After Everest, goal is education for Nepalese visitor
February 27, 2004
Aspen’s mountains may look like molehills to Pemba Doma Sherpa.
Pemba is Nepalese and one of only six women in the world who has summitted Mount Everest twice. On her second-ever trip to the United States, she’s passing through the Roaring Fork Valley to share stories about her experiences in the Himalayas.
Pemba raises money for Save the Himalayan Kingdom, an organization she created to ensure that children in the poorest communities in Nepal can get an education. She is speaking at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies tonight at 7.
In the most remote corners of Nepal, Pemba said there are tightknit communities that need education for their children more than anything else.
“We’re not poor in terms of food ” we have enough to eat, and we’re rich from the mountains and the culture, and our families are strong,” Pemba said. “We’re poor when it comes to education. It’s hard in the remote area of the mountains to get an education.”
Growing up in Namche, Pemba was raised by her grandfather, who pushed her to get a good education. Before and after working at the family’s lodge every day, she’d walk to Khumjung High School, one of the schools established by Sir Edmund Hilary.
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“If you walk fast, you can get there in 45 minutes, and if you’re walking normally, you’ll be there in two hours,” she said. “Tourists walk there in two-and-a-half hours. It’s 3,700 meters high.”
That’s 12,210 feet above sea level. Pemba continued her education after high school by moving to Paris to become an au pair and attend college, studying computer science.
Ultimately, she was sponsored by a Swiss expedition team on her first climb up Everest in 2000 ” something she’d wanted to do since she was a child.
Pemba and her husband now own a lodge in the foothills of Mount Everest, in the town of Namche Bazaar. It’s a place that many travelers pass through as they explore the region.
Aspen resident Tim Hall met Pemba on his way through the area. Pemba was cooking for her guests and doing the day-to-day duties of running a lodge when Hall noticed people taking photos of her.
As one of a handful of women who have climbed the highest mountain in the world twice, and one of the first Nepalese women to summit Everest at all, Pemba is a sort of celebrity. She can communicate with visitors to Nepal in any of nine languages that she speaks, and during the climbing seasons (the dead of winter and the monsoons of summer) she travels with her slide show to raise money for families whose children work in fields rather than attend school.
On Thursday morning, Pemba visited children at the Wildwood School, bringing her 1-year-old daughter, Sairani, with her. On this trip she and Sairani will also make stops in New York and Los Angeles.
It takes 22 hours on an airplane to get to the United States from Nepal, Pemba told the preschoolers at Wildwood while a teacher spun the globe 180 degrees around to show the children how far away Pemba’s home is. The kids presented Pemba with prayer flags they made out of construction paper and strung together with string.
“A lot of people from this valley have come through Namche,” she said. “It was a big chance for me to come here to meet people.”
Pemba Doma Sherpa will be speaking again at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies on Sunday at 6 p.m. and at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale Saturday at 7 p.m. A $10 donation is requested at the door to benefit Nepalese families.
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]