the climate ambassador /

There’s a lot being written about Sabrina Filzmoser right now and with her accomplishments and passions as they are, it’s no surprise. In Nepal’s second blog, we quoted Jigoro Kano Shihan, “The purpose of studying judo is to improve oneself and contribute to society.” One of Sabrina’s great contributions to society is her work in educating remote judo communities around the world about the serious issue of climate change. She is an IFJ Climate Ambassador and she has made it her mission to live true to this role.

Drawing on her vast experience in Nepal, she has seen firsthand the impact of climate change: “I had been at Everest Base Camp since March 23 for 50 days and every morning I could see the river flowing through the camp. This is proof of climate change. It shouldn’t be like this. If it continues at this rate, we will only see rocks and no glaciers in a few years. It’s heartbreaking.

We’ve seen footage of Sabrina picking up trash from Mount Everest and raising awareness of the need for cleanup and, more importantly, for all expeditions and individuals to dispose of their trash more conscientiously. The good news is that she’s not the only one with this mindset in the region.

Garbage collection just below Everest base camp

A short walk south of Khumjung, home to the region’s highest school, hospital and judo club, is a newly built environmental center. It’s the brainchild of an Indian family with close ties to the hospitality and tourism industry and their investment combined with the commitment of the project manager, Tommy Gustafsson, is producing something quite extraordinary.

Tommy is of Swedish origin but he has lived in Nepal for 40 years and this is indeed his home. With Khumjung being on the main route for locals and tourists, their center, Sagarmatha Next, is in a prime location to attract the attention of thousands of people every year.

The interior of Sagarmatha Next with prayer flags made from recycled beer cans

Tommy explains: “In 2012, we started installing bins along the paths. The trails are now very clean compared to ten years ago. The problem is that the usual practice is still to landfill everything to burn and then cover, but now we are trying to work with the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee to educate people to reuse the waste.

It is a multi-dimensional plan: “We encourage artists to come and create works of art with waste. Now we have a studio for artists to create their pieces and so this place becomes a showcase. We can sell the art and show that it is possible to make money. It’s already happening.”

Tommy showing one of the gallery’s pieces already sold.

“We also work with designers to make keepsakes and increase revenue again instead of increasing landfills. We keep everything for all types of artists to use, from drink bottles to mats to cardboard, Recently we had a German group here who did 1000 beer can flag prayers.

There is also a new museum and this whole facility is called Sagamartha Next. The building was designed by a company called Sustainable Mountain Architecture, with a team of 35 landscape architects who participated in the project. Many traditional Sherpa building techniques are used, but are enhanced by modern techniques. We used a natural mud mortar made from manure, eggshells, natural oils and other things and again it’s a completely sustainable mix.

Tommy is very clear about the mission: “Waste is not rubbish, it is a resource and if handled well it can be valuable. This is the main point of education here.

Artwork created from recycled waste

Simple upcycle and recycling measures seem like common sense to many of us, but Sabrina agrees with Tommy that education really is key: “It’s important to show local people how it can be done. I showed our Everest judo kids how to sort trash and even made games out of it to make it fun.

Tommy does the same with hikers: “The ‘to-go bag’ is our participatory way of moving waste, 1 kg at a time. Anyone and everyone can participate. Imagine if the thousands of hikers who cross here each year only collected one kilogram each; the area would be totally clean!

Sabrina makes a serious point: “From the younger people we work with, the local community is beginning to understand. Children educate their families and friends. We also tried to do the same in EBC. We see many people, including Sherpas, throwing trash on the ground, not because they are trying to do anything wrong, but because there has never been any education about it and can -be no mechanisms to better deal with it. Once the Sherpas are shown how they can impact the environment by simply cleaning up the trash, they really take pride in doing it. Today, Mingma David Sherpa, a giant in the climbing world, has his own clothing brand displaying slogans such as “Save the Planet”. It has huge significance here.

At Sagarmatha Next, there is even a mini-theatre showing two information films on the region and its climate issues. It’s a great record of the history and changing demographics of this area and how the people here lived in the past and how it evolved into the modern era. Tourists can watch the movies, enjoy the on-site art gallery, buy recycled souvenirs, and find out how to better support this region.

Souvenirs made from bottle caps are sophisticated and desirable and can fund the continuation of the Sagarmatha Next Education Center

Tommy continues: “Tourism brings waste as well as jobs. The SPCC has been collecting litter for 20 years, keeping the trails clean. Here we are now changing the very perception of waste. We hope to inspire people to look at waste in a whole new way.

Sagarmatha Next is an impressive structure in the rural landscape and its purpose is lofty. The project’s multifaceted approach is its mastery, with a solution to every waste challenge. To learn more or even contribute, you can visit the Sagarmatha Next website here.