Marolts’ fundraising effort in Aspen delivers solar chargers to Nepal
Aspen natives Steve and Mike Marolt enlisted friends who have been in high places to help them raise the funds needed to purchase and deliver 96 solar chargers to earthquake-ravaged Nepal.
Ed Viesturs, a climber and business associate of the Marolts in a company called 8K Peak Technologies, helped bring attention to their fundraising effort, Steve Marolt said.
Peter Athans, a climber active in Nepal aid projects even before the deadly April quake and aftershocks, helped the Marolts avoid red tape that would have sapped their effort, Marolt said.
Viesturs and Athans are two of the foremost high-altitude mountaineers in the world. They are among only a handful of non-Sherpa to summit Mount Everest seven times. Both have taken up the cause of the Sherpa people and their culture.
The Marolts scrambled after the earthquake in April to organize a unique relief effort. They knew from experience in the Himalayas that Sherpa appreciated the solar chargers. The devices use solar panels to charge batteries that then can be used for everything from powering lights to recharging devices such as cellphones.
Even before the earthquake, the Marolts were preparing to raise funds to provide solar chargers to remote villages of Nepal. The earthquake sent the urgency skyrocketing.
They started collecting funds through a previously dormant 501(c)3 called Aspen Alpine Club Inc.
“It’s been a smashing success,” Marolt said. They raised $50,000 in the initial push and purchased 96 solar chargers at a discounted rate from Aspect Solar, a supplier that helps sponsor their ski-mountaineering expeditions. Each charger is about 15 inches long, 5 inches wide and 2 inches tall, according to Marolt. They weigh between 20 and 25 pounds.
Marolt said roughly half of the donations came from the Roaring Fork Valley and the other half came from contributors from around the country that Viesturs reached directly or indirectly through networking. People were generous with their donations, Marolt said.
“The big problem was getting (the chargers) over,” he said. The Nepalese government was going to put a high tariff on the import of the solar devices. In addition, there was a chance government officials would have confiscated the devices and distributed them as they saw fit.
“We couldn’t afford the tariff and didn’t want to give up control” of the distribution, Marolt said. “It was such a nightmare trying to find a way to ship.”
The problem was quickly solved. Marolt’s longtime friend, filmmaker Liesl Clark, and Athans were soliciting materials such as tents to aid earthquake victims via the nonprofit organization Person 2 Person 4 Nepal. Marolt got in touch with Clark via Facebook about his dilemma with the solar chargers and Person 2 Person 4 Nepal offered its assistance. Its track record of aid in Nepal allowed it to avoid the tariff and keep control of distribution of its materials. Athans and Clark offered to help the Marolts get the solar chargers in to Nepal.
The solar chargers were considered “evergreen aid” — not immediately needed but badly needed, Marolt said. That meant Person 2 Person 4 Nepal would get them into the country as quickly as they could. The organization got United Airlines to drop the excess baggage fee and restrictions on baggage for the couriers delivering the solar chargers, Marolt said. “It didn’t cost us a dime for shipping,” he said.
The devices were shipped about three weeks ago, he said, and distributed where they can help.
The Marolts didn’t stop after raising the initial $50,000. They have since collected another $10,000 and have purchased 35 solar chargers smaller than the first batch. Person 2 Person 4 Nepal also will help with the shipping and distribution of those units.
Nepal will continue to benefit from the Marolts’ efforts after the chargers are distributed. Their organization will launch a pilot project, with the help of Aspect Solar, to help rebuild a village and provide it with a solar charger large enough to provide its lighting needs.
The timetable is uncertain. “Nepal is really, really struggling right now to get back on its feet,” Marolt said.
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