The Himalayan Trust: Legacy of a Legend

When Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest in 1953, the two intrepid adventurers made history and brought the spectacular mountains of Nepal to the attention of the mountaineering community worldwide. Since then dozens of mountaineers have summited Everest, and climbing and trekking bring much-needed revenue to this landlocked mountainous country. Ever mindful of the welfare of others, Sir Edmund Hillary wanted to help the Sherpas living in the remote village of Khumjung and upon enquiring what he could do for them he was told that the children needed a school. This led to fundraising efforts and the building of the first school in Khumjung in 1961. It also led to the founding of the Himalayan Trust, through which communities continue to be assisted. Sir Edmund’s son, Peter, devotes much of his time to supporting the trust his father established.

Although education is still the top priority of the Himalayan Trust, with more than half its budget being spent on schooling and education projects, the Trust also supports healthcare, reforestation, emergency relief and the preservation of local culture. Healthcare projects have including the building of two hospitals and a number of village health clinics which treat Nepalese free of charge and provide low-cost health care to foreigners. By providing proper maternal and child healthcare, future generations are given a good start in life, while family planning and preventative care are also made available.

The growth of tourism and influx of mountaineers and trekking enthusiasts brought revenue to Nepal, but it also put a strain on its natural resources and in the 1970s large portions of local forests were cut down for firewood. Bearing in mind that vegetation has a very slow growth rate at high altitudes, the Trust needed to formulate a reforestation project that would be assured of success. In 1980, upon identifying areas where reforestation could be achieved (between 3500 and 4000 meters), two large nurseries were established to cultivate primarily pine and fir seedlings which were planted where wild thar and yaks would do the least damage. This project has resulted in a lush green belt of trees where there was previously very sparse vegetation.

In addition to building schools in rural areas, the Himalayan Trust initiated a Teacher Training Program to ensure that teachers have the skills to educate the children in their care. Moreover, teachers and children are learning to speak, read and write English, as this is now recognized as the language of a globalized world, and children with strong English skills are more likely to have opportunities to pursue whatever career path they choose.

Sir Edmund Hillary led the Himalayan Trust from its establishment in 1960, until he died in 2008. Certainly, the legendary explorer gave Nepalese in the Everest region a gift that keeps on giving when he founded the Himalayan Trust.