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Photograph by Damian Benegas

Climbers’ Relief Strategy Brings Jobs, Aid to Nepal’s Remote Villages

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Kathmandu on after the aftershock on May 12, 2015; Photograph by Matt Moniz

Seventeen-year-old Matt Moniz of Boulder, Colorado, was attempting his Himalayan climbing season goals when the earthquake and avalanche hit. Here he explains how his team has converted their expedition into a relief mission. Follow his updates here.

The sun sets as we’re driving west through fields of rice toward the mountainous Manaslu region, home of the Gurkhas, famed for resilience and toughness. I’ve been traveling overland in a beat up old truck with my climbing partner Willie Benegas and new friend, paramedic Paul Taylor, from Team Rubicon. We’ll soon reunite with our advance team, led by Willie’s wonder twin brother Damian. As the hours pass, I sit quietly looking out the window and reflect on the last few weeks.

While packing in Kathmandu this morning we just dodged another kinetic event on the planet and watched a building collapse before our eyes. The scene twisted my heart in ways it’s hard to comprehend, watching the already traumatized citizens of Kathmandu running through clouds of brown dust, screaming and crying, wondering why this keeps happening to them. Again, these surreal images are the all too real, bringing back memories of people scattering in terror in the moments after the Everest Base Camp avalanche. I’ve been in Nepal for a grueling month now, never in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined living through two massive earthquakes, and an avalanche that came so close that had I been six minutes slower, I might not be writing this story.

I could share a lot about my two earthquakes and an avalanche experience, it was truly life changing, but that’s not the story I want to tell. I’m alive, my mom, twin sister, and dad are fine. I will not have to search through rubble to find them, there are no broken bones or buried bodies. Our wonderful home in Boulder, Colorado, is just the way I left it a month ago, and I have plenty of food and happiness to go home to in a few weeks. For millions in Nepal this is something they can only dream about. The power and enormity of this event has taken thousands of lives, impacted millions, and transformed the geography of the Himalayan range in ways that boggles the mind.

Among our world community, the people of Nepal have endured some of the highest poverty rates, but for anyone who has visited the Republic of Nepal, you know that despite their extremely difficult life, these people possess a wealth of kindest and caring that is unmatched.

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Linking the villages on the map; Photograph by Damian Benegas

Many of us around the world are struggling to comprehend how to make a difference with a natural disaster on such a scale of lives lost and homes destroyed.  I’m not going to criticize the Nepal government, only say the response is not enough—especially considering how close we are to the monsoon season. There are many remote villages that are suffering immeasurably. Families lost and homes shattered.  Our team’s question was how could we make a difference?

Over the past two weeks we’ve been huddled at the Hotel Yak and Yeti with a talented, diverse, and enthusiastic team, working on a simple, but remarkably powerful plan to help the people of Nepal get back to their feet. Our strategy is grassroots: Hire porters from the affected villages to carry donated relief supplies to remote villages in the high impact areas. We call the plan “Nepal Relief, Building a Path to Recovery.”

Our preliminary concentration is the Manaslu region but there is no reason the concept cannot spread throughout Nepal. We have created planning documents, supply spreadsheets, and other helpful reference materials on Google docs that can be accessed by anyone who wants to grow our concept.

A simple Keynesian equation that works, donations = relief + jobs. The money stays local and helps accelerate the recovery. The porters are also reestablishing the trail systems. In rough numbers, with 500 porters we can move about 12,000 kilograms of relief supplies for approximately 60 percent of the cost of helicopter support. Early on, one of our goals was to pay a premium daily carry rate to the porters and keep loads at a reasonable level, especially considering the difficult trail conditions. With all the generous contributions of aid from around the world, nearly all the money we have raised goes directly to paying porters. We see a wonderful outcome here, the money stays in the villages and helps them purchase supplies to rebuild. Additionally, the porter traffic will begin to recreate the vital trade routes into the region. Everyone plays an important part in the recovery.

This past week we’ve divided forces. Willie Benegas and I were invited by philanthropist and CEO Thomas Lines to present our plan in Zurich. The response from donors, approaching $100,000, has been incredible. The idea of getting money directly in the hands of people in need and simultaneously helping the relief effort is a winning formula. So far we’ve received funds and commitments to hire more than 1,000  porters who will carry more than 25,000 kilograms of relief supplies to these hard hit villages.

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Transporting relief supplies in Kathmandu; Photograph by Damian Benegas

Meanwhile, Damian Benegas, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, Torakichi Akita and Tulsing have been working hard in Kathmandu to secure critical supply sources with groups like the U.N. World Food Program and the International Organization for Migration. Based on the first response, I think they like our plan and are supporting us fully. We also sent an initial team to scout the area and drop our first relief drop of 70 porters and 1750kg in to the village of Laprak and moving on to Gumda.

Look for more updates on our progress, pray for the planet to settle down a bit and stay tuned for how you can help!