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Peru with Mountain Madness

GoFundMe Rebuilding Nepal Final Update

Ruk­man Sun­war, kitchen staff (wear­ing the hat), with his par­ents and chil­dren in front of their flat­tened home.

Amazingâ€â€giving out more than $80,000 to 19 fam­i­lies in Nepal was noth­ing short of amaz­ing, reports MM guide Deana Zabaldo.

We all gath­ered in the vil­lage of Chau­rikar­ka, just out­side of Luk­la air­port in the Ever­est Region. With everyone’s home vil­lage scat­tered north, south, east, and west, some peo­ple walked two, three, or even four days to reach this cen­tral meet­ing point. It is a jour­ney they make every sea­son to reach the start of the Ever­est Base Camp trek, and we timed the meet­ing so that some of them who had work this sea­son would already be in Luk­la and not need to make a sep­a­rate trip. Instead of fly­ing into Luk­la, I also hiked in (with my boyfriend), and it was a few days of stiff climb­ing up and down — a reminder of how extreme the moun­tains are, not only for trekking, but also for farm­ing and for trans­port­ing in con­struc­tion sup­plies that will be need­ed for rebuilding.


Dawa, his fam­i­ly, and their new home.

Arriv­ing at the home of Lead Nepali Guide for Moun­tain Mad­ness, Dawa Sher­pa, his wife greet­ed us with tea and pota­to pan­cakes (one of my favorite Sher­pa meals!). Dawa had com­plet­ed recon­struc­tion of his home only 2 weeks before our arrival, so the whole fam­i­ly was enjoy­ing bed­rooms, kitchen, warmth, and com­fort. Dawa returned from trekking the same day, along with Mark Gun­log­son, the Pres­i­dent of Moun­tain Mad­ness —and then we got down to some seri­ous busi­ness: count­ing money.

Eight mil­lion rupees in cash was fun to hold…but required a team effort to divide and count!

I should tell you that Nepali mon­ey feels a bit like monop­oly mon­ey — $1000 equals rough­ly 100,000 Nepali rupees, so $80,000 equals EIGHT MIL­LION rupees. By the time we had con­vert­ed every­thing to Nepali rupees, we had rough­ly twentyâ€eight pounds of cash. It’s more mon­ey than any of us have held in our hands, and we took a moment to enjoy it. It then took 5 of us an hour to divide and count every­thing — that’s five man hours of count­ing. Whew.


In the morn­ing, our 9:00 am pro­gram start­ed right on Nepali time at 10:30 am. It was a crisp, cool, sun­ny day in the moun­tains, and we all sat out­side togeth­er. I began by thank­ing every­one for their work. I’ve writ­ten this in an ear­li­er update, but it bears repeat­ing: at a time when homes were col­lapsed and fam­i­lies were strug­gling just to eat and sleep, our Moun­tain Mad­ness team stayed with our group and ensured that we got back to Kath­man­du safe­ly. I couldn’t have been more grate­ful nor more proud. We have tru­ly awe­some staff — hard work­ing, hon­est, and always with a smile on their faces. They have become fam­i­ly over the 8 years I’ve worked with Moun­tain Mad­ness, and I love work­ing with our team! Mark also thanked the staff and not­ed that it is because of everyone’s great work over the years that so many for­mer clients and their friends were moved to donate to help rebuild.

Awe­some work from the Moun­tain Mad­ness staff sup­port our treks every step of the way for years!


This gath­er­ing was the first time every­one was togeth­er since the earth­quake, so we spent some time dis­cussing what every­one had expe­ri­enced after the earth­quake. Most peo­ple went home, cob­bled togeth­er some kind of tem­po­rary hous­ing, and set to work plant­i­ng their fields. Although the Ever­est Region is sup­port­ed by tourism, most of the staff are from the mid­dle moun­tains of Nepal and are reliant on sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture for their food. The start of the plant­i­ng sea­son came short­ly after the earth­quake, and vil­lagers could not afford to miss that agri­cul­tur­al win­dow. They spent the sum­mer work­ing their fields and most of them had no free time to focus on home con­struc­tion — they made do in tents, bam­boo huts, or oth­er tem­po­rary structures.

