Grand County’s Sherpa family — Here to Help
Local nonprofit continues 17 years of charity work helping impoverished children
Nepal is a place of almost unimaginable beauty, but that majestic grandeur belies the harsh reality of life for citizens of the small, mountainous nation wedged between China and India on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.
The rooftop of the world, Nepal is home to nearly 30 million souls, and 25% of the country’s population survives on less than 50 cents a day, according to data from the World Food Programme.
Unlike the U.S., though, where a government safety net protects the most vulnerable, citizens of Nepal have no protection from the ravages of life. It is a place where orphaned children and the elderly must spend their days digging potatoes or hauling small bundles of firewood in hopes obtaining meager pay or a meal.
That reality is nothing new to the Sherpa family of Kyangjuma.
The Sherpas, including husband and wife Lakpa and Tashi and their adult son Karma, are relatively affluent by Nepalese standards. They own their own guest lodge on the trail to Mount Everest, and they spend every summer — the monsoon season in Nepal — living and working in Grand County. Together with several local citizens, they also lead a Colorado-based nonprofit called, “Nepal: Here to Help.”
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The organization initially developed out of the Sherpa family’s efforts to help young orphans from Nepal. In 2002, Tashi Sherpa met a pair of young children who were, at that moment, destined for a life of simply hoping to survive.
“Their father had died and their mother was gone — they were orphans,” Tashi explained before talking about where they are today. “One is now in nursing, working for our hometown clinic. The other is working at a government job near our town in (information technology). Both are very happy.”
Over the years, the nonprofit has grown from a relatively small organization providing assistance to a handful of children into one that supports 42 individual students. Even though the nonprofit has been in formal operation for nearly two decades now, most of the students it has worked with remain on the roster and still receive monetary support as they continue to pursue their education.
Sandy Kukoy, one of the founders of Nepal: Here to Help, said the nonprofit’s work continues to move ahead, and things are going well for the organization.
“We are getting a lot of interest, not just from Colorado, but from other states as well,” Kukoy said. “We currently have 42 kids going to school. They have been very successful in their efforts. The kids are so grateful they have the opportunity to go to school.”
When Nepal: Here to Help commits to assisting a child, the nonprofit commits to that child’s success over the long term, not just for a single year or during a particular portion of the child’s education.
Most of the funds the organization provides help students seeking primary and secondary school educations, but it also gives assistance to several students seeking college degrees in fields such as nursing and education. The organization also helps support students at numerous schools throughout the remote rural regions of Nepal, in Nepal’s capital city Katmandu and in several nations outside Nepal, including the Philippines and Australia.
Nepal: Here to Help relies upon Tashi Sherpa’s judgment when selecting the students that receive help. Tashi does not seek out applicants, and in most cases the students receiving aid have actively sought her help.
“They have to come to Tashi and ask for help,” Kukoy explained. “Tashi goes through all the emotional parts of it. We have finite funds. Sometimes we don’t have enough to take on another student. But it is so important for them to go to school, it is really a hard time for them if we have to say, ‘Maybe next year.’”
The powerful and important work performed by Nepal: Here to Help can be shown through the story of a young girl named Jyoti Rai.
In 2015, Jyoti was 8 years old and in a desperate situation. Her father had died several years earlier and her mother had recently died as a result of the devastating earthquake that hit the country that year.
One day, Tashi Sherpa noticed a very young girl, simply walking down the road asking for work.
“She just came walking,” Tashi said. “She walked five days just to reach our town. She had no clothing. She was looking for food to live. She told me her history and it made me very sad.”
Sensing the severity of Jyoti’s situation, Tashi ensured the young girl would become a part of Nepal: Here to Help’s program. Unfortunately, Jyoti had never attended school in any form before meeting the Sherpa family and was required to begin her education from a base grade level.
“She jumped one grade, and then after that jumped another grade,” Kukoy explained. “She just barreled forward. She is always at the top of her class. She wants to earn a master’s degree and to go back home and be a teacher. If Tashi had not been there to help this girl, the world would have lost a wonderful intelligent young woman.”
Overall, Nepal: Here to Help sets a goal of distributing $40,000 annually to students in Nepal, Kukoy said. She was quick to note that the nonprofit’s volunteers incur the organization’s overhead costs and that 100% of the money donated goes directly to the students. The funding for the children’s education is provided by Nepal: Here to Help in conjunction with the Oslo Foundation, based in Winter Park. This year the Oslo Foundation also provided track suits and t-shirts for all the students and teachers at the school in Khumjung, where many of the students Nepal: Here to Help works with attend classes.
The value of the work performed by Nepal: Here to Help is about more than just the education the children receive or the food they are provided; it is about the deeper impact of helping change lives over the long term.
Without the nonprofit’s help, it is hard to imagine where some of these children might end up. Some would have undoubtedly died while others would be risking their lives working as climbing guides or breaking their backs as porters.
“Chances are they might die doing that or get severely injured,” Karma Sherpa said. “And then the cycle just repeats. Children are the hope for the family, the community, for our country and for the world. If we don’t help them to lift themselves up, that is not right — it’s not fair.”
Sandy Kukoy echoed his sentiments.
“When you have hope, it really matters,” she said. “Hope is key.”
What: Nepal: Here to Help will hold its 5th annul benefit dinner and fundraiser.
When: 5 p.m. Aug. 7
Where: The Kukoy’s Cabin in Grand Lake.
Details: The evening will feature a traditional Sherpa dinner cooked by Tashi and Karma Sherpa and music by the Alpine Classic Duo. There will be an auction featuring Nepalese art. Anyone interested in attending the benefit dinner can RSVP by calling 970-627-8487 or 303-408-9736. The event is $50 per person and donations. Donations qualify as tax-exempt.
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