What is your project and how did you come up with it?
As three young women who are passionate about mountains and the outdoors and readily acknowledge the role that these activities have played — and are still playing — in our personal development, it made sense to us to conduct a project on these bases. When the opportunity to submit a 10,000 USD project proposal to the Davis Peace Foundation arose, we started thinking about how we could shape a development project around three main values close to our hearts: mountain accessibility, women’s empowerment and environment safeguarding. And our proposal won!
Together with our local partners in Nepal, the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP) and Rising Lotus Children Village (RLCV), we carried out a 10-day programme to empower young, disadvantaged Nepali girls through mountain trekking, cultural and environmental education. This included supporting 13 girls in their first experiences in the Himalayan mountains, trekking with experienced female and local guides, receiving environmental training from a female Nepali environmental scientist, meeting with Nepali women figures of mountaineering, and participating in a number of side activities on women’s empowerment, developing leadership skills or creativity.
What are the major impacts of the project, and how does the mountain trekking component contribute to these impacts?
The mountains played an initial and central role in our project, because they represent an excellent vehicle for the values and activities we wanted to promote herewith.
In the Nepali context, there is a lack of confidence in women's general abilities and capacity for independence. Trekking is an excellent way of dispelling this idea that women are less capable of being strong, achieving sporting feats and gaining confidence in their own physical and mental endurance. By covering long distances and surpassing their limits, the participants expressed their sense of pride, self-confidence and unity: many participants wrote in their diaries that trekking was both the most difficult and the most fulfilling thing they had ever done.
Trekking in the Nepalese mountains — an activity usually confined to Western tourists and the male staff escorting them — with young girls mostly from urban areas was also a way of breaking down the existing barriers to the mountainous space because of their gender and social class.
What are the main challenges you encountered?
When we started thinking about this project, we simply had an idea that we wanted to realise. Informing ourselves and talking with many people who were closer with the Nepali realities was very precious to making the idea a reality: it enabled us to understand how important and relevant this project was in the Nepali context. Although we were given many pieces of advice, we could only grasp their full depth when truly experiencing the local context.
Co-organising this project with our partners has been crucial, as they had the contextual knowledge we didn’t have, but they also sometimes deviated from the design visions we had. This taught us to be explicit and clear about what we wanted, and daring to talk transparently about the questions or expectations we had. It enabled us to get closer to our ideal as well as to develop a good relationship with our partners.
Moreover, while we had planned a precise schedule ahead of the project, we were confronted with the complexity of respecting it, hence the constant need for flexibility and instant creativity, far from the context of predictability in which we evolve in our academic curriculum.
A last word?
It is really difficult to measure and demonstrate the human impact of a project, yet nothing seems more obvious than the changes that took place and the significant impact they had on the lives of those experiencing them. Many of the participants highlighted in their diaries that the long trek we did was the hardest but best experience they had in their life, or that they were looking forward to share the good environmental practices they have learnt to their peers and family. In the end, they went back home happy and looking forward to creating environmental clubs in their schools, willing to spread their acquired knowledge, to overcome their fears and believe in their aspirations.
We are looking forward to seeing how the project is sustained through the long-term initiatives that we put in place all together.
For more information on the project, you can have a look at our Instagram account (@pokharise) or send us an email.