Tem­po­rary shel­ter may mean 6 months, a year, or more.

Some quick statistics:

  • Of the 26 Nepali staff on our trip, 6 had no dam­age to their homes, 4 had par­tial dam­age, and 16 had homes that were destroyed or dam­aged to the point they were too dan­ger­ous to stay in. (Of those 16, only 2 had sub­stan­tial finan­cial help from wealthy relatives.)
  • Of the 20 fam­i­lies with home dam­age, 18 were sleep­ing in tents or rough huts through the mon­soon and 2 were in Kath­man­du. Now, 2 peo­ple have rebuilt their homes — 16 are still in tem­po­rary shel­ters and the 2 in Kath­man­du will also stay in tem­po­rary shel­ters when they go to rebuild.

Review­ing dam­age to houses.

  • Of the 20 fam­i­lies with home dam­age, 2 have com­plet­ed recon­struc­tion, 4 more have start­ed rebuild­ing, 3 said they haven’t start­ed for finan­cial rea­sons, and those 3 plus anoth­er 11 said they haven’t start­ed because they have had no free time in the agri­cul­tur­al season.
  • Most peo­ple have not yet sal­vaged sup­plies from their old hous­es and demol­ished the old build­ing to clear space for new con­struc­tion for two rea­sons: with the fields full of crops, there is no space to pile stone and wood, and their neigh­bors are afraid that demo­li­tion work will result in falling stone, etc. that could dam­age near­by crops. After har­vest, every­one plans to start sal­vage and demo­li­tion — all by hand.

Ngi­ma Nuru Sher­pa, yak dri­ver, with his wife and chil­dren in front of their destroyed home.

We spent some time dis­cussing what is hap­pen­ing in everyone’s vil­lage, the ris­ing cost of labor and mate­ri­als, the com­par­a­tive cost of car­pen­ters in dif­fer­ent vil­lages, and ways to improve seis­mic sta­bil­i­ty as they rebuild. My boyfriend, mas­ter builder Andy Mueller, kind­ly sourced and sup­plied a hand­out in Nepali that showed sim­ple ways to strength­en Nepali houses

. Although this infor­ma­tion was pro­duced by the Nepali gov­ern­ment, not one per­son in our crew had ever seen it before. Infor­ma­tion isn’t being effec­tive­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed to vil­lages, so we gave every­one a copy and asked that they also share it with oth­er peo­ple in their vil­lages.

Every­one wants to build stronger, safer homes, but they are strug­gling with cost lim­i­ta­tions. Mate­ri­als like con­crete and rebar are very expen­sive, espe­cial­ly once they are portered into a remote area not along the road. Wood is also scarce, and in some areas is the most expen­sive build­ing mate­r­i­al. Labor and mate­r­i­al costs have near­ly dou­bled since the earth­quake and with the ongo­ing bor­der block­ade. Around Chau­rikar­ka, homes that might have cost $7,000â€$8,000 are now cost­ing $12,000â€$15,000. Con­struc­tion may be slight­ly less expen­sive in the mid­dle moun­tains due to more local mate­ri­als like bam­boo and wood, or bet­ter road access in some areas. It remains to be seen how much the homes will actu­al­ly cost, espe­cial­ly with costs con­tin­u­ing to rise.


Hand­ing out the money!

