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Climbing the Seven Summits | A.C. Sherpa sets his sights on humanitarian aid
Summiting the world’s highest mountains on each of the seven continents is more than just another goal for Ang Chhiring Sherpa, of Mercer Island. It is the means to his greatest ambition: helping his native Nepalese people, one-third of whom live below the poverty line.
Sherpa’s Seven Summit expedition will raise money and awareness for the health clinics, schools, hydroelectric project and airplane strip that he intends to establish in the Salleri area of Solu Khumbu, Nepal.
“That is the only way I can give to the people what I have. That’s the only way I can achieve my goal,” said Sherpa, who founded the Himalayan Women and Children Foundation and manages Himalayan Sherpa Trek and Expedition. “That’s the only thing I can give for the foundation, since I am a Sherpa and climbing is in my blood.”
The journey will begin at Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina on Feb. 22. Sherpa, 37, will then face Mt. Denali (McKinley), Alaska; Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; Mt. Elbrus, Russia; Carstensz Pyramid, Australia; Kosciuszko, Australia; Vinson Massif, Antarctica; and, in 2010, Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain at 29,035 feet. The Seventh Summit is arguably Carstensz Pyramid or Kosciuszko, both in Australia, and therefore eight peaks must be climbed to “confirm” the Seven, said Sherpa, who spends four months every year guiding mountain treks worldwide. His record during 14 years of mountaineering is an elevation of 21,600 feet on Mera Peak, in the Himalayas. Much of his inspiration has come from the late Sir Edmund Hillary, who he trekked with once before.
“One of the reasons that I personally wanted to take this responsibility is because Sir Edmund Hillary, climbing one time, gave so many things to Sherpas — four high schools, six medical clinics — in the district area, but didn’t reach the village area.”
Born in the village of Tapting, Nepal, Sherpa came to Mercer Island to join his brother, who had married an Islander. He graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1990 and dreamed of becoming a pilot, but it was not to be. When he returned to Nepal years later, another dream was born: a dream for his people.
“It was a big change for me. I met a lot of people who I grew up with, and I saw the lifestyle. I saw people who have a miserable lifestyle, that have never seen a doctor. They have not seen any care, even in the capital city. I know that when here in Nepal, we climb Mt. Everest. The Sherpas help people reach the top of Everest, but nobody has done anything for the Sherpas. They climb for money because they have no education, medical health care — nothing,” said Sherpa.
During the past three years, Sherpa has set up a free mobile dental and medical clinic in Salleri, Nepal, with his wife, Dr. Allison Han, of Essence of Dentistry; Dr. Baptista Kwok, of Apex Dental; and volunteers. The team treated 543 patients in 2006, 723 patients in 2007 and more than 1,190 patients in 2008, and will return in August. Sherpa, who has also volunteered with Northwest Medical Team as a dental assistant, plans to build at least two village clinics in the Solu Khumbu district by 2015, hoping to minimize patients’ two-day walking distance to a two-hour walk, he said, as they must leave their villages — which lack electricity — to receive dental and medical treatment in Kathmandu. Eventually, Sherpa hopes to expand the aid to Nepal’s surrounding countries and see others help out.
“Now, each Sherpa who has been outside the country has to take the responsibility because there is not always someone who will give to you. There is no other to overcome financially any more. Now, Sherpas have to be role models for others,” he said. “We can teach the young generation how to take care of villages, rather than depend on politicians because they will never do it.”
If Sherpa has a successful Seven Summit expedition, he will be the first Nepalese Sherpa to complete the feat. And he will be well on his way to improving the lives of future generations. Pondering that future, Sherpa speaks of his young daughter, 2, and says, “I hope she will be a dentist one day, and help out in Nepal.”
The Himalayan Women and Children Foundation is seeking volunteers who can help provide dental and medical care in Nepal from Aug. 24 to Sept. 14. For more information, go to www.himalayansherpa.com.