The last half-mile of our climb was a straight uphill climb. I was hot and sweating profusely. A cold beer had never tasted better. As it hit my lips, I wondered who had carried the heavy glass beverages up the mountain, accessible only by steep, uneven stone steps.
Over drinks our trekking guide Muna shared her story. She left school at 13, became the child bride of a man who was seven years older, and shortly thereafter gave birth to a daughter. When she was 15, she begged her mother to allow her to return home because of her husband’s abuse. Feeling lucky that her mother allowed her to return, she was unprepared when a few months later her husband took her daughter away from her. It was ten years before she would see her daughter again.
She describes the years between the loss of her child and finding work as a guide as extremely difficult. She worked in a rock quarry for a number of years, crushing larger rocks into small pieces for construction with her bare hands. It was grueling manual labor. Eventually someone told her about a training program for young women to become trekking guides. Trekking is a lucrative occupation in Nepal, but the majority of guides are men.
Muna often wondered why so many foreigners wanted to climb mountains prior to becoming a guide but it is clear that hiking through the mountains brings her great joy. Through Three Sisters Adventure Trekking, Muna went through 18 months of trekking guide training and now leads treks monthly in Nepal. Three Sister’s provided Muna with an opportunity that simply wouldn’t have been available.
Three Sisters was found by Lucky, Dicky, and Nicky Chhetri, Nepali sisters and pioneers in the field of female trekking guides. In 1993, they were running a restaurant and a lodge in Pokhara, where they met women from all over the world. Many of their clients complained of negative experiences with their male guides. So the sisters decided to do something about it.
It turns out that their work has helped both women trekkers and Nepali women. In 1994, they created a training program to teach local women the necessary skills for trekking and guiding. Since then, close to 2,000 women from all over Nepal have completed the training. Many have become full-time guides or assistant guides.
Over my short three-day trek, our guide and assistant guides – Muna , Punam, and Tukashi – were stopped multiple times by women in the rural areas in which we hiked. It was clear the women respected what they were doing and wanted to get more information on how they could get involved. I felt like we were with rock stars in the countryside of Nepal. Women young and old would excitedly greet our guides and ask them where we were heading. It was obvious that these women were leading the charge of change in their communities.
This experience showed me that one of the best things we can do to help Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake a year ago is to put our dollars into tourism so that its people can earn a living and rebuild their lives. I was so touched by the stories our guides shared with us along our journey, and I share the enthusiasm of the women that we met along the trail. The way to help the woman of Nepal is provide them opportunity and hope. If you'd like to help visit Three Sister Adventure Trekking's website and sign up for a trek or make a donation to their nonprofit, Empowering Women of Nepal and help women in Nepal become self-supportive and independent.