Togeth­er — you, me, all of us — from donat­ing and from help­ing to spread the cam­paign on Face­book and oth­er out­lets, we raised $87,456 (as of Oct 16, when the cam­paign closed). Spe­cial thanks to stel­lar fundrais­er, Gillian Mueller in Wash­ing­ton DC, for an event that raised over $10,000 and also deep grat­i­tude to major gift donors ($2,000â€$5,000) Katie Hoar, Jilyan Per­ry and her West Seat­tle fundrais­er, M&M and our anony­mous major gift donors as well!! I was also amazed to see how many peo­ple took a moment to donate $20, $50, $100 and more and also the dozens of peo­ple who gave mul­ti­ple times — those dona­tions real­ly added up. Your sup­port counts! The only fees that came out of your dona­tions were the oblig­a­tory fees that GoFundMe takes out, $6,909, and also about $250 in bank fees for wire trans­fers. No admin­is­tra­tive fees or oth­er oper­at­ing expens­es came out of the mon­ey you donated.

Finan­cial issues in Nepal are rarely trans­par­ent, and it was very impor­tant to me to be clear with all of our team (and with all of you donors) about the mon­ey we raised. I spent time in advance talk­ing with Dawa

Sher­pa (Nepali Guide) and Dambar Rai (Head Cook) to deter­mine how we would divide the mon­ey. Our team is most­ly Sher­pa and Rai eth­nic groups, and I want­ed to be sure that both pre­dom­i­nant eth­nic groups had a voice in the decisionâ€making. Togeth­er, we came up with amounts that seemed right to every­one. I then print­ed out a full account­ing, hand­ed it out, and reviewed every­thing with them, step by step, show­ing that not one rupee was unac­count­ed for. They had nev­er heard of any­one in any NGO pro­gram in Nepal, doing this. (Which is not to say no one has, but if they have, it is a rare instance.) I opened up the dis­cus­sion to ques­tions, mak­ing sure that every­one was com­plete­ly clear about the mon­ey before we dis­trib­uted any of it.

Review­ing the finances, line by line.

Clear finan­cial account­ing that every­one could review — set­ting a high
stan­dard for transparency.

As I had hiked in over the pri­or week, I had enquired in vil­lages about recon­struc­tion funds and learned that the gov­ern­ment had not yet giv­en any mon­ey to any­one I encoun­tered. Small grass­roots nonâ€profits from oth­er coun­tries, often with a longâ€standing rela­tion­ship to a par­tic­u­lar vil­lage or area, had dis­trib­uted recon­struc­tion funds of $1000â€$2000 per fam­i­ly in some vil­lages. A few mem­bers of our team who live in Chau­rikar­ka had received sim­i­lar funds, but more than 15 of our 20 gath­ered staff had received absolute­ly noth­ing from the gov­ern­ment nor from for­eign nonâ€profits. (To be clear, I am talk­ing about mon­ey for recon­struc­tion, not tem­po­rary relief sup­plies of food or tents.)

From the Rebuild­ing Nepal cam­paign, we gave out:

  • $4650 each to 14 fam­i­lies with destroyed homes.
  • $2600 each to 6 fam­i­lies (4 with only par­tial home dam­age and 2 with destroyed homes but sub­stan­tial sup­port from wealthy rel­a­tives in Kath­man­du or the U.S.).
  • $792 for repair­ing the Chau­rikar­ka com­mu­ni­ty stu­pa (at the request of the com­mu­ni­ty which is the home vil­lage of Moun­tain Mad­ness in Nepal and because Bud­dhists believe that the reli­gious stu­pa must be repaired first in order to pro­tect the whole village).

Please Note: the amounts above are con­vert­ed back into dol­lars and vary slight­ly from the actu­al amount due to mul­ti­ple wire trans­fers at slight­ly dif­fer­ent exchange rates. Full account­ing that the team reviewed is avail­able here


Our Moun­tain Mad­ness team with the funds they received.


Say­ing thank you with prayer scarves.

