Durangoan organizing Himalayan trek for urban youth
By Dale Rodebaugh
A former Colorado wilderness ranger and member of the ski patrol at Durango Mountain Resort still loves the Rocky Mountains, but he's in an affair with the Himalayas, specifically Nepal.
On his first trip to Nepal in 1996, Jim Sumrall was smitten. Now he leads tours there, with a special one coming up in April when he makes a 12-day trek to the high country to familiarize inner-city youngsters from Kathmandu (elevation 4,500 feet) with a facet of their country they don't know.
The orphaned or abandoned teenagers have spent their lives in the confines of a metropolitan area of 2.5 million inhabitants, Sumrall said in a recent interview in Durango, which is now his home. Fresh air, clean water and colorful vegetation aren't an everyday experience for them, he said.
Sumrall learned through Nepali contacts of the Mitrata ("friendship" in Nepali) Children's Home in Kathmandu. It's operated by Nanda, a 55-year-old woman whose curriculum vitae reads like those of her young charges.
Nanda went to work at age 12 with no schooling. By dint of hard work, she learned English and, after marrying, opened shops that sold traditional stringed instruments and drums. The income allowed her to take in her first orphan in 1995.
Eighteen months after he and his wife, Karen, visited Nepal in March 1996 on a Sierra Club tour, Sumrall returned with the club as a trainee guide. Then he spent a year on the logistics of establishing his own tour, which occurred in March 1999.
The pace picked up considerably. Sumrall, then an operations manager for Intel Corp., got a three-month leave during which time he led a Sierra Club trip and then a private tour, which included his children, to the Himalayas.
"It was when I came back from this extended trip and dealt with a brush with cancer that I decided that it was time to slow down, redirect my energy and focus on living rather than career, advancement, achievement and the material things in life," Sumrall said. "I retired early, and we moved to Durango in the spring of 2001."
Sumrall led treks annually to Nepal for the next five years. In 2007, he joined a project to raise funds for a Nepal charity, one of the beneficiaries of which was the Mitrata Children's Home. Later in 2007, he visited the home at the end of a trek.
Through the years, Sumrall's involvement with Mitrata deepened - educational sponsorships for Mitrata children, personal monetary donations, a fundraiser at the Himalayan Kitchen in Durango and a fund appeal on Facebook.
Sumrall donates through the Worldwide Education Partnerships for Nepal, which was founded by a client on his 2008 trek.
A crisis occurred in 2011 when a major funding source pulled its contribution, forcing Nanda to send older children to boarding homes. The number of residents at Mitrata dropped from 70 to 24.
Durangoan Mark Ward, a landscaper in the summer and a member of the DMR ski patrol in the winter, accompanied Sumrall to Nepal in 2008.
"It was phenomenal, a dream," Ward said. "The country is tranquil like The Needles and the people are poor but happy with what they have.
"On our last night in Kathmandu, we had dinner at the orphanage, and I got to talk with the children," Ward said. "Any contribution would make a difference. It would be money well spent."
The Mitrata annual budget runs about $60,000, Sumrall said.
"When I came back from my April 2012 trek, I decided to embark on a new career - professional volunteer fundraiser," Sumrall said. "On my trip next month, I could use some hardy souls to help and monetary donations, of course."