THE HISTORY OF COMMUNITY ACTION TREKS
On 24th September 1975 Doug Scott and the late Dougal Haston became the first British climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest via the notoriously difficult south west face.
Doug later co-founded the UK registered charity Community Action Nepal to improve health, education and the standard of living of people living in rural Nepalese communities in the high Himalaya.
He explains below:
It all started for me in 1962, this travelling to remote places, hitch-hiking to the Atlas Mountains, with friends from the Nottinghamshire Climbing Club.
Cicero said in the first century “…that what has always fascinated man most is the unknown…”. I know that is true for me and for friends of mine in the climbing world and maybe it is for all of us.
Our second trip required more organisation as it was to the Tibesti Mountains of Chad in 1965. Eight of us crossed the Sahara in two ex W.D. one-tonne trucks and spent a fascinating five weeks with the Tibbu and climbing 10,000 ft mountains.
The following year I accepted the responsibility of taking 20 young people from Nottingham schools and youth clubs overland to the Cilo Dag mountains of Kurdistan right on the border with Turkey and Iraq.
One trip led to the next, driven along by curiosity to see and experience the different lands and people in them as much as to climb the mountains.
All of us who went to Nepal used the services of Mike Cheyney and his Sherpa Cooperative, were impressed by the total altruism of the man and the effectiveness of his trekking agency.
He ploughed back all the profits into the Cooperative for the benefit of the staff and porters and provided a friendly and sound service for British climbers and trekkers visiting Nepal.
Mike died in 1986 and we had to use other agents who were not always as caring of their employees. In 1989 whilst walking up to Kangchenjunga with various friends, I made a decision that would eventually associate me more intimately with the local hill people of High Asia.
Sitting around the kitchen fire, our Sherpas and porters were bemoaning the fact that the trekking industry in Nepal seemed to offer little security or return for all the hard work they put in. If they were injured or sick they didn’t get paid and all too often there was no regular wage, contract or job security.
Some were even told by the trekking agencies in Kathmandu, “Why should we pay you when you’ll get tips from the foreigners”. If only they could set up their own co-operative then they would have a guaranteed and regular income and a chance to determine their own futures and that of their children.
We launched into organising treks with my old expedition staff and adopted the same principles that Mike Cheyney had laid down.
Twenty two years on and several thousand trekkers later we revamped our original operation into one that is more focused on community development and more closely associated with our charity Community Action Nepal.
In 1990 various mountaineers and myself climbed above the Choktoi Glacier in the Karakorum Mountains of Pakistan. On the way out we lost a porter who fell into the Braldu River. We spent three days in the village of Askole sorting out a death certificate with the authorities.
We discovered that there was a 50% child mortality rate in the village due to enteritis from contaminated water. Over the next two years I was able to facilitate a clean water supply into Askole at 18 points thus dramatically reducing the number of children dying.
This was relatively easy to organise and gave me the confidence to launch projects in Nepal with the help of many friends.
Now Community Action Nepal are supporting some 40 projects in the middle hills of Nepal, mainly schools, health posts, clean water projects and other community strengthening schemes.
We work very closely with the local village committees at all stages of our operations through our CAN office in Kathmandu. CAN directs all monies received in the UK out to Nepal where it is low profile and grass roots in its approach. Administration costs are kept to the minimum – our staff do not travel around in 4×4 jeeps or run up huge entertainment bills in hotels and restaurants.
Generally we work on the principle that we are all on our separate journeys and noone is more or less important than the other. It may at times seem that those with greater mobility and wealth are somehow more important than those who are more static and poor, as in a remote village in Nepal. This is wrong thinking, as everyone knows who has spent time with the local hill people of the world.
Only the visitors feelings of self importance will prevent them knowing one very obvious fact – that the local hill people have as much to teach us, as we, the outsiders, have to show them about the human condition, if not more so.