Fundraising heroes helping Nepal’s Upper Mustang impacted by COVID

Margie Thomas with Chosar women
Margie Thomas with Chosar women

Over $21,000 has been raised so far for the Upper Mustang region of Nepal impacted by COVID. Read about the unsung heroes, including Margie Thomas – long-time Nepal supporter and World Expeditions guide, who are supporting the communities affected by the pandemic.

A prolonged absence of work, children withdrawn from school out of fear for their safety, the difficulty of accessing medical supplies as well as limited facilities and staff to address the outbreak of COVID. Many Nepalese people have been mute spectators to the challenges the pandemic has unapologetically swept into their communities. With a second wave storming across Nepal, COVID has now reached the upper highland districts of Mustang.

Despite its isolation, COVID has unfortunately found its way to the borderlands of Tibet and has reached the Chosar village, situated at 3,900 metres above sea level, and the capital of Lo Manthang. Chosar is one of the most isolated villages in Nepal and is more than a week's trek from the small Jomsom airstrip or two hours by horse from the Tibetan border.

View of Lo Manthang from the pass above the medieval walled city. |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

According to Tikaram Bhandari, the Chief of the District Health Office stated: 'Due to the locals residing in Kathmandu and Pokhara, the district saw a moderate flow of traffic during the rise of the second wave of COVID-19.'

'Also, the flow of workers in various construction projects of roads and bridges in the district have contributed to the spread of the virus to the highlands of the districts.'

Indian pilgrims visiting sacred sites at Muktinath have also unwittingly spread COVID.

According to our sources, there are currently 10 confirmed cases in Upper Mustang as of 28 May 2021, with seven cases in Chosar and three in Lo Manthang.

Chosar villagers Margie Thomas with Chosar villagers Chosar women in rarely seen traditional dress worn at festival times

The challenge

The majority of the villages in the area, including Chosar, Ghami, Tsarang and Lo Manthang, are without hospitals, with Chosar village (that has a total population of around 620) also without any electricity.

View of the Kali Gandaki river from Kagbeni, gateway to Upper Mustang. |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

At every ward of respective rural municipalities, there is only one very basic health post: a room with a few beds to isolate in and no medical supplies for those needing treatment. Consequently, with no easy access to medical oxygen and adequate facilities, this means patients need to be sent to Pokhara for further treatment.

Fundraising heroes

Veteran trekker, Margie Thomas has long held a special relationship with the people in Upper Mustang, having led tours in this secluded region of Nepal for many years.

Margie Thomas with students at Lekshey Choeling Nunnery in Tsarang, Upper Mustang |  <i>Walter Wagner</i>

Following advice from local friends in Chosar, Margie liaised with her long-time friend, Tsewang Bista, who is a member of the Mustang Royal family and his wife, Kesang Dika Bista, who is a doctor. They advised that oxygen concentrators and oximeters (which measure blood oxygen saturation) would help in the villages of Chosar, Ghami, Tsarang and Lo Manthang. These units are mobile, can run off a generator and can be taken to the sick if needed – perfect for the inaccessible region.

The equipment will help restrict the movement of people to prevent the spread of infection and avoid the sick from having to travel far and in difficult terrain to seek treatment.

Margie counts the many people in Upper Mustang as her good friends and responded to their urgent call for help by setting up a fundraising page in mid-May 2021, reaching out to her network – many of whom are her past travel companions.

“I did a separate call out to fund this and the money rolled in immediately. I expect more over the next few days, so we enough to cover the immediate costs. We’re over the $21,000 mark now in terms of fundraising,” Margie said.

With Nepal in lockdown, incredibly, Tsewang still managed to swiftly and efficiently source the much-needed equipment from the initial round of donations and arrange its transportation to where it is desperately needed.

Tsewang Bista helped sourced oxygen concentrators and oximeters for Upper Mustang villagers Transporting oxygen concentrators from charity donors to villagers in Upper Mustang Donations in action – oxygen concentrators being transported to the villages in Upper Mustang

The oxygen concentrators and oximeters will save lives and also provide psychological comfort to the local villagers. They now know they’re not alone in fighting this virus and have the support of donors worldwide.

“Tsewang has pulled several amazing rabbits out of a rather large hat to perform miracles in getting hold of four units and four oximeters,” Margie said.

"With few medical supplies and support, even without COVID, these machines will be very useful in this remote environment.”
Tsewang Bista's winning smile

The World Expeditions Foundation, the not for profit arm of World Expeditions, administered the donation where all proceeds Margie fundraised for this initiative goes directly to purchasing and distributing these much-needed medical supplies as well as supporting the education of local children in these remote areas. Donations are tax-deductible.

“A big hug to the World Expeditions Foundation which makes this possible without taking a cut for admin.”

All of us at World Expeditions love hearing stories about how travel can help the world and this is a great example of this happening.

“It would be great to encourage others to do something similar for a place close to their hearts.”

Support Margie's cause and make a donation today >

UPDATE: Special thanks from the cultural King of Upper Mustang

With the outpouring of support and timely distribution of funds, Jigme Singhi Palbar Bista, the President of Lo Gyalpo Jigme Foundation and the cultural King of Upper Mustang, sang praise to Margie for her fundraising efforts. The letter reads:

Dear Margie la,

On behalf of our foundation and people of Mustang, I want to send you my deepest gratitude for your timely and essential contribution during the COVID pandemic. Your support in providing life-saving oxygen concentrators, oximeters, hospital beds, generator, antigen test kits, and masks have significantly helped in controlling the spread of the virus in upper Mustang.

As you are aware, this year the coronavirus has taken two lives in upper Mustang and many are left infected causing fear and anxiety amongst the people. With limited resources and experience in tackling the virus, our health workers were on the front line helping the sick as much as possible. Your support in making required equipment available has further motivated and equipped our health workers to serve our community efficiently. Your quick response to our request for help and immediate provision of equipment has indeed helped Mustang in tackling with the virus.

We are immensely grateful to you and your friends at World Expeditions for helping Mustang during these difficult and uncertain times. As we continue to tackle with the virus, we are hopeful we will come out of it strong with help from kind friends like you.

Jigme Singhi Palbar Bista
President, Lo Gyalpo Jigme Foundation

It's not every day you receive a letter from royalty – amazing work, Margie!

Published 31 May 2021. Last updated 19 July 2021.

Thoughtful Travel, Charity Challenge, fundraising, Mustang, Nepal, Upper Mustang, Chosar village, World Expeditions Foundation

Comment (1)

Rahul Shah

Thank you for the wonderful content. This is amazing. These heroes are welcome to Nepal anytime.

3 years ago
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