Sherpa Outdoor

Last month, my camera and I spent two weeks at the Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was my second visit in just over a year. This time, though, I had an opportunity join the household as a sort of grandfather-with-a-camera — sharing mealtimes, interacting with the children, and following their daily routine. I was impressed at what I found.

Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home

Sherpa Outdoor is a Swiss sporting goods chain, with manufacture of Sherpa-branded hiking boots, clothing and other goods providing employment for workers in Nepal. The orphanage in Kathmandu was founded in 2004, when Sherpa Outdoor management realized how many orphans there were in Kathmandu , and wanted to make a further contribution to Nepali society, as well as to the economy.

The home currently houses sixteen children, and is sponsored by the Sherpa Outdoor Foundation. Sixteen is a very small number when you think of the many children in Nepal not able to have nutritious food, a supportive home life, or an education (in Nepal, public school is not free, and the poorest families simply cannot send their kids to school). Support from Sherpa Outdoor gives these children a chance at a better life. Without the Orphan Home they would be living on the street.

The orphanage is in effect extended family–called a joint family in Nepali speak–with the environment of a normal (large) Nepali household. Children currently resident in the Orphan Home range in age from 5 to 17. House manager Amrit Thapa and his wife Pinkie are de facto parents of 12 boys and 4 girls. I was part of the family for two weeks in November and early December

A joint family in action

The work and school week in Nepal is Sunday through Friday with Saturday the day off. School starts at 10:00 for most of the children and goes until 4:00 pm. That does not leave a lot of time to play but the children make up for it on Saturdays. They played badminton one day, and it was fun to watch the intensity of some and the trial of learning for others.

Children here, as in any home environment, learn by doing, and all share responsibilities for daily chores. If I was upstairs at dinnertime, one of the children would come to tell me it was time to eat. Everyone took care of his or her own cleanup, without being asked. It was an impressive show of teamwork.

At each meal one or two of the children serves plates to the table.
After a meal, each child washes up, and puts plate and cup in the drying rack.
It took me some days to figure out why some dishes were washed in the sink, and some outside under a hose. Then I realized it was the younger – and shorter – children who were washing their dishes outside. The littlest ones could not reach the faucet in the sink!
The Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home is in a suburban neighborhood of Kathmandu and is run as a typical Nepali household.
I have always thought of myself as tough, but these kids have me beat. In Nepal, shoes are left at the door, and the children in this household go barefoot in the house, seeming to not even notice the cold. In the winter, my feet would freeze doing that.
Saturday is bath day, with the youngest ones showering outside in the sun with barely warm water. You can see in their faces that the water is cool; if it were me, I would freeze solid.

Education matters

Six days a week, the children of Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home march off to school. They attend the Shree Krishna Higher Secondary School, a 15-minute walk from their home.
In a Nepali public school, boys and girls are usually seated on different sides of the room. These girls are proud to be in the second grade.
In Nepal, school begins with pre-school, and carries on through Kindergarten and grades 1-10. That is the end of mandatory school. Shree Krishna Higher Secondary School offers +2, through grade 12. These young men have progressed beyond mandatory schooling, and are in grade 12.

Learning to learn

When I was in school, my parents had to constantly force me to do my homework. At the Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home, the children all tackle their homework without being pressured. I was amazed to find them studying both before breakfast and after school.

One of the children at Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home doing his homework. Such concentration!
At Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home, older children help the younger ones and the caregivers have the parental role of making sure the children are doing a good job, and that the work is done correctly.
With 15 brothers and sisters, schoolwork is an exercise in concentration. There is always someone not studying or two or three working together, and making noise. Everyone takes this in stride.

An uncertain future

The future of Nepal rests upon well-adjusted, educated citizens, and it seems that the children of Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home are well on their way. Still to be determined: what opportunities will these healthy and motivated youngsters have, after compulsory education is complete? Their future will surely be brighter for the many efforts they–and their care-givers and sponsors–are making.

A portion of retail sales in Sherpa Outdoor’s 17 shops in Switzerland, and through its online store, go to fund clothing, feeding and educating the residents in the Kathmandu Orphan Home. The shops also sell quality handmade wares from Nepal, such as these singing bowls.

Living in the extended family of the Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home for two weeks, I was able to gain some understanding of the children’s lives and home life. Yes, these are children, and there were disagreements from time to time, but they were quickly resolved. Overall, I was impressed with the children’s good habits, studying and cooperation with each other. I was also very impressed by the caring staff, who take the time to help and correct them. Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home is very much a real home.

There has been recent publicity of orphanages and travel organizers, ensnaring well-meaning volunteers into child trafficking. Thankfully, for the Sherpa Outdoor Orphan Home, fully funded through the Swiss retailer, and meeting all government requirements, this is not an issue.

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To see all our travel stories from Nepal, click here





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