Valerie Hovland accomplished a feat some mountaineers only dream of: summiting Everest. But after a couple trips to Nepal in the early 2000s, Hovland shifted her focus to a much different dream: building a school in rural Nepal.
Hovland, the director of the Advanced Mountaineering School at the Boulder CMC, first traveled to Nepal in 2003.
“I fell in love with the mountains, and I just kept going back,” she explained.
Hovland stands in front of Ama Dablam in 2004
In 2004, CMC members organized a trip to Ama Dablam (22,349 ft.) in the Himalayas, and Hovland decided to return to Nepal for a second time—a trip that instilled in her both a dream to climb Everest and a desire to help people in rural Nepal.
After the trip, Hovland began fundraising to help children by building a school in Nepal, a country with a 57.4 percent adult literacy rate and 24.8 percent of the population below the international poverty line, according to UNICEF (for reference, the U.S. has around 15.1 percent below the poverty line). With tourism and development focused on bigger cities like Kathmandu (the capital), Nepal education initiatives often fall short in rural communities.
Hovland began her effort to build a school by connecting with Room to Read, an education platform that focuses on literacy and gender quality that has roots in Nepal and works in collaboration with communities and local governments throughout Asia and Africa.
“I clicked with how they did things and started volunteering with them,” Hovland explained. “That’s when I decided to raise money to build a school there.”
Through her slideshows of mountaineering trips, Hovland reached the CMC community and beyond, including friends and family. After summiting Everest in 2008, she made a documentary and presented it throughout 2009, completing her fundraising goal.
Hovland poses on Mt. Everest with a Room to Read poster
The five-room school was finished in 2010 in the plains of rural southwestern Nepal. Hovland got the chance to visit in 2011, where its 900 students sung and danced for her. Hovland describes it as “one of the most amazing experiences of [her] life.”
Hovland is greeted by students at the school she built in Nepal
Students dance outside of the school to welcome Hovland
The school is two stories, including a library dotted with vibrant colors where each class comes once or twice a week. It includes literacy programs and color/rating systems to help students progress.
Hovland and students celebrate outside of the two-story school building
Hovland joins students and Room to Read educators in the school’s library
Hovland was inspired by the experience, and decided to start fundraising to build another school. She is currently working toward her goal of $40,000-$45,000.
Back in Boulder, Hovland says her experiences in Nepal have affected her life significantly.
“I think more globally now,” she said. “I have a sweet spot in my life for Nepal, even when I’m on the trails here…I have two small kids now, and I’m excited to take them there someday.”
Hovland has currently raised $24,240 of her goal to build a second school in Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, or Sri Lanka. To help her reach it, check out her Room to Read fundraising page.