News Archive: Your Old Laptop Reaches New Heights

The earthquake in Nepal took almost everyone by surprise, though seismologists have long known that it was only a matter of time before another devastating quake hit the area, much like it had done in 1934. On April 25, 2015, that time came. Quebec doctors Rob Casserley and Marie-Kristelle Ross had just left base camp (5,300 metres) on their way up Mount Everest when the 7.8 magnitude quake struck. It proved to be the worst earthquake to hit Nepal since the 8.0 quake of ‘34, just 10 years after famed British climber Mallory went missing on the mountain.

 

Nepal, a poor, congested, underdeveloped country, suffered greatly. Nearly 9,000 dead, another 22,000 injured. One of those killed – there were 22 on Everest that day alone – was a cook by the name of Kumar Rai who perished in the avalanche that crushed base camp. In the Kathmandu Valley, portions of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, buildings that had survived centuries were destroyed in seconds.

Casserly and Ross were lucky that day but they agonized over the loss of Kumar Rai. The mountain had claimed yet another victim. Kumar’s wife and four children depended on him. Marie-Kristelle Ross, left, and Rob Casserley on the summit of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world. It is 20 km west of Mount Everest. In the aftermath of that tragedy, the Canadian physicians wanted to do something to help. But they were shaken. “It resets your priorities,” says Ross. “Even though Kumar couldn’t speak English – we had a great connection.” She would come to cherish his lovely smile. ”He was such a kind person.”

 

As the days passed they developed a plan. Kumar’s children attended a school that had been destroyed. So they focused their efforts on a new mission that had nothing to do with climbing. Yet in a way, it had everything to do with climbing. They would raise funds to build a new school in the remote village.

Returning to Sept-Îles and Lévis in eastern Quebec — a city of about 25,000 that is among the northernmost locales with a paved connection to the rest of Quebec's road network — they raised more than $30,000 in one evening. “People were extremely generous,” Ross recalls, “and I woke up the next morning overwhelmed, and a bit stressed.” She hands full as a full-time cardiologist, while Casserley also has a full plate as a GP, but given the rampant corruption in Nepal, they were now concerned that every penny go where it was needed. That meant they had to be in control themselves. A good friend in Kathmandu, a Nepalese physician, offered to help. The village is a four-day walk from Kathmandu, but thanks to her generosity, and the help of others, within a year, construction of the school was complete, and when Ross and Casserley visited, they couldn’t have been happier. “It became a community project,” she says. “We met the staff, the students and the teachers. It was incredible.” But in the local tourist economy, which revolves around the mountain, the children would need to learn English. Sending a teacher was not sustainable, but what about computers? “One evening I started Googling and I came across Philip’s (Schaus) website Corporations For Community Connections (CFCC).” She wrote him an email explaining there was a need for computers at the newly rebuilt Shree Chheskam School in Nepal. Schaus replied quickly: “Yes, we’ll help you.” CFCC, a charity founded by Siemens Canada employees, refurbishes previously used corporate laptops and donates them to those in need. In this case they sent 48 laptops to Shree Chheskam School.  Getting them to Nepal proved to be a Herculean effort but was accomplished thanks to the combined efforts of CFCC, Siemens Healthineers, East West Concern (P) Ltd. and EverestLink. CFCC ensured compliance with shipping regulations. The Healthineers arranged shipment to Nepal. Siemens’ agent in Nepal, East West Concern (P) Ltd., paid the duty on the laptops and cleared Nepali Customs. EverestLink delivered the laptops to Chheskam and completed the remote learning facility.

“Siemens and the whole team have been incredible,” says Ross. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

EverestLink has provided free internet for the entire village. And an English teacher in Kathmandu offered to teach online lessons in English for free.

On a spring Saturday in Oakville, Ontario, the doctors spent the day at Siemens Canada’s headquarters working with other CFCC volunteers to refurbish nearly 200 laptops earmarked for Indigenous communities across Canada. Mountain climbing, which brought the doctors together several years ago — they spent their honeymoon climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa — has now brought them closer to the people of Nepal. They’re more like family than friends. Without the persistence and determination that has allowed them to scale mountains, the task of building the first internet-connected school in

Nepal would never have succeeded. Those traits have seen Casserley, a native of Kent, in the southeast of England reach the summit of Everest eight times and have given him the wherewithal to row across the Atlantic – from the Canary Islands almost to Antigua – as part of a two-man crew. “I knew he needed to do it,” Ross says of that Atlantic adventure. “It’s part of who he is and, I think, part of who I am.” Still, when he got out of the rowboat, no one was more relieved than she was. “We’re privileged to have that special relationship with the people of Nepal, so when we go back there we can see the impact we’ve had and it’s tangible. That’s the best thing I could wish for. We started going there because of the mountains but we go back now because of the people.” Four of those people are Kumar’s children and his wife. But all have stories to tell. And no doubt, one or more youngsters who today are just gaining familiarity with computers and the World Wide Web, will one day do just that.

As time distances them from that tragic day on the mountain, they cherish the memory of Kumar. They now look with anticipation to the future, where the children will be connected to the world through the computers that CFCC and Siemens have provided.

As often as they can, they plan to go back to Nepal, where they will be welcomed with open arms.

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