Photo by Cindy Oliver/Rotary Club of Red Deer Centennial
A group of 36 Rotarians and friends, representing 10 Canadian clubs, travelled from Alberta to Nepal in April to trek up part of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak.
Organized by members of the Rotary Club of Calgary West, the team raised more than $150,000 in donations and pledges to help construct the Zeke O’Connor High School, a project of the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation (SEHF),
in the Solukhumbu district of Nepal. Long plagued by poverty and political instability, Nepal faces significant educational challenges: More than half of the country’s primary school students never receive
a secondary education. The new school will serve 150
students in grades 8-12 and provide the only upper-level science curriculum for Sherpa youth living in the remote
“Before, [students] would have to go to Kathmandu to go on to higher education,” says Zeke O’Connor, founder and executive director of SEHF, a Canadian nonprofit dedicated to aiding the Sherpa people. “Most could not afford it.” O’Connor was a friend of the late climber and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, who in 1953 became the first person to summit Everest, accompanied by a Sherpa mountaineer.
Part of the team trekked to Namche Bazaar, the gateway to the Himalayas and the point at which Everest’s peak becomes visible, while another continued up to Everest Base Camp, at 5,357 metres.
Karl Herzog, a member of the Calgary West club and chair of its Everest Trek committee, was with the group that journeyed to the base camp and overcame the challenges that went with it: high altitude, cold nights, and exhaustion.
“It was very challenging mentally and physically,” he says. “But my favourite thing about the experience was how many of the trekkers stepped forward to provide leadership and support.”
Other highlights of the trip included sightseeing in Kathmandu; a visit to the school’s construction site in Phaplu; browsing in Namche Bazaar,
a historic trading post at
3,450 metres; and stops at tea houses and Buddhist monasteries along the way. The highest point some of the trekkers reached was Kala Patthar, at 5,545 metres.
“As we travelled along the trail, we were greeted with open arms by locals and other trekkers as ‘the group who built
the school,’” Herzog recalls. “Being at the foot of Everest was great, but the experience paled in comparison to seeing our Rotary club plaque hanging on the wall of the school and celebrating with