Snowland Journeys CIC is a non-profit organisation which supports the wellbeing and welfare of Nepal’s High Himalayan children; helping them reconnect and maintain contact with their mountain families and culture, alongside their right to education. It also aims to develop ecological, self-sustainable and environmentally-friendly livelihoods for mountain communities. In parallel, the organisation provides mental wellbeing and resilience training for young people in the UK.
In light of Snowland Journeys CEO, Zara Balfour being recognised as CEO of the Year, 2021 – London, UK, we take a closer look at the incredible work of the organisation.
There are presently no schools offering a consistent education in the Upper Dolpo region of Nepal and no qualified teachers are willing to live in such remote areas, so some children must be educated in the city of Kathmandu, in the hope that education will give them a better life. Due to the remoteness of the villages, the children are unable to see or speak to their parents for 10-12 years, until they graduate from school and have the chance to return home.
Snowland Journeys’ reintegration programme prepares these children to return home, equipping them both physically and emotionally for the reunion, then guiding them on the long journey home, which involves up to three weeks of hiking through the mountains. Some of the passes they have to cross are as high as Everest base camp.
Prior to their departure, Snowland Journeys delivers therapeutic sessions in the outdoors, where the young people are equipped with life skills, given outdoor and resilience education, taught about their village culture and local dialect, and prepared for reintegration with their families. Further personal and social development is included the programme as well as psychological and emotional support from local social workers for both the young people and their families, supporting their wellbeing and helping them to reintegrate successfully and build lasting bonds into the future.
The organisation also supports the young people after their family reunion as they return to the city for higher education, and as they transition to independent living as adults. Graduates prove the success of the programme as recent beneficiaries have trained to be doctors, trekking guides, teachers, and business entrepreneurs developing the production of local crafts for selling.
Snowland Journeys is now working towards helping to improve the children’s contact with their families over time with the use of technology, such as satellite phones and video calls. Their long-term objective is to enable ecological self-sustaining mountain villages to support improved communication, sanitation, agriculture, and transportation so that future Himalayan children from this region can be educated nearer family, in line with the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals, therefore supporting sustainable development, welfare, and livelihoods for these communities.
CEO, Zara Balfour and her team have been supporting these young people to travel to their mountain homes upon graduation since 2014 through the proceeds of their documentary film, ‘Children of the Snow Land’, and it was in 2019 that Zara formed Snowland Journeys CIC to develop a comprehensive reintegration programme. However, this saw its challenges with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a very difficult time for starting a non-profit organisation.
Zara said, “It demanded a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, adapting our strategies for the last two years, and working much more than expected in the UK marketplace by offering outdoor events and lessons to schools based on our film. Overall, I’m really pleased we’re now in a position to offer mental wellbeing support for young people in the UK, as well as educational lessons, and fun weekend immersions in Nepali and Gurkha culture.”
But the most tragic thing during the pandemic was that some of the young people in Nepal were unable to return home to their families in 2020 or 2021, as travel was halted from the city to the mountains due to the lockdowns that were in place. However, Snowland Journeys is now looking forward to sending those children home when they next have a break in their higher education.
Overall, Zara is “very happy” at Snowland Journeys, with plans to keep building programmes in order to make more of an impact locally and globally. She and her team will continue to fundraise in the form of treks to remote areas of Nepal, cultural weekends in the UK, wilderness training, mental wellbeing training, and educational resources for schools.
Also, Snowland Journeys is now keen to increase its corporate partnerships. The organisation has a variety of rewarding ways that companies can work with it to effect social change, infuse purpose into their culture and improve employee wellbeing while supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Snowland Journeys offers well-defined, high-impact projects that connect employees with CSR initiatives they truly believe in and that can genuinely make a difference.