


As registered charities and foundations, we continue to work with the communities of Nepal.
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