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A time for mountains

Pema Gyamtsho

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The year 2020 is behind us now and December was a busy month for us. We marked International Mountain Day – which is celebrated on December 11 each year – with a week-long celebration filled with virtual events and activities bringing together our partners, staff, and mountain experts from our region to reflect on issues ranging from food and nutrition security, biodiversity, transboundary cooperation, wellbeing of mountain people, and sustainable development in our mountain regions. We also had the privilege to contribute to the First World Virtual High Mountain Summit organized by the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environment Studies (IDEAM) in Colombia, and a high-level event on mountain biodiversity organized by FAO.

Our participation in these events further strengthens our resolve that the HKH mountains, its environment and people, be kept in focus within global discourses and processes but also regionally to forge deeper and broader levels of cooperation. In pursuit of these important overarching goals, we also organized with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) – through the British Embassy Kathmandu, and Adaptation Without Borders a significant virtual event called “HKH to Glasgow: Climate action in the Hindu Kush Himalaya”. In that event, stakeholders from the HKH region discussed transboundary climate risks and how our region can be better represented and contribute in the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow. This event included the presence of Member of UK Parliament, the Right Honourable Anne-Marie Trevelyan who reiterated the UK’s commitments towards a climate resilient HKH region and to the HKH Call to Action, which has been co-developed by the eight HKH countries and endorsed in the Ministerial Declaration signed on 15 October 2020.

Even as we aspire to have the HKH reach the highest level of exposure on the global stage, we also want to remain connected with people at the grassroots who are doing the important day-to-day work that preserves mountain environments, supports diversification of mountain livelihoods or helps amplify mountain voices. To that end, we sponsor an annual ICIMOD Mountain Prize where we seek to honour individuals, organizations or companies who may be considered mountain heroes. This year the award was shared by two winners – the Jagrati Swayam Sahayta Group of Uttarakhand, India and Mr Binod Shahi of Nepal.

The Jagrati Swayam Sahayta Group is a women’s self-help group based in Uttarakhand, India, which offers courses on resilient leadership to university students. This focused effort is currently relatively small, thus far involving nine households and 40 members who have benefitted from the project over the course of 10 years. The group has nevertheless collectively earned over two million Indian rupees, and their innovative approach is inspiring. They implement place-based learning to create an immersive learning environment for over 500 students, who are often also transformed by the experience. Within this model, there is a central focus on valuing the landscape and preserving and promoting traditional culture. Women from the community are the trainers, helping students understand how resilient leadership is manifest in the dignity of work and in the valuing of community capital.

Mr Binod Shahi has worked in Dolpo, Nepal, to promote quality primary-level education. One of the mottos of the organization he founded, the Snowyak Foundation, aptly describes his work: “Towards a self-sustained and self-developed Dolpo, led by responsible and dignified locals.” To reach that ideal, the organization promotes increased enrolment in local schools; develops and distributes educational materials honouring local culture; and engages “yak fellows” as outside motivators working in schools – living in local homes, developing educational resources, and encouraging teachers and students. Shahi’s work in 16 schools and engagement of 56 fellows and his passion to improve mountain schools and opportunities for youth are inspiring.

This year also saw special honourable mention given to:

I also wanted to mention one very significant change here at ICIMOD which took place at the end of the year when our Deputy Director General, Dr Eklabya Sharma retired from his 19 years of service to the institution. I had myself worked previously with Eklabya and have been the beneficiary of his wise counsel both at that time and as I transitioned into my new position as Director General. While many beautiful words were shared with Eklabya during the farewell events we hosted for him, I also wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge the immense impact Eklabya had within the institutional and across all areas of its work. He is an inspirational leader and we were privileged that he dedicated so much of his professional life to ICIMOD. We wish him and his beautiful family all the best and I know that I will continue to depend on his wise counsel as we move ahead.

At the end of this very unusual and challenging year, I am excited to be with ICIMOD as its new Director General and I am looking forward to a productive year in 2021. I would like to offer my gratitude to all our partners, colleagues, well-wishers for all your help and support in 2020. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy New Year 2021.  Thank you.


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