Fond de montagne

Swiss Sherpa Foundation spreads its footprint

Founded in 2008, the Swiss foundation soon achieved good results in Nepal. Building on its initial success, it is now deploying programs in Pakistan and Argentina, and broadening its scope of action.

2008. Patrick Z’Brun, a Swiss mountain guide and wine grower, set off to conquer Everest. On the slopes of the “top of the world”, he rubbed shoulders with sherpas, “without whom no expedition is possible.” As he explains, “the real question is not whether you climb Everest with or without oxygen, but whether you need sherpas – and there’s only one answer to that question....“ Unless your name’s Kilian Jornet.

One year later, a film produced by Swiss public broadcaster SRG paid homage to them. Its French title translates as: Sherpas: The True Heroes of Everest. When translated into Nepalese a few years later thanks to the Swiss Sherpa Foundation, it gave the sherpas’ families an eye-opening insight into their far-from-ordinary daily lives: “Plenty of the villagers had never seen the film before, and could not imagine what their men did during expeditions on Everest.”

Photo de groupe Swiss Sherpa

For Patrick, the 2008 expedition was, above all, the shock that generated the Swiss Sherpa Foundation, an idea hatched in the rarified oxygen strata of the Himalaya.
“I was struck by an analogy,” he recalls. “The sherpas reminded me of the Valais-region guides during the golden age of mountaineering. They were the stocky village lads who served as porters but also eased progress on the mountain.” The job often provided only precarious employment, and safety measures were sometimes nonexistent.

Training for independence

In light of this observation, the Swiss Sherpa Foundation’s work has two thrusts: training, and helping sherpas and other mountain peoples become financially independent. These two endeavors help achieve a compelling objective: making them autonomous and also masters of their destiny, primarily vis-à-vis the big travel agencies that employ them.

The training covers a range of subjects: English classes; rescue training; and snow & avalanche training, the third and final phase of which is scheduled for February 2019, with nearly 120 sherpas attending. Although the first sessions were held in Switzerland and France, they were soon run by local Swiss Sherpa-trained trainers, and are now managed autonomously.

“Thanks to our partnership with the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), ten sherpas have trained as mountain guides, an internationally recognized qualification, which led to the Nepal National Mountain Guides Association being founded in 2012,” explains Patrick Z’Brun proudly. This rapid development means the NNMGA is now able to run its own training courses. We’ve come full circle.
This is why the Swiss Sherpa Foundation – though not neglecting Nepal, which still receives occasional support packages and visits by experts, is also taking an interest in other parts of the world. “At the moment, we have a program under way in Argentina and Pakistan,” says Patrick. In Pakistan, support is being provided in Baltistan to set up a mountain guides’ association and to support a primary school. In Argentina, our support takes the form of marketing and English training for young workers in order to “energize the tourism potential” of Salta province in Argentina.
The methods may vary, but the intention doesn’t change: giving people the resources to be responsible for themselves and live free, independent and fulfilling lives.