Incline Village, Nevada– 15 December 2014 – Myths And Mountains announced today that Dr. Antonia Neubauer, President of Myths and Mountains and Fo0under of READ Global will be a featured speaker at the IIPT World Symposium: Cultivating Sustainable and Peaceful Communities through Tourism, Culture and Sport being held at Emperors Palace, Ekurhuleni, South Africa (adjacent to Johannesburg International Airport), 16 to 19 February, 2015.
The interactive and action oriented Symposium will honor the legacies of the world’s three great champions of Peace and Non-Violent Resistance: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. with the aim of affirming these legacies by building bridges of tourism, friendship and peace in regions throughout the world.
The Symposium, endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, will also commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the African Union, 20 years of South African Democracy and 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Legislation in the U.S.
Dr. Neubauer will be speaking on “Sustainability and Development: Moving from Charity to Empowerment and independence.”
The culinary danger for Westerners in Bhutan for just a week or two is eating only at those hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists. Although some are excellent and have tempered the spices to appeal to foreign palates, we encourage travelers to venture beyond their comfort zone at least a few times and take their taste buds on a truly unique journey.
Myths travelers Robin and Fred Holabird have dreamed about Peru for years. When it was time to celebrate a significant anniversary, they chose Myths and Mountains to put together a trip just for them that combined their goal to make it up to the top of Machu Picchu, as well as to see and experience the best of Peruvian culture and flavors. Robin is a movie reviewer for KUNR radio in Reno, NV and was a deputy director for the Nevada Film Office.
Thirty years after Myths President Dr. Antonia Neubauer founded READ Global in Nepal, she reflects on the impact of how READ libraries and community centers in one of her favorite countries. For more information, read below or go to READ Global's article directly here: http://www.readglobal.org/blog/180-nepal-30yr-retrospective
When I first trekked up to the beautiful blue pilgrimage lake of Gosainkund in Nepal in 1984, the national literacy rate was about33% (less for women), and the average yearly income was about $160 per person, though much of the economy was based on a barter system. Infant mortality was very high, and health care was minimal.
Thirty years later, looking back at the transformation Nepal has undergone since founding the nonprofit READ Global, I am amazed and proud of the collective progress we have made. Literacy rates have doubled and per capita income hasquadrupled.
In 1984 I had been conducting educational research in Philadelphia, and went off trekking in Nepal with friends. On this first visit four years before opening my own travel adventure company, Myths and Mountains, the country was an absolute monarchy, ruled by the late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. In a country about the size of Tennessee, the population was about 17 million.
Until the fall of the Rana dynasty in 1951, only the children of royalty were allowed to attend school, as keeping the populace ignorant was considered an excellent method of control.
Thus, education by 1984 in Nepal was still in its infancy, with relatively few books in Nepali. Although most Nepalese speak Nepali or ethnic dialects, the only children's books were from India in Hindi, and there was no culture of reading. To visit the house of a university professor and see no books whatsoever was common.
Schools, particularly in the countryside, often lacked roofs, much less benches or desks, and one classroom usually served multiple grades at a time.
Almost all learning was by rote, and most schools had an insufficient number of textbooks for their students, much less the materials for students to use when studying for their school leaving certificate (SLC) exams. Few students ever made it beyond elementary school; and even fewer, beyond secondary.
Teachers weren’t prepared either: usually, the average elementary school teacher had only finished secondary school and passed her SLC. Principals were not educators, but political appointees, usually from outside the district to which they were posted.
At an adult level, there were organizations conducting literacy training, particularly for women. But, since villages had few, if any, books, the retention rate for "neo-literates" was low, undermining the success of the effort. "Literacy" was defined as the ability to read at a third grade level.
In the early 80's, there were "libraries" in Nepal, but the word was used very loosely. Lending libraries were almost non-existent, and books were so precious that they were kept under lock and key.
Most libraries were private, others were holes-in-the-wall begun by well-meaning aid workers with books in English. Books were moldy from the monsoon rains or eaten by silver fish, an insect in Nepal that loves to consume bookbindings and paper.
When democracy came to Nepal in 1991, a plethora of schools and universities sprang up across the country, with auxiliary campuses in different population areas. But the only real lending library in the country was the British Council Library in Kathmandu. Tribhuvan University and some of the “colleges” (schools for grades 11 & 12) had libraries; but many books were in English or Hindi and were outdated. Stacks were closed so students could not borrow the books.
Trekking through Nepal at this time for Myths and Mountains on some unusual and challenging itineraries, we wanted to give something back to the local people who helped us.
I was inspired by a simple wish from a Nepalese guide: to have a library for his village. So in 1991, the guide, six porters and I trekked on foot, carrying in 900 books in Nepali over a 10,000’ and 12,000’ pass to establish the first READ Center in Junbesi.
At that time, when I talked to people about using libraries as a catalyst for rural development, people laughed, aid workers scoffed at the concept, and no one cared about libraries, much less believed that they could be sustainable.
Fast forward 30 years. On August 31, 2014, the Panauti Community Library and Resource Center was inaugurated – the 50th READ Center to be established in Nepal.
Nepalis themselves had raised an unprecedented $88,000 from within their own country to construct this building - something unheard of. This is truly a testament to the love of libraries in the country, and their potential for community transformation.
Nearly 2,000 people packed the inauguration tent, spilling over outside for the opening - people from government, entertainment, and the international community, as well as locals. Today, children and adults line up outside of the library every day, eager to learn.
READ has now built 74 READ Centers across South Asia, having expanded to Bhutan and India to scale our work.
