More than 80 years ago, the Timaru Herald reported that a ‘Mrs J. M. H. Tripp was very anxious that a tramping club should be formed in Geraldine.’ It took more than 50 years, but in 1985 several ad-hoc groups joined to form the Geraldine Tramping Club.
Member Marg Stocker says the club formed simply ‘because there was a need. And as it was successful, the next step was for adults to help youngsters in the outdoors.’ The club was a good fit for the community, which lies on the fringes of expansive backcountry, with outdoor recreation centres, a sophisticated high school outdoor programme, and small ski areas nearby.
‘It’s all on our doorstep here,’ Marg says. ‘We usually go out once a fortnight on a day trip, somewhere between Aoraki and Arthur’s Pass. A hard core will always go out, and on a good day, between 12 and 20 members will go. There are occasional weekend trips away; in November, we have a week-away trip, normally in the South Island,’ she says.
From the club’s home in South Canterbury, they’ve made regular use of nearby lofty country. ‘We’ve been in the Tasman, the Landsborough, and the Mueller,’ says fellow member George Hunter.
And they’ve also prioritised advocacy. Members have rallied against the closure of the Ahuriri Valley access, promoted the formation of conservation parks, fought for ongoing access on legal roads, and were involved in tenure review.
For 16 years those parameters suited club members very well. Then came an encounter that would dramatically expand their stamping ground and purpose. In 2001, George was guided on Nepal’s Annapurna circuit by Ngima Sherpa of Damar, a village in the Okhaldhunga district of the country’s eastern Middle Hills. The area receives minimal government attention and lies largely outside the normal focus of tourism. ‘The mountains are not high enough [largely under 4,000 metres] to attract tourists,’ says George – ‘life is very hard there.’ When Ngima said he’d like solar lighting for his village, George asked, ‘How can I help?’
With fellow club members and affiliates, George returned to Nepal to install solar lighting in Damar. Then, year-by-year, they returned to improve the village’s water, heating, sanitation and ventilation, basics that were new to most in the region.
But club members saw that to really improve the quality of life for their friends in Damar and wider Okhaldunga, their work needed to be more strategic. So, in 2013, they established a charitable enterprise called the Forgotten Sherpas of Nepal Trust (FSNT) to sustain ongoing practical work to improve the health of the whole community.
At the heart of the trust’s mission is an Okhaldunga-wide health service that offers clinics in four locations, nurses trained in midwifery, a medical assistant, and some supervision by a doctor. Marg says, ‘We’re hoping to build a medical centre with room for doctors – GPs or specialists – and our nurses will be able to work with them.’
Keen to grow foundational skills in the district, the trust backs the local Dhikure School and provides English lessons for adults looking to increase work opportunities. Marg says, ‘We’re making the project sustainable and putting it into their hands; we’re getting value for everyone’s money.’
Sustainability is the thing. Ongoing local fundraising is vital. ‘We’re grateful to the South Canterbury community for their support,’ says Marg.
George says, ‘For about 18 months we sought official recognition in Nepal. We now have a memorandum of understanding with a local NGO called the Okhaldunga Nine Hills Association, and we’ve been formally recognised by the local district authorities and the central government department that controls local and international NGOs. We’d love to have other tramping clubs involved too.’
While tramping Canterbury’s hinterland remains the club’s bread-and-butter, the trust’s work has added a dimension that sets hearts and minds wandering in Nepal, and maintains a real closeness between the trampers of Geraldine and the Okhaldunga people. The club plans a Nepal trip this year. ‘We pay our own way’, Marg says. ‘We’ll do promotion before we go, we’ll do practical work, and, well, it’s like a second home. There’s a connection there.’
For more information on the Geraldine Tramping Club, email email@example.com or call 03 6880748 or 021 0328830. To find out about the Forgotten Sherpas of Nepal Trust, visit www.forgottensherpas.org.
This club profile was first published in the March 2017 edition of Backcountry.