What would you sacrifice for your child’s education? If the answers are school fees and time spent homeschooling, consider this: parents within the High Himalayan villages of Nepal voluntarily forgo seeing their children grow old – bidding farewell to their wide‑eyed four-year-olds as they depart for a school many miles away in Kathmandu – within the knowledge that they are getting to be 16 or 17 once they next set eyes on them. Assuming, that is, they ever see them again.
Such is that the perilous journey from these mountains to the capital – several days’ hike across snowfields and along precipitous mountain paths, followed by hours on buses – there’s little question of going home for holidays. neither is keeping in-tuned via video calls an option: connectivity is patchy and, in any case, subsistence farmers don’t tend to possess smartphones.
London-based filmmaker Zara Balfour first learnt of the parents and pupils of the Snowland Ranag Light of Education School in Kathmandu in 2014 and made them the subject of a feature-length documentary. It traced three students, now “streetwise city kids” fluent in English and Nepali, as they made the epic journey home for the three-month break between taking their education Exams, sat at 16, and starting their two-year School Leaving Certificate courses.
Children of the Snow Land won multiple awards and secured a cinema release. But Balfour wanted to undertake to to more for the varsity , its students and their communities, so she founded Snowland Journeys, a charitable enterprise which can enable several groups of two to four students to make the long trek to (and from) their villages, amid no quite 10 paying guests. the worth of the guests’ trips will include that of the students’ journeys home, and their additional sponsorship will attend support the kids through education , workplace training and developing the villages.
This is no relaxing holiday. Rather it’s a hard trek, with up to seven hours’ walking a day , variety of it at altitudes of 5,000m. (The journey undertaken within the film by three students, Tsering Deki Lama, Jeewan Mahatara and Nima Gurung, as they returned to their respective homes within the Humla, Lower Dolpo and Upper Dolpo regions that border Tibet, involved three to fifteen days on foot.) “But the scenery quite makes up for it,” notes Snowland Journeys’ director of operations Phil Briggs, a former Royal Marines commando and medic with vast expedition experience, who leads the groups, amid local guides, porters and cooks. No wonder Nima, who, with encouragement from Balfour, is now at film school, says he wants to make a hotel by sublimity , preternaturally turquoise Phoksundo Lake. These little-explored Himalayan landscapes are variety of the foremost spectacular on Earth.
There will even be rare opportunities to travel to monasteries like Shey Gompa and extraordinarily beautiful Yangser Gompa, and perhaps glimpse a ounce – as Nima did on his trek back to highschool . Overnight, the group will stay in tents and teahouses, which can be made “quite comfortable”, says Briggs.
The journeys are also not only physically but emotionally testing too. When the kids reach the villages, the greetings aren’t bear hugs and tears, but coolly formal, almost ceremonial. “I was expecting a kind of Hollywood movie moment,” says Balfour. But parents had coped, she learnt, “by switching off memories of their child, shutting down their emotions.” together girl says hopefully of her mother’s apparent froideur, “I think she was hiding her feelings”. Another mother explains her composure as “the pain in my heart just melting away”. It takes time for people and kids to reconnect: “No mother would ever want to send her child away from her,” Tsering Deki eventually involves understand, “but she wanted me to possess a brighter future and good life. So, with a stone in her heart, she abandoning of me.”
“All these children have problems with abandonment,” says Briggs. “They need preparing mentally, also as training to urge them used to the surface .” Additionally, many of the kids have lost their local dialect, making communication hard, and, while educated, none is trained in farming skills, so initially they don’t skills to help out in the fields.
Locals use goats, donkeys and yaks to carry supplies within the Western Himalayas
Locals use goats, donkeys and yaks to carry supplies within the Western Himalayas | Image: Zara Balfour
Those joining the trek won’t be present at the reunions. Each student will walk the last four or five miles accompanied only by a guide or sherpa, while the rest of the party makes camp. “It’s a very emotional time, so it’s important there’s none folks there. Ultimately, we’re there to return these children to their parents,” Briggs stresses.
The chances are, though, that a involve participation to travel to the village and meet the family are getting to be forthcoming. “They are very hospitable people,” he adds. “And they’re usually keen to satisfy westerners.” There may even, as happens within the film, be an elaborately prepared, dressed-up-for reunion feast, followed by dancing. A way, maybe, for the families to discharge since quite a while ago covered feelings.
The more these educated children are able to reconnect with their communities, the likelier it’s they’ll be able to help them connect technologically, thrive economically and educate their children locally. Tsering Deki is now studying fashion, a popular choice in Nepal driven partly by its textile industry and garment trade and also because the Kathmandu-raised, New York-based designer Prabal Gurung, whose designs are worn by Michelle Obama and thus the Duchess of Cambridge, could also be a hero for several . But Tsering Deki is interested by quite clothes. Astonished to seek out out that her mother didn’t know why she bled monthly and had neither pads nor underwear, she wants to start out out an NGO that, in working to reinforce the villages, also teaches women about menstruation and provides them with sanitary protection. As she says: “If everybody from the towns simply left for the towns, following a couple of months they could overlook our way of life and customs. they could overlook our lifestyle.”
“Our long-term goal is to help develop villages to the aim where the kids are often educated reception ,” adds Balfour. “People say ‘Why don’t you simply build schools?’ but our aim is to help them build industries to bring money into their communities.” It’s a huge ambition, one she hopes will inspire contributions from around the globe. But it’s one that she believes will grow. She points to an alumnus of Snowland School who will graduate from school of drugs this year and plans to return to Dolpo to work out the first permanent doctor’s practice within the region. Education is not just how out, it are often how back again too.