On 24 August 2010, an Agni Air flight bound for Lukla was returning to Kathmandu in poor weather with a technical malfunction. It crashed 30km south of Kathmandu in the village of Bastipur in Makwanpur district. Fourteen people on board were killed, including flight attendant Sarah Sherpa.
Her parents, aviation entrepreneur Dorji Tsering Sherpa and Anju Sherpa made it to Bastipur a few months later and burst into tears when they saw the crater where the Dornier fell to the ground. Seeing the couple in such a state of grief, locals who had gathered around also started weeping.
The Sherpas were so touched by their emotion, they decided to spend the money from their daughter’s insurance and wedding budget on the development of Bastipur village.
They started with the nearby Bakiya Thakur Primary School, which the plane narrowly missed. The school was in a dilapidated state, enrollment was falling, and few children studied beyond Grade 5 since the middle school was a 45-minute walk away.
ROAD TO REMEMBER: The 6km road built by Dorji Tsering Sherpa (below) and his SKY Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, Sarah, and others killed in the Agni Air crash in Makwanpur exactly four years ago this week. Dorji Tsering Sherpa at Bastipur’s school and stupa.
The couple renovated the school building, and started working on upgrading it to a middle school, hiring teachers and paying for their salaries. The school now has 100 per cent enrollment and students have scholarships, and get free stationery and uniforms.
But there was a lot more to be done. Dorji got in touch with families of other victims and set up the Sky Memorial Foundation, named after three young victims: Sarah, Kendra Fallon (US), and Yuki Hayashi (Japan). The foundation now manages the development work in Bastipur and its surroundings. Dorji says that his 30-year career in aviation has earned him a lot of friends, who have contributed in fundraising.
One of his Japanese friends helped build a health clinic in nearby Sikhapur in memory of his wife, which means local villagers do not have to make a two-hour ride to Phaparbari to see a doctor.
Some money also went to reviving the local school, which was on the verge of being shut down. In consultation with the villagers and with help from local CA member Indra Baniya, the Foundation has just finished construction of a 6km road connecting Bastipur with Hattisunde where locals were ecstatic when the first jeep arrived recently.
Now, farm produce from the area can be taken to market. “Our bananas, cucumber, mango and pineapple won’t go to waste anymore,” says farmer Prem Bahadur Ghale.
Says Dorji: “More than infrastructure development, our biggest achievement has been the change our work has brought in the mindset of the villagers who now seem positive and hopeful about the future.” Dorji is already planning ahead. He thinks a homestay program can bring tourists to the area and boost local income.
After his wife passed away last year, Dorji is even more determined to continue the work they started together. He says: “I think of Sikharpur as my daughter and wife’s home.”
SKY Memorial Foundation: