Yesterday, I launched my first crowdfunding project. I plan to go to Nepal and tell stories about the Sherpas, the invisible people who work on Mount Everest. Profiles, features, video interviews, Twitter chats, I want to serve up the whole multimedia gamut. And to do that, I want to raise funds to get there, pay for gear, my time, and donate to non-profits helping the men and women of the Himalaya.
In December, I traveled to Everest Base Camp on assignment for the BBC. I wanted to see what years of tourism had done to the mountain. I had heard stories about the metric tons of trash that pock marked the trail, and when I got there I saw just that. It was depressing to see such a beautiful place so scarred by man, but it wasn’t the worst thing. On the way to 18,000 feet, I discovered something else, something more important than the land—the people. A lot of people were suffering to bring foreigners to the heights. Up here, life is hard.
There is no infrastructure, no government grid to tap into for water and power, no navigable roads for cars. Everything is either grown locally, or flown in, and hauled on the backs of Sherpas. Men, women, and even children. Thin air and unpredictable weather leave helicopters and planes limited options for landing, and even less runways. People truly subsist off the land, and from the tourists who come here. But that reliance is also the very thing that threatens longterm sustainability. Because at the top of the world, even a daily commute can be deadly.
When I heard about the avalanche in April, the worst in recorded history, I’m sorry to say I wasn’t surprised.
A few months earlier, I was a thousand feet away from exactly where the disaster happened in the Khumbu Icefall. Overhanging ice, deep glacial crevasses, blistering wind, I saw and felt it all.
On my trip, more than a dozen people were medically evacuated to lower elevation, due to a host of altitude related injuries. I had come to Everest naive about the dangers, but left both lucky, and aware how unforgiving the land can be. And despite not being there, I felt personally connected to the tragedy. Of the 16 men that died on April 18, I wouldn’t be surprised if I passed some of them on the icy trail back in December, or shared a cup of tea by the warmth of a yak dung stove. If not them, I’m sure I had spoken to family members on the mountain, or down in Kathmandu, and I definitely knew people who were friends of victims. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what.
The last six months I’ve spent heavily invested in this tiny nation. While climbing I began, and (just) recently finished a book on my experiences. Mine is the story of a young journalist coming-of-age on the mountain (my book was a featured selection in the Twitter Random House Penguin Fiction Festival). Now I plan to spend at least a month back in Nepal, telling the stories of these invisible people. I want to explore why they do it and who they really are. I want to find out what magic pull the top of the world has, and their chances for a better life now that there’s newfound international attention.
I’m working with one of Nepal’s top journalists in Deepak Adhikari, and the project is being hosted on Beacon. On Tuesday, the campaign went live. Confession moment: I’ve never had any experience raising money. When times are hard, I have trouble even asking my mother for help. Truth is, I hate asking. Suddenly, with this project, I feel like I’m the MC at a telethon. Or an NPR reporter droning on about member station support.
Still, what choice do I have? I sent out a few tweets, made a couple of Facebook posts, and have plans to attack my email contacts, and pitch, pitch, pitch. But I’m not sure that that’s the right approach. The truth is, I’m not quite sure yet what is, and I’m open to any and all suggestions, anecdotes, experience or contacts you’d be willing to send my way.
People seem supportive so far. My first tweet got 57 retweets and 21 favorites—that’s a lot of sharing. But what I’ve found (admittedly in not too much time), is that it seems easy to hit “RT,” and much harder to reach for your wallet. Real journalism and humanitarian aid might look good on a Twitter feed, but so far I’ve only raised $70. That’s $14,930 away from my goal. Now if I do raise that money in the next 28 days, which is a lot of time, Beacon will match me and give me another $15,000, money to pay for travel, lodging, gear, local guides, and funds to donate to three separate aid groups that directly help the Sherpas, and the families hit by the April tragedy.
I know it’s still early. I’m confident, Deepak’s confident, the team at Beacon is confident. But—but, I’m a journalist. In reality, I’m skeptical, I’m worried, and I’m not good at much beyond clacking keys. And unfortunately, because of the ever-impending deadlines I face every day, I don’t have a lot of time to promote, or a rolodex of wealthy friends or family. And so, here I am. I’m not looking for much—as little as $5—it won’t break the bank, and you’ll know that you’re supporting real reporting, and underprivileged people, not lining the pockets of execs who’ve grown fat off link bait. And if my stick it to the man, promote the underdog rhetoric isn’t enough, I’m sure there’s some kind of tax write-off. Jokes aside, this is a chance to support real journalism and make a pledge to help an important story. To actually help, not just pretend. And know that that help will improve the lives of real people suffering hardship that you and I will likely never experience. That’s my pitch. And if I can’t make a convincing case to my peers at Medium, then where can I?