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Mammoth Lakes resident Wangdowa Sherpa might be the only man in town who considers the 14,000-foot peaks outside of town to be a bit short.
But he can be forgiven.
Sherpa was born in a small village in Nepal, not far from 29,029-foot Mount Everest, where anything below 15,000 feet is considered the foothills.
Today, he considers himself a man of both worlds. He’s a member of the Sherpa ethnic group of Nepal (the word “Sherpa” names a large ethnic group in Nepal, but the word is often used incorrectly to mean “porter”) with family there in the small village of Phapre (in Patle Village Development Committee, Okhaldunga District). He’s also a member of the Eastern Sierra community, where he lives in Mono City with his American wife Deanna Dulen, the superintendent of Devils Postpile National Monument.
It’s something of a fairy-tale story: how American-college educated Sherpa later met Dulen on a tour that he was guiding in Thailand in 2004, how they fell in love, how they got married in Lee Vining in 2008.
But it’s not always been easy being split between two worlds, one of material affluence and abundance, the other where even the most basic healthcare professional is a two-to-three-day walk over rugged trails.
Sherpa is hoping to meld the two worlds together, bringing the best of each to the other.
He’s starting a new nonprofit he hopes will eventually bring a small school and health clinic to this mountain-bound region in the high Himalayas.
“There are 75 students in a cold, unheated building with no desks,” he said. “The roof is iron. It’s very cold. The nearest clinic is days away. There are a lot of skin problems and a lot of women have problems in childbirth. But it’s too far to walk especially if you are sick, so mostly, these things are not attended to.”
Sherpa knows getting the buildings in place is just the first step. After that, the projects need to be staffed and maintained.
But he isn’t expecting to just sit back and take funds from American donors. He wants local volunteers to do all the labor building with local materials and he’s seeking a way to get the land as inexpensively as possible, he said.
“My village will be able to gather and carry the rocks, whatever it takes to build this,” he said.
Called Friends of Himalayan Sherpa People, the nonprofit got a jump-start this past fall when Sherpa, a multi-lingual professional tour guide, took 16 Eastern Sierrans with him to Phapre as part of a three-week tour.
They signed up for a scenic and cultural tour that would take them close to the epic ramparts of Everest and the high Himalayan mountains; the “backbone of the world” as that region is often called. But what they saw, and did, changed them more than scenery alone could account for.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Bishop resident Nancy Upham. “There was so much more to it than we anticipated. Yes, there were a lot of needs, for healthcare, for education. Yes, that is true. But the people, they are the most generous, the most gracious people imaginable.”
“Though they have so little, they are willing to share what they do have,” said Mono City resident Janet Carle, who went on the trip as a co-leader with Sherpa. “It really did make us think about what we need, what we can do without. It’s impossible to not feel connected, to not want to get involved.”
Carle plans to volunteer, along with others in the extended Eastern Sierra region.
The project to bring a school and clinic to Sherpa’s home turf will eventually provide services for as many as 10,000 people from the surrounding region, Sherpa said. Another trip is being planned right now, for the spring of 2013 when the massive rhododendron forests turn the slopes of the lower Himalayan mountains pink, red and scarlet.
“First, we have to get the land for the school and clinic,” he said. “That will cost about $5,000.”
How to get involved:
Join Wangdowa Sherpa and a group of Eastern Sierra friends as they share their stories and photos from a recent trip to Nepal. Admission is free. Bring a donation to help buy land for the school, if you wish.
Bishop: March 22 at 7 p.m., Flow Motion Pilates Studio, 126 N. Main St.
Mammoth: March 29 at 5:45 p.m., Mammoth Lakes Public Library, 400 Sierra Park Rd.
For more information: Call Sherpa at (760) 709-6068