In Nepal, READ is one of the few organizations to survive the 13-year civil war unscathed, and is greatly respected in the country. Sanjana Shrestha, the Country Director, has appeared on local TV. Articles about the organization have appeared in local newspapers, such as ‘Kantipur' and 'Republica', and READ representatives have been speakers in South Africa and Chile, as well as the United States.
The word "library" is on everyone's lips and READ has inspired a variety of organizations that focus on libraries of different sorts - e-libraries, corners in local schools that have books for children to read, technical libraries and others.
All READ libraries have around 5,000 books each, a computer section and audio-visual resources, a training hall, and women’s and children’s sections. Each Center offers a variety of training programs in education, livelihood skills, women’s empowerment, and technology. All READ Centers also have a small sustaining enterprise that generates income to support ongoing operating costs. Panauti’s is a souvenir shop that is selling local handicrafts.
Sadly, Nepal is still one of the poorest nations in the world, but there is change.
The literacy rate is now above 65%, and the least literate are the older people who grew up under the late Rana and early years of the Shah dynasty without education. To be sure, quality is uneven throughout the country, but education is better, and parents desperately want to send their sons with clip-on ties and daughters with pigtails to school, so they have more opportunity than the parents had. There is now a market of readers, so writers are encouraged to write books in Nepali.
Libraries have proven their value as catalysts for rural development. If you build a school, it only serves the young. If you build a hospital, it serves the sick. But, if you build a library, it serves the entire community.
The deadly Himalayan blizzard conditions and avalanches caused by Cyclone Hudhud are no stranger to Nepal...
"Move the tents," I told my friend Dawa, "It's going to pour for two days and we need to set them up so rain and wind won't wreak havoc." He looked at me as though I was crazy.
"I bet you the pants you're wearing we are getting a storm," I taunted.
"It's a bet, Didi," he replied laughing.
The day had been sunny and beautiful, yet suddenly clouds were coming up over the horizon, dark clouds that should not have been there on a day like this or at this time of year. I did not like it. In 1987, I had been caught in a heavy blizzard at 15,000 feet that lasted for more than 36 hours on a route rarely traveled in the Everest region. We ended out having to break trail over two precipitously difficult 17,000-foot passes down to safety below the tree line.
Now, as we were just about to head up above the snow line on a side path of the main Annapurna route, the weather looked exactly as it had in 1987. Although fall in Nepal is usually perfect trekking weather once the monsoon season is over in early October, occasionally cyclones or gales sweep up through the Bay of Bengal with heavy winds and blinding snowfalls. They appear suddenly to those who don't watch and can't read the clouds. The horrendous conditions block passes, cause avalanches and bring death to those who don't know the trails and are caught unprepared in the wrong place.
Thorong La is just such a "wrong" and dangerous place. Articles about the tragedy that befell so many trekkers attempting to cross the pass comment that the Annapurna Trail is nicknamed the "Apple Pie Circuit," since there are so many lodges along the way and apple pie is a favorite menu item.
Many trekkers sling their own backpacks over their shoulders and march casually off on their own, map and apple pie in hand, to cross Thorong La. At the top of the pass, they descend first to the holy town of Muktinath, and then walk farther to Jomsom and fly back to Kathmandu.
Other trekkers fly to Pokhara, the jumping off point for the Annapurna circuit, hire a local porter or guide on their own to help, and then start climbing. Most of the time they are fine and safe.
But the Himalayan environment is not consistently benign, and when a storm system, such as the Hudhud Cyclone, vents its fury, these independent trekkers tend to suffer the most. Not understanding or underestimating the danger the weather can pose, the independents attempt to cross the pass when no one should, slip off the sides of the trail in blinding snow, suffer from hypothermia, and are buried by avalanches or drifts.
Storms such as the Hudhud Cyclone suggest that tragically, too many of these independent travelers are "penny wise, and pound foolish," putting their lives at risk. Though more expensive, choosing to employ a reputable, experienced trekking company has real advantages. For example, our Myths and Mountains ground operator in Kathmandu had several groups in the area during the recent storm. They contacted the Sirdar, or leader in Pisang, two villages below the dangerous Thorong La pass, told him that a storm was coming and ordered him to go no farther and stay where he was. All of his guests were safe, warm and comfortable, while others struggled or died in raging blizzard over the pass.
As for Dawa, our group and me, although we were out of Kathmandu contact range, I recognized the weather warning signs. That night, as I predicted, a raging storm hit the area. Where we were camped, rain and wind pummeled the tents relentlessly. Higher, there was a blizzard such as that caused by Hudhud, and trekkers suffered badly. Had we not moved the tents and kept our camp below the snow line, we would have been in serious danger. For being correct, I now own Dawa's pants!
The moral of the story: Don't take the Himalayas for granted. They will lash out unexpectedly and can be deadly. Here's what almost 30 years trekking the Himalayas has taught me:
If you can afford to do so, travel with a company that makes an effort to stay current on weather conditions and uses experienced guides who truly know the area and can read different weather patterns. Listen to what they have to say about the conditions.
If you do travel alone or simply hire a porter, read up carefully on freak storms, cloud formations, etc., so you have an idea of what to watch for. Don't expect the Nepali government to babysit you, as this will likely not happen.
Make sure when you pack that you bring sufficient clothes, food and water for extreme weather - items like super gaiters that totally cover your boots; hand, foot and body warmers, such as those used by skiers; a waterproof jacket and pants to cover your clothes and extra gloves, hats and scarves.
Pack your things in plastic bags, and line your duffle and backpack with plastic to keep things from getting soaked. Above all in the cold and at high altitude, you need to be warm and dry.
Don't overestimate your abilities and try to outrun a Himalayan storm. If you miscalculate, it may cost not just your life, but the life of the porter you hired to go with you!