Simon Kirwan speaks to legendary mountaineer Doug Scott about his charity work in the mountains and asks about his future climbing ambitions
OUTDOORSmagic member and photographic
mastermind Simon Kirwan speaks to Doug Scott about his work with
Community Action Nepal and finds a man who's 8,000-meter stare is now
firmly fixed on giving something back to the mountain communities
that have played such a huge part in his life. You can see some of
Simon's travel and mountain photography at www.the-lightbox.com.
Doug Scott – Putting Something Back
Doug Scott needs no introduction as a mountaineer – in
1975, with Dougal Haston, he became the first Briton to summit Mount
Everest and he has made 45 expeditions to the high mountains of Asia,
during which he has reached the summit of 40 peaks, remarkably half
of them first ascents.
His legendary bivouac with Haston just below the South Summit of
Everest at 28,700 feet was a landmark, an unprecedented feat of
endurance and survival at altitude, without oxygen or even sleeping
bags. With the exception of the 1975 Everest expedition, led by Chris
Bonington, all his ascents were done in lightweight alpine style, and
without artificial oxygen.
Almost as famous as his Everest ascent was his epic retreat from
the Ogre with two broken legs. Less well known though is the work of
Community Action Nepal, the charity that Doug co-founded, and in
which he is actively involved today as Operations Director. CAN
manages over 40 projects in the middle hill regions of rural Nepal.
So far, projects have included primary and secondary schools, schools
for deaf children, health posts and clean water supplies.
At the biennial Midsummer Celebration of Community Action Nepal,
held at Shap on the fringe of the Lake District, Doug explained what
motivated him to found CAN, and what the charity has achieved so
SK: What made you decide to start the
DS: I saw the need for one in Pakistan in 1990, climbing in
the Choktoi valley in the Karakoram. We lost a porter, who fell into
the river, with my clothing in fact, and he disappeared. When we went
down into the village to sort out the death certificate, to speed up
the insurance claim for his wife, we saw that there was a 50% child
mortality rate due to gastro-enteritis. They were getting domestic
water from the stream that ran down the main lane of the village,
after it ran over the irrigated fields fertilised with animal and
human excrement, and yet there was a clear water stream about three
quarters of a mile away.
Himalayan trekking areas may be
beautiful, but they're
also poor often with low standards of
It ran all year without freezing up, so we put a pipe in down a
trench and standpipes in the village. I felt I owed those people from
about eight other expeditions up there, and from being carried off
the bottom of the Ogre when I had broken my legs, and now having lost
this lad we felt quite emotional about it. So about three years later
it was all up and running, and sure enough a lot more kids were
reaching five years of age than ever before.
I organised that, facilitated it if you like, without even getting
my hands dirty. It was very easy to do, just a matter of getting a
few estimates, getting the right contractors which was done by the
Aga Khan Rural Development Fund people, and raising £10,000
which I found quite easy.
So in the mid-nineties, when Tej our cook told us that the roof
had blown off his local village school, we went to see the area, and
found a little adobe-style two-room school, with twenty-five children
having lessons on an earth floor, sitting on planks, with part of the
roof missing. We decided to buy the whole of the hill, and built a
brand new school, but used the material from the old one to build a
health post. The work was largely done by Plymouth College students,
sixteen to eighteen years old, and we spent about £9000 on a
nine-room slate-covered new school
Clean water supplies are crucial
I was there last spring, and found there was now 225 children on the
roll, so again it was very easy to facilitate, and see how quickly
you could make a difference to people's lives without a lot of
effort, so whenever we were approached by other people in the area,
we thought why not, did the same at Lapcha, built a brand new school
up there, actually that cost £14,000, and all the families got
involved, doing everything they could, on a rota system. Even little
kids were going up to the slate quarry four hours away, bringing
slate back to the contractors. It was important to us that they did
get so involved, in that they put in a third of a cost, the labouring
being included in the estimates, so they were humping sand up from
the river, carrying bags of cement from the roadhead, pulling wood
from the forest, digging up rocks for the stonemasons, so they feel
that it is very much their project.
SK: When did you set up Community
Action Nepal, and how is it funded?
DS: We got so many projects on the go, we decided to set up
Community Action Nepal as a registered charity, with its own Project
Manger, in 1998. CAN is funded by the trekking operation, which two
years ago put in £35,000. With tourism down, we rely
increasingly on individual donations from trekkers who have gone
through the areas, seen the projects, and got interested in raising
money themselves. The trekking operation, now called Community Action
Treks, organises trips and expeditions to Nepal on a "people not
profit" principle. We try to ensure that at least one of our projects
in the middle hill area is visited by trekkers, and this creates a
real connection with the rural people of Nepal, which gives them a
better understanding of the spiritual and cultural diversity of
ordinary village life.
