Four years ago, the nation watched in disbelief as the leading lights of the conservation movement were lost to a tragic helicopter crash in Ghunsa. Among the dead were veteran geographer Harka Gurung, and eminent conservationists Mingma Norbu Sherpa and Chandra Prasad Gurung. In just moments, the country had lost some of its most brilliant and dedicated minds.
It seemed as if conservation in Nepal would now be rudderless. The family of late Mingma Norbu Sherpa, however, decided to establish a scholarship in his memory. Mingma's wife Phurba and her two children set up the Mingma Norbu Sherpa Memorial Scholarship in 2008 to help produce highly trained and capable environmentalists to fill the void created by the loss of Mingma and others.
Salina Poudyal from Kathmandu (pic, above) was one of the first two students awarded the scholarship. Along with Anu Lama, Salina pursued her master's degree at the prestigious Lincoln University, New Zealand, Mingma's alma mater. Two years later, Salina has returned with a degree and a stronger conviction to work in the conservation field in Nepal.
"It was not just any scholarship. There is a great deal of respect and admiration for Mingma in Lincoln and we knew we had to live up to his name," Salina says. She studied Environmental Policy and Planning, while Anu Lama studied Parks and Recreation. Mingma, too, had completed a diploma in Parks and Recreations at Lincoln and a post-graduate degree in Natural Resource Management at the University of Manitoba before returning to work as a warden in Sagarmatha National Park. It was the beginning of an impressive, but sadly curtailed, career.
Like Mingma, many Nepali conservationists were educated at Lincoln and at one time the directors of almost all conservation projects in Nepal were Lincoln graduates. "It is an honour to be able to study in a place that has produced such luminaries," says Salina, no slouch herself. She had impressive academic and work credentials while in Nepal. In New Zealand too, she consistently performed well.
Salina plans to work for a while in Nepal before going back for a PhD. She wants to combine her background in environmental science with her policy and planning studies to bring reform to the environmental sector. The scholarship that Salina has received does not make it mandatory for her to return and work in Nepal, but she thinks it is only right that she does so.
"We have big shoes to fill," Salina admits, before adding, "There's a lot to do before we can even come close to the achievements of those who we lost in Kanchenjunga. For now, we can at least follow their footsteps."
Remembering Mingma Sherpa
ANNE B KEISER
The man who grew up to be a leading conservationist in Nepal had humble beginnings. Born and raised in a village near Everest, Mingma Norbu Sherpa continued his education through several scholarships initiated by Sir Edmund Hillary.
After completing his Masters in Natural Resources Management from University of Manitoba, Mingma returned to work in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). As a founder and later director of the project, he introduced conservation efforts that built on local participation. Mingma was a great believer in community-led conservation and handed over ACAP's management to the communities as soon as he could.
He was also involved in developing a model for environmental education in the country, establishing conservation areas and parks in Nepal and Bhutan, and curbing poaching and deforestation in the Himalayan region. While working with WWF, he was involved in projects to conserve the endangered one-horned rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Mingma was working to set up the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA), a project close to his heart, and was returning from a ceremony to hand over control of KCA to the local council, when the helicopter he was in crashed. All 24 aboard were killed instantly; the victims included the who's who of the conservation movement in Nepal.