In June of 2016, a group of Goal Zero Employees, Nepalese Sherpas, and Goal Zero Ambassadors Mike and Lilliana Libecki, accompanied representatives of Human Outreach Project to Nepal’s famed Khumbu Valley to distribute solar equipment, Dell Computers, a divvy water filtration system, and gifts to monasteries, schools and medical clinics.
By Andy Earl
I bowed with my hands together as a silk khata scarf was placed around my neck, a gesture of gratitude and respect bestowed by the giver. Schoolchildren from the Juving Primary School were waiting timidly in a long line, scarves and flowers in hand ready to take their turn as our team bowed to accept their gifts. We were overwhelmed. The welcome program they pulled together far surpassed what our project could have ever warranted. This small village is just far enough off the beaten path that they seldom see visitors or anyone in a position to help.
After last year’s earthquake, much of the country is still rebuilding. Dean Cardinale, the founder of Human Outreach Project (HOP) and owner of World Wide Trekking, led our mission in Nepal. Days after the earthquake, Cardinale booked a flight for himself and four surgeons. Upon landing they registered with the World Health Organization and in the days that followed, they all saw unspeakable devastation and tragedy. He’d been guiding in Nepal for nearly two decades and had developed deep friendships with the people there. Almost everyone was affected in some way. Cardinale knew he had to do more.
With the help of Goal Zero ambassadors Mike and Lilliana Libecki, the Rays of Joy project came together. Solar power systems, Dell Laptop computers, a large DIVVY water purification system from Aquamira, and other gifts were all donated to the cause.
“Last year Lilliana and I worked with Dean on a similar project in Tanzania. It was one of those experiences that changes your life forever,” said Mike Libecki. “When we got home, Lilliana started researching other ways we could help around the world combining humanitarian work and adventure. Soon she learned more about the devastating earthquake in Nepal and before long we were planning another expedition.”
Cardinale coordinated installations with his team in Nepal with a focus on making it possible for the HOP team to return to each project and maintain it.
“One of the HOP’s core principles is to follow up with our projects to create a long-term relationship with the groups of people we serve, and the agencies we partner with,” said Cardinale. “It was truly incredible to see what HOP and Goal Zero’s collaboration meant to the people of Nepal and how grateful they were for our efforts."
Flying into the Khumbu valley during the monsoon season is always a bit of a gamble. The steep hillsides shoot skyward from the Dudh Kosi River, seemingly trapping clouds for days or even weeks. The mountainous valley reaches far higher than the small twin engine planes, common in the area, are equipped to go forcing pilots in the area to only fly by sight. Airports close regularly leaving people stranded until the clouds clear.
Our plane set down roughly two days away from our first install. After a few hours on a 4x4 road we began our trek. Small subsistence farms and beautiful rock homes impossibly terraced the surrounding terrain. Trains of pack mules crossed our path as we made our way up the manicured rock paths toward the small village of Juving.
“The schools have been especially humbling and moving. They’re so excited to see us,” said Goal Zero team member Cassidy Van Deursen. “We’ve had these elaborate and long welcome ceremonies where the children each brought us a gift. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Our team installed a Yeti 1250, two Boulder 90 Solar Panels, and 9 Light-A-Life 350s along with 10 Dell Laptops and four duffel bags of warm clothing. For HOP, this was the beginning of a much larger project. They have since returned to Juving and committed to building desks and chairs for each of the 350 children at the school. They’ve also installed an industrial DIVVY water filter and committed to paying four of the teachers salaries for the year.
“This will create a positive ripple effect throughout the community for decades to come,” said Cardinale. “The ease of internet access, electronic capability, and solar lighting will empower the community to live a better life."
From Juving our team moved toward Kharikhola, the village where a few of our team members were born. As we reached the teahouse, a lodge-like hostel where we would be staying the night, I sat down and admired my surroundings. Nepal is more than you imagine it to be. It’s landscape and people are diverse, both vibrant and beautiful. The hilltop monastery, the colorful rooftops and quaint trailside shops, and the clang of handmade bells swinging from the necks of pack animals all combine to create a feeling that will always stay with you.
While in Kharikhola our team made stops at the medical clinic, monastery, and school. In the lower Khumbu, hydropower has become more readily available over the past few decades. The rough nature of the terrain, however, can make outages a common occurrence. Nearly everything in the Khumbu is brought in by porter or pack animal meaning replacement parts are constantly days or weeks away. This makes power reserves a necessity, especially for these rural medical clinics.
“Spending the day with the people at the Kharikola Hospital really made me realize what a luxury power is,” said Robbie Kerback, an engineering project manager from Goal Zero. “If somebody is here giving birth, or using oxygen, and the grid goes down right now, they don’t have any backup.”
We watched as our crew jumped in on the install. Furba Sherpa, whose home is only a short walk from one of the monasteries we stopped at, took over many of the installs.
“Some of the local guides have got the installation process down now and have pretty much taken over,” continued Kerback. “This way they can help maintain all the panels and it becomes even more of a giveback for them than it is for us because this is their home.”
The team continued up the valley working as they went. In all, 12 villages, over 2,000 pounds of solar panels, batteries, and lights were installed at 10 monasteries, five schools, one hospital, a dental clinic, and an outpost of the Himalayan Rescue Association.
The final component of the journey was to reach Everest Base Camp (EBC). For much of the trip, cloud cover hid the iconic Himalayan peaks. They showed themselves intermittently, but on our final leg in to EBC the clouds parted and the roof of the world revealed itself. We sat and stared. This was the culmination and completion of our mission here in Nepal.
“This trip is a reflection of who we are as a company,” said Goal Zero General Manager Bill Harmon. “Our products were originally built to give power to people in rural areas that need it and they’ve since been adopted by adventurers and other groups. This trip was part humanitarian and part adventure, two core components of our culture. We were proud to send employees on this trip to experience that.”
On the trip, Cardinale related something that he had learned on a previous trip up the Khumbu.
“A few years ago I was guiding a group to EBC in Nepal. We were in a monastery receiving a special blessing from a lama to for a safe journey when the lama told us, ‘We all cast a shadow in our lives; this is our life shadow. We can choose to cast a good shadow or a bad shadow; it is our choice.’ Then he looked at us and said, ‘Cast a good shadow.’
For me, this trip was about choosing what kind of shadow we are trying to cast. Since Goal Zero was born there has been an association with good organizations and great individuals. Nepal was a continuation of that.
When I bowed my head to accept those Khata scarves from the good people of Nepal, I got to know them through an exchange of giving. HOP, Dell Computers, Aquamira, and other supporting partners all came together on these projects to hopefully allow those we met along the way to obtain better education and a safer standard of living. Those I met during this journey cast a good shadow in my life that has now become part of who I am. Hopefully we did the same for them.
The opportunity to help create joy in Nepal was special to me, to actual be there and do the work hands-on, making new friends and memories that I will never forget. Just seeing that we were a part of creating a better quality of life for so many people meant so much. It’s so true; we really need to be the change we want to see on this planet. I truly believe that in a world where we can be and do anything, be kind and do good.