After summiting Mt Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary went on to lead more adventures in the Himalayas, Antarctica, New Zealand and around the world. He is notable for driving a tractor to the South Pole, taking jet boats all the way up the Ganges River and being the first person to reach both poles and the highest peak in the world. For five years in the 1980s he was also the New Zealand High Commissioner for India. But it is the philanthropic work he conducted in Nepal over more than half his lifetime that could be regarded as his greatest legacy.
It was on a Himalayan expedition in 1960 to find the fabled yeti that the idea of building a school for Khumjung was discussed around a campfire. Sir Ed asked his Sherpa friends how he could repay them for everything they had done for him, and they were quick to reply that they wanted a school to educate their children.
‘Our children have eyes but they are blind.’
Despite surviving under the shadow of illiteracy, the Sherpa people were, nevertheless, very thoughtful and farsighted. Through the knowledge gained from their various experiences and the influence of foreign travellers, they had a deep regard for education.
He pledged to build a school in Khumjung the following year, although at the time he had no idea how he would make it happen. It is credit to Sir Edmund Hillary that he was not only able to find sponsors and partners for his many expeditions, but that the same companies and people were quick to support him in his charitable work as well.
And so one year later, Khumjung School (sometimes called Hillary School) was opened for its first class. Not long afterward Sir Ed founded the Himalayan Trust with some of his climbing friends and it was the start of a long and fruitful partnership between Sir Ed and the Sherpa people.