PPUK has built something of a reputation for our Best of Kendal Film Festival and Autumn Lecture events – primarily because they let us all bask vicariously in high mountain adventures. The association for us as a charity is (hopefully) clear: we work with mountain porters to make the vital income they time in the mountains safer.
So why in recent years have we focused some of our attention on school and community building programmes?
The answer is – as ever – both simple and complex. The complexity lies in the evolving demographics of the portering industry, the nature of politics and charity in Nepal, and awareness within the trekking industry itself of the need for improved welfare. The simple answer is that we can solve two fundamental challenges within the high mountain tourism industry through these projects:
The first is the pressure put on porters.
Over the years we’ve conducted both localised and wide-scale research on the wants and needs of porters. Underlying many of the decisions they make are the needs of families back home. Children sit at the heart of this, particularly when it comes to the time and cost implications of schooling. The need for education creates a pressure for porters to work harder, longer and more often – even when the individual may not be in a fit state to do so.
The positive flipside to this is that in rural areas, there is an emerging focus on supporting children through education – a response to the fact that Nepal has the lowest literacy rate in Asia. Pared with one of the highest child mortality rates in the world and almost half of the country’s female population entering marriage before 18, schooling is increasingly being seen as a gateway to something better. By helping enable these programmes – working with partners such as The Small World – we are helping alleviate some of the driving needs that can force porters to undertake work when they are not fit to do so.
The second relates to opportunity.
By supporting education at an early stage, young people from rural regions have the option to follow parents into the mountains better-equipped with linguistic talents and an awareness of basic healthcare needs. Interestingly, we’ve also identified over the years that young people attending colleges and universities in larger towns and cities may use portering as a way to pick up additional income during vacations. So the link between personal advancement, education and opportunities for young people in rural areas remains strong.
The work we’re doing in community development doesn’t of course come at the expense of many of our core areas of operation – such as language lessons for porters, healthcare literature and technical mountain training. But as the needs of porters continue to evolve, so do we as a charity. And we’re proud to be making a difference in parts of the world that are most desperate for access to education.