The abil­i­ty to sub­stan­tial­ly con­tribute to people’s lives, wellâ€being, and home recon­struc­tion filled me with both joy and sad­ness. The whole team came up one by one to thank us and put Bud­dhist prayer scarves around our necks, which brought me to tears. I was hap­py that near­ly 550 of us came togeth­er to help these fam­i­lies rebuild. I was hon­ored that we were able to put mon­ey in their hands, which is what they need more than any­thing right now. I was proud that we raised so much togeth­er and are able to give a tru­ly sub­stan­tial amount towards the cost of their homes and the secu­ri­ty of their futures. I was also sad­dened to hear how much they have strug­gled dur­ing the past few months, how hard life and liv­ing con­di­tions have been, and how uncer­tain their future is. Although I feel we have giv­en more than I could have hoped, and more than any of our team expect­ed, it is still not enough to com­plete a home. It’s uncer­tain if the gov­ern­ment will offer any finan­cial assis­tance, par­tic­u­lar­ly in these areas which were fur­ther from the epi­cen­ter of the quake.

Sukra Moho­ra, kitchen staff, with his wife, sis­ter, moth­er, and chil­dren aged 3 years and 15 days — his wife was about 3 months preg­nant when the earth­quake occurred, and they’ve been sleep­ing in a makeshift shel­ter ever since.

For the time being, how­ev­er, our staff were ebul­lient to have cash in hand to begin rebuild­ing their homes. They were buoyed not only by the finan­cial sup­port but also by the emo­tion­al sup­port of know­ing that peo­ple halfway around the world are con­cerned about them and inter­est­ed in their wellâ€being and their future. When I asked them about the future, they had their char­ac­ter­is­tic smiles — and an opti­mism that will help sus­tain them in the months to come. Nepali peo­ple have always proven to be amaz­ing­ly resource­ful and selfâ€reliant. They have lived in these moun­tains, under the harsh­est con­di­tions, for cen­turies, and although none of us can see how it’s all going to work out, they approach it dayâ€byâ€day, doing what they can, and hop­ing for the best.


One final activ­i­ty was left for our program…Mark Gun­log­son brought over a huge bag of cloth­ing donat­ed by Helly Hansen, one of Moun­tain Madness’s cor­po­rate partenrs. Most of it was children’s cloth­ing, so after hand­ing out the adult sizes, we made an unusu­al request of our team. If you’ve trav­eled with me, you know that I’m often doing unusu­al things — like gath­er­ing clients and staff for tea togeth­er so that we can learn about each other’s lives or hav­ing clients serve the final meal to all the staff after they’ve worked so hard for us on the trip. I explained to the staff that Mark & I want­ed to do some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent. We often give them cloth­ing for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, but this time we asked them each to take some children’s cloth­ing and, as they hiked back to their home vil­lages, to give the cloth­ing to some­one very poor. This not only enabled us to reach some rur­al fam­i­lies with warm cloth­ing before the win­ter, but equal­ly impor­tant in my opin­ion, it allowed our staff to be not only ben­e­fi­cia­ries but also bene­fac­tors. They were now in the posi­tion to help some­one else — and that is an empow­er­ing experience.

So that’s how we wrapped up…on a high note and hope­ful for the future!



The Go Fund Me cam­paign for trek staff has end­ed, but rebuild­ing in Nepal con­tin­ues. My next step is to
con­tin­ue my work through Chang­ing Lives Nepal (CLN), the char­i­ta­ble fund I start­ed in 2008. It is CLN’s goal to find a bet­ter, more cost effec­tive method of build­ing in Nepal, rebuild a school and a com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter, and con­tin­ue our cur­rent pro­grams: the children’s home, sup­port for schools, and organ­ic cash crops to sup­port rur­al fam­i­lies. I was in Nepal this win­ter look­ing into build­ing designs that use local­ly avail­able materials.

Could rammed earth homes be a solu­tion to Nepal’s cri­sis?
This and more on the
Chang­ing Lives Nepal Face­book page or in the newslet­ter.

Rebuild­ing in Nepal is a longâ€term process that will take years. Please con­sid­er mak­ing a 2016 dona­tion to Chang­ing Lives Nepal to sup­port inno­va­tion in rebuild­ing. Thank you!

-Deana Zabal­do