Some of the strongest men and women on Earth live in the shadows of Mt. Everest. These are not the famous climbing Sherpas, but rather the lowland porters who carry supplies and baggage to base camp and along popular trekking routes. This seldom noticed group supports the trekking and climbing industry of Nepal, quite literally, on their backs.
Tragically, porters die every year from preventable altitude illness and cold-related injuries. Porters are regularly denied rescue and lodging in emergency situations. Porters are also forced to carry loads that can well exceed (and sometimes double) their own body weight over some of the roughest trails on earth.
The great lack of economic opportunity in Nepal has led to an oversupply of labor that has driven the load, wage, and safety standard to a level that does not meet the basic human rights of porters. Porters occasionally are forced to work for a wage that only covers their most basic expenses while on the trail. They attempt to carry double loads and reduce the amount of food they eat to save money, and this tragically leads to a much higher incidence of accidents and illness at altitude.
The government of Nepal has not shown any concern for this issue, and there is no incentive for trek and tour operators to treat their porters fairly. Oftentimes, exploitation of porters is aggravated by dishonest sirdars and guides that act as middlemen.
Despite all of this hardship, porters remain optimistic about their own futures. Porters dream of an industry in which they can support their families, meet foreigners, and enjoy the beauty of the Himalayas without being haunted by the fear of death or starvation. Porters’ Progress was formed as a means of harnessing these dreams.