Karma ‘s father died from a bacterial infection when Karma was three. When Karma was four, his mother married a man from the nearby village of Sibuje, and the family moved. In Sibuje, Karma learned traditional farming practices and attended school in Karihkola a day’s walk away.
Because attending school meant that Karma was not available to help the family, he was only able to attend when there was no farm work to be done. Although school was free to attend, Karma’s parents paid for his room and board in Karikhola with money earned from tourism. As finances dwindled, so did Karma’s access to education.
After completing the fifth grade, Karma dropped-out of school and took a job as a porter to support his family. He was paid $1 USD/day (100 NPR) to carry loads weighing up to 80 pounds, had no shoes, and no insurance.
Although the work was very difficult, it was also rewarding. Karma was able to practice English he had learned in school, was given clothing and equipment for work, and saw new places and had new experiences. He met people from around the world, and had the opportunity to make tips in addition to his daily salary. Compared to the difficult life in the village, this life offered more possibility and adventure.
Karma quickly worked his way up the ranks, becoming an assistant cook, head cook, assistant guide, lead guide, and finally sirdar (expedition leader). With the money he earned from his work in tourism, Karma paid for his younger sister to go to school. He also bought clothing for his family, and paid for the community to build a tiny monastery in the village. In order to stay closer to the agencies that employed him, Karma moved to Kathmandu with his “wife-to-be”, Purba Sherpa.
As a guide, Karma was able to work throughout Nepal, and built his resume rapidly. He led treks, climbed peaks, and led expeditions- including climbs of Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Makalu, Dhauligiri, and Everest. Karma’s clients became fond of him, and sponsored him for training with the Nepal Mountaineering Instructor’s Association (NMIA). With the new training, Karma felt more confident that he was able to do his job safely. Unfortunately, the training also had a negative affect on his work.
Karma had never worked for himself, but instead had always worked through other companies that employed him. Now that Karma was certified, companies were wary of employing him. They feared that clients would become loyal to Karma, and not to their companies, since Karma was capable of building and running successful trips without their help. Karma’s English was also much better, which made Karma less dependent upon local agencies to find him work and communicate with clientele. As a result, Karma was often turned away because he was “over-qualified”. Gradually, Karma’s work in tourism became less consistent, and he began looking for other ways to make a living.
Fortunately, Karma had kept in contact with friends overseas. He contacted Glen Young and Bonom Bohanec in the United States, and several former clients in Japan. Glen and Bonom came to Nepal three times in four years to climb and trek with Karma in an attempt to help Karma’s family and community while seeing more of the beautiful country themselves. During these visits, Karma was able to employ people in his village as they helped with the expeditions. Karma used more of his money to send his sister to school, and helped the community pay for solar panels for lights inside their homes.
Karma’s friends in Japan came to the rescue by securing him work in an alpine hut system near Mt. Kasagatake, Japan. Karma returned to Kathmandu with enough money to move away from the polluted city center of Kathmandu and rent a tiny apartment on the outskirts. Karma’s other uncle and brother-in-law moved in with him, since they had no employment and no place to go (Karma’s uncle was a Lama who had just finished three years of meditation, while his brother-in-law was looking for work in tourism).
At this time, Karma decided that the only way for him to continue to be involved in tourism would be to start his own company. He again contacted Glen Young and Bonom Bohanec for help. Bonom gave Karma a loan to start the business, while Glen helped Karma develop a website and marketing plan. In the winter of 2013 Karma had his company registered. Higher Path Treks and Expeditions was born.
In March of 2013 Glen received a grant to bring Karma Sherpa to the United States for alpine guide training and to learn about sustainable tourism as it is practiced in the United States. Although Karma was unable to obtain a US visitor visa, Glen was able to bring clients to Nepal to participate in a home-stay in Sibuje Village and climb nearby Mera Peak. The trip was successful, and more trips were planned for the following year.
Karma Project continues to gain momentum, bringing people from around the world into contact with Nepali people who are adapting to a new economy and changing environment. As subsistence agriculture becomes less feasible due to water shortages and changing values, Karma Project is helping Nepali people build sustainable businesses that reduce urban migration and maintain cultural traditions. And best of all, the Project is helping local people, like Karma, achieve dreams of their own conception.