Porters are the backbone of the trekking industry, an activity which provides over 80% of the GDP of Nepal. However, porters used in trekking take on a tremendous burden in carrying the belongings of their guests at a personal cost that is quite detrimental to their health.
Most western industries use animal labor or machines to do difficult and repetitive work. In Nepal, however, the vast majority of that type of work is done by human labor, often at a great cost to those being hired.
Many male Nepalis start as porters at the age of 14, having dropped out of school to take the opportunity to earn money in the lucrative tourism trade. Porters will often carry 2/3 of their own body weight, or more, as pay rates are based on the amount of weight carried. Porters often work six to ten hour days carrying cargo, all typically done in poor clothing and very inadequate footwear. Some porters work the off season by carrying building materials in excess of their own weight in order to maintain stable work schedules.
WWEP works with select trekking companies to provide training for porters and guides to allow them to improve their careers despite the poor working conditions that they have been born into.
A haven for trekkersNepal is the number one destination for high altitude trekking in the world. Spectacular views and thrilling adventures make the activity incredibly popular and provides the majority of the nation's annual income.
Typical animal haulingWestern and developed countries will use animal labor for hauling and farm work, allowing human workers to do more specialized work.
Typical loads for portersHowever in Nepal, where much of the population of 29 million relies on the steady flow of low wage labor, many men of all ages will resort to working as porters for trekking companies to earn money to support their families.
A light duty jobThe luckier porters will get lighter jobs with trekking companies where food is provided and the work day is limited to ten hours.
Back-breaking laborHowever many porters will only find work with companies that treat them like cattle, forcing them to haul enormously heavy loads up steep and winding trails with no food or water. This is where the most injuries occur.
Typical porter footwearTypical footwear for porters will often be very lightweight sandals that offer no ankle support and no insulation from the cold temperatures. Porters will often get foot related injuries from carrying heavy loads. They will not be cared for if they cannot continue their work and will often be left stranded with their injuries.
Porter trainingWWEP has partnered with select trekking companies to provide numerous training programs to help porters and other trekking staff improve their skills and possibly allow for promotion into careers as guides or cooks.
Guide trainingThe Kathmandu Environmental Education Project holds English Language Courses twice a year where porters may learn new language skills in a group setting. Entrants come in at all levels of proficiency and are graded on their level of improvement over the course of the class. Students here are learning skills in communicating with guests through storytelling.
Photo: Arjun Limbu
Graduation dayWWEP provides funding for guide education courses where a select number of very motivated porters may learn skills to become guides. The candidate on the right has just passed a thorough set of courses to improve his history, language, trail finding and cooking skills.
Photo: Jim Sumrall