After 15 years with the dZi Foundation, Ang Chokpa Sherpa recently stepped down as our Nepal Country Director to pursue new adventures. As a leader, pioneer, and long-time friend of dZi's, we are endlessly grateful for her dedication to prosperity in Eastern Nepal. As dZi's longest-serving team member, there are few people who have been more instrumental in shaping the organization into what it is today. But outside of her role with dZi, her personal journey also reflects the growing prosperity in Eastern Nepal. From a childhood in the Himalaya, to an education in Kathmandu, and returning to serve the people and communities she loves, Ang Chokpa's trail-blazing journey sets an example for us all.
Ang Chokpa was born into a small family in the beautiful village of Chaurikharka, Solukhumbu District. Her father was the principal of the village's school, and her mother was a health worker at a local clinic. Her parents earned enough to support their family, and they encouraged her independent spirit and her pursuit of an education. Growing up in a thriving Sherpa community, Ang Chokpa has fond memories of celebrating Lhosar, Dumji, and other regional festivals. The entire village would come together to dance, sing, and celebrate their heritage. In the winters, her parents traveled to Kathmandu or Darjeeling to visit family and Ang Chokpa would be responsible for caring for her brother and the family household. She collected firewood and fodder for their livestock, prepared meals, and made sure their family farm was in working order for her parent's return.
As she grew older, Ang Chokpa and her brother moved to the nearby village of Khumjung to attend secondary school. They rented a room in the new village and were responsible for caring for themselves during the school week. She loved her classes but felt terribly homesick. Living away from her parents was hard and she constantly wanted to run back to her house. She would make the day-long walk home to her village every weekend, and the wearisome trip back at the beginning of the next week. She was close to dropping out of school when a letter from her father convinced her to stay. It wasn't an easy time in her life, but she knew how fortunate she was to receive an education.
Starting in third grade, Ang Chokpa was the only girl in her class. Many young women were eager to pursue their education, but because their families couldn't afford school fees or needed their help with chores, those girls stayed at home. The lack of female peers was a constant reality. Years later when Ang Chokpa entered the workforce, she often found herself to be the only female in the room. The lack of gender equity that she experienced in her primary school class left few women with the formal education to be considered for professional jobs. Despite the gender dynamics she often encountered, she never allowed herself to feel uncomfortable or any less confident in her abilities.
In the early 2000's, Ang Chokpa moved to Kathmandu to pursue higher education. Following the completion of her Master's Degree in Rural Development in 2005, she returned to Solukhumbu to work as the CEO of Porters Progress - an NGO that advocated for the rights of trekking porters in the Himalaya. Porters Progress was a local partner of dZi, and together they implemented projects to support rural communities where porters lived. Through this work, Ang Chokpa got to know Jim Nowak and other members of the dZi team during their trips to evaluate project impacts. They became fast friends, and after recognizing their shared vision for prosperity in Eastern Nepal, the founder of Porters Progress, Ben Ayers, and Ang Chokpa joined dZi's staff. "Once I joined dZi, my tasks and responsibilities rapidly grew. Initially, we only had one staff member in the field and four in Kathmandu. I had to perform a variety of tasks, including leading community meetings, managing the monitoring and evaluation process, evaluating staff performance, coordinating with government agencies, planning capacity-building trainings for our NGO partners, procuring project materials, and planning educational excursions for the staff," said Ang Chokpa. She remembers when the partner community of Sotang asked for dZi's help rebuilding the roof of a local school. With the rest of dZi's staff already busy with other projects, Ang Chokpa went to the store herself, bought sheets of metal roofing, loaded them onto a truck, and drove them to the field where she hired porters to carry them to the working site. It was exhausting work, but she looks back fondly at the incredible impact of such a small team.
Since Ang Chokpa joined dZi, life in our rural partner communities has undergone a significant transformation. "There was no essential infrastructure when we first began working. We started with the "one house, one toilet" program, which greatly improved village sanitation and hygiene. The central government wouldn't bat an eye at rural communities, and the power and resources were concentrated in the center of Nepal." Community members were highly interested in dZi's work and were excited to collaborate with an INGO that was dedicated to a region where the local government had long been apathetic. When Ang Chokpa's team arrived in our partner community of Gudel, Solukhumbu, for the first time, residents put on a welcoming performance and sang and danced till midnight. She was grateful for their reception, but even more gratified by their eagerness to start planning community development projects early the next morning.
Today, life looks very different in rural Nepal. As more power has been given to local governments and a network of roadways has expanded into the mountains, communities have gained access to more modern-day amenities. Ang Chokpa has witnessed a shift from predominantly subsistence farming communities to an increased interest in new industries and entrepreneurship. In the past, residents only had access to money if they worked as porters in the Everest region or were able to sell extra produce after an especially bountiful harvest. But now, new roads have brought access to vehicles, bulldozers, and retail stores. When dZi used to ask community members to envision their communities in ten years, residents would think of schools, drinking water systems, community buildings, irrigation systems, and bridges. Now, residents are also dreaming of undisrupted electricity, health-related programs, vocational training centers, and much more. It has been a time of dynamic transformation, and Ang Chokpa played a critical role.
Outside of her work as dZi's Nepal Country Director, Ang Chokpa worked to improve access to higher education for girls in mountainous communities through the 'Kina Social Venture.' In Nepali, 'kina' means "why?" and questions why girls in rural areas do not seek an education. To date, the venture has supported around 30 young women in pursuing their higher education. Program graduates have gone on to work as foresters, lab assistants, lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, or even as staff in dZi's local partner NGOs. Ang Chokpa expresses her gratitude to dZi for the connections through which she could pursue a meaningful career and a purpose-driven life.
Having spent a formative period of her life working with dZi, Ang Chokpa is grateful for the experiences and friendships she made. She has seen dZi grow from a bare-bones staff to a thirty-person team with extensive experience, and she is nothing but incredibly grateful for this long, beautiful journey. She is thrilled about dZi's trajectory and is excited for the seeds of her work with dZi to bear fruit for many years to come. From everyone at dZi, a heartfelt thank you - dhanyabāad - to Ang Chokpa for her years of dedication to communities in rural Nepal. The lives of our community members and dZi staff are better for knowing her!