Every kid dreams of a life of adventure, getting their cues from Indiana Jones, Han Solo or Frodo Baggins. Some kids reach out and realize the life of an explorer for a while; traveling in Europe, the Caribbean or the Far East. But few stay to continue their life in an unfamiliar place.
After his college graduation in 2007 from Longwood University with a major in Physical Education, Chris Gibbs, an Eagle Scout and a 2003 graduate of L.C. Bird High School, was ready for adventure. After he accepted a teaching job in Taiwan, Gibbs continued on a trek that changed his life forever and gives him the passion to make a difference in Darkha, a tiny village in central Nepal, even though he now lives in Shanghai.
Gibbs had a life-changing experience in 2010 while when he and four friends attempted to climb Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world. After nearly losing his life to the mountain he gained a clear perspective and how Nepal humbled him. It was a climb that also gave him a lifelong friendship with his guides, Gopal and Rajan, owners of Earthbound Expeditions, and to the people in the tiny village of Darkha, which Gopal and Rajan call home.
Originally, Gibbs was supposed to hike to Everest Base Camp, but foggy conditions and airport delays to Lukla, the highest and most dangerous airport in the world, left him the only one choice: To change his destination to Annapurna Base Camp. While the Annapurna is a six day climb verses a two day climb to Everest Base Camp you still end up at over 11,000 feet.
His only travel companion and guide was Gopal, who left an impression on him and became his friend. He spent two weeks being touched not only by the landscape, but the lifestyle.
“I fell in love with the simple, rugged lifestyle in the mountains,” he wrote in an email. “The trip changed my perspectives in my own life. I felt thankful for all the privileges it had and slightly embarrassed for taking so many comforts for granted. Upon leaving, I promised Gopal I would return in the near future.”
He did return, the following year with his friends. This time, they made it to Lukla and headed to Everest Base Camp. Gibbs began to experience the effects of altitude sickness early in the trek. At 11,000 feet, he felt a punishing headache and shortness of breath. His friend, Gopal, warned him of the risks of going further and suggested that he stay back and wait for the group until they descended the mountain.
“I listened to Gopal’s words of wisdom and experience, but I was unfortunately too tough - stubborn to listen.” The group left without him, but he pushed throughout the day and caught them at the next guesthouse. His condition worsened over the next six days. He became reclusive from his teammates, could not lie down due to pulmonary edema and was told that his face was turning blue. Somewhere over 16,000 feet his friend Gopal pushed the panic button.
“He refused to let me go any further and sent me down to the closest guesthouse with another porter while my group pushed forward,” Gibbs stated. The idea was to send him down as far as his legs could carry him the following day to reduce his extreme symptoms caused by the elevation. “That night proved to be the worst night I have experienced thus far in my life,” he stated. “I remember sitting up in bed, shaking and coughing so hard that I thought my chest would explode. That night I made a deal with God, any God of any religion that would listen, that I would do more good in my life if I got off that mountain.”
It wasn’t an easy decline for Gibbs, but he made it off the mountain. He spent a few days in a hospital in Kathmandu. While he waited for his buddies to return, he took plenty of time to rest and reflect on his recent experience. “I felt an overwhelming compassion for my saviors, the Nepalese people, and the country as a whole,” he said. “It was then I decided to do something to help.” Two years later Gibbs returned to Nepal. “This time I returned with the intention of learning more about Nepal, its people, and how I might be able to make a difference.”
Gibbs was invited to an elementary school built at the base of the Darkha village. Danny Chaffin, who started the non-profit organization HANDS that built the school, demonstrated how the building made of concrete walls serves approximately 80 students spread from grades one through four. The one government sponsored teacher is paid $680 per year. There are volunteers in the school who receive no training or pay. The toilet consists of a small outhouse building and the playground is a field of rocks. “By western standards this is hardly a school, but in Nepal, the students enrolled here consider themselves lucky,” Gibbs wrote.
“It is through this school that I will start to repay my outstanding debts and