SK: Does CAN have specific aims, or
are projects set up an an ad hoc basis as you see a particular
DS: So far, as we have travelled through an area, villagers
have come up to us with a deputation and a business plan, say for a
health post or a school, and we have sent Jiban Kharki our Project
Manager out to do a demographic profile of the area to make sure that
it is going to benefit the people there. So we have found ourselves
operating basically by natural growth in several valleys, and the
more we got into it we realized that OK, we can help with health and
education, but what are these better educated children going to with
their lives afterwards. The tendency would be to drift off to
Kathmandu, attracted by the bright lights they had heard about,
perhaps get further education, but then stay there looking for
So it seemed very important to set up income-generating schemes in
these areas, and that's where our big thrust is now, to encourage all
kinds of activities like improving the amount and variety of crops
they get from the land, making use of products from the forest which
they might sell for medicinal purposes, also bee-keeping, self-help
in the training of carpenters to do their own carpentry rather than
bringing it in from afar.
SK: Which areas of Nepal is CAN
DS: It's all in the middle hills, which derives less
benefit from tourism. Most of these villages, lying between 2000 and
4000 metres, are just not in tourist areas, and its people are
amongst the poorest in Nepal.
SK: How many people are involved with
There's a very active band of eight trustees in the UK, all
volunteers of course, with just one paid administration officer, and
in Nepal we have set up an office staffed by local people, with a
Project manager, two overseers, and an accounts handler, as well as
various Nepali nurses and teachers.
All the donations made in the UK go out to Nepal, our UK wages
are paid from sales of merchandise. That's really helped us actually,
people these days sometimes worry that any donations they make to the
major charities ends up in administration, paying wages, but so far,
hopefully for ever, any donation made here will go out to Nepal.
SK: Tell me about IPPG...
DS: IPPG, the International Porter Protection Group, was
actually started by Jimmy Duff, our expedition doctor in 1975 when we
climbed Everest. Jimmy had been going out there a lot himself
trekking, actually giving first aid to porters and conducting some
seminars in Kathmandu on first aid to sirdars from trekking
He was so put out to find that porters who were suffering from AMS
were just left to their own devices; some had actually been dismissed
and later died. He decided to set up the IPPG to protect porters. Of
course in Nepal, and a lot of other Himalayan countries, there's no
rules and regulations protecting the working man from the excesses of
the market economy.
When we set up the trekking operation, we paid porters double the
going rate, and made sure that they were properly kitted out, and
weren't carrying excessive loads. We had the sirdars brief the
porters before they left about the dangers of AMS, and to tell them
that if they got it they must report it, and not think that they
would lose wages.
Generally, we had a whole uniform made for them in Kathmandu to
make certain they were protected against the cold. It was very
adequate, much like the old Ventile top and bottom anorak and
overtrousers, which was lined as well. Then we got Brasher's seconds
boots, we'd take those out there, so they were well shod; Berghaus
gave us their seconds, fleeces and anoraks, and Buffalo were very
generous as well. This was all done on the trekking side, but
Community Action Nepal is involved in building a porter protection
centre up in Khumbu.
SK: What future plans do you have for
DS: The important thing now is to take an integrated
approach to the three or four areas we are operating in, to help them
with job opportunities basically, and encouraging them to develop
things like women's groups.
SK: Do you still have any unfulfilled
In 1998 I climbed the central pillar of Drohmo South Face
(22,890 feet) with Roger Mear, and also Tang Kongma at 20,420 feet,
and I think I've still got two or three 6,000s in me – there's
still more unclimbed Himalayan peaks between 6000 and 7000 metres
than those that have been climbed.
'I think I've still got two or
three 6,000s in me – there's still more
unclimbed Himalayan peaks between 6000 and 7000 metres than
those that have been climbed.'
SK: Thank you.
Anyone who wishes to support the work of Community Action Nepal,
or join a trek organised by Community Action Treks, which operates on
the basis of directing all profits to CAN, can find out more by
the official web site of Community Action Nepal, which has full
details of all the current projects, and numerous ways in which
people can help. The International Porter Protection Group's web site
is at www.ippg.net.
More than anything else, Doug Scott wishes to put something back
into Nepal, a country he has been visiting for thirty years, and
whose people have profoundly touched him with their kindness and
generosity of spirit, things which all visitors to Nepal soon
discover for themselves. The work of Community Action Nepal is
transforming the lives of hundreds of rural Nepalis, and giving hope
for the future; in Doug's words: "Putting something back."
© words and images by Simon Kirwan 2002 www.the-lightbox.com