Festival partners with dZi Foundation | AspenTimes.com

Festival partners with dZi Foundation

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
The dZi Foundation has built 40 temporary learning centers to replace fallen schools in the area impacted by this spring's earthquake in Nepal. The foundation is the nonprofit partner of this year's MountainSummit festival at the Wheeler Opera House.
Courtesy photo |

The marriage of adventure and activism has been a staple of MountainSummit for the film festival’s five years in Aspen at the Wheeler Opera House.

This year, audience members inspired to get involved can do so right in the theater lobby, where representatives from the dZi Foundation — the festival’s nonprofit partner — will be talking to people all weekend about ongoing earthquake relief efforts in Nepal.

The Ridgway-based nonprofit — named for the traditional Tibetan dzi beads — was founded in 1998 by mountaineers Jim Nowak and Kim Reynolds. On a trek in Nepal, they witnessed a safe house for girls that was struggling financially and soon to be shut down. The pair then fundraised for the home with an expedition to the peak of the 23,443-foot Pumori on a new route and the dZi Foundation was born.

In the years since, it has grown to incude aid projects throughout Nepal with an annual budget of more than $1 million.

Since the massive earthquake in Nepal this spring, which killed an estimated 9,000 people and caused widespread devastation, its work has taken on a new urgency.

MountainSummit, said Nowak, is an ideal forum to talk to spread the word about that work.

“Everybody who comes to one of these festivals has either been to Nepal or wants to go to Nepal,” Nowak said. “It’s a very compassionate group.”

It’s a three-day walk from the nearest road to the villages where the foundation works, meaning volunteers have moved tons of materials into the area to engineer water projects and build toilets, schools and bridges.

Despite the outside funding and Colorado home base, the on-the-ground needs are identified and directed by locals in Nepal. The foundation also has helped locals form parent-teacher associations to improve education and brought in experts to increase farmers’ yield for local food security.

“Our model is all driven by the community members themselves,” Nowak said. “They identify and self-direct the projects.”

Since the earthquake, the dZi Foundation has brought more than 4,000 heavy-duty tarps into the area to build temporary homes. In the area hardest-hit by the earthquake, they’ve helped build 40 temporary learning centers out of tarps and bamboo to replace fallen schools for 5,000 children.

The foundation is launching construction of nine new schools this fall, with plans to build a total of 31 schools in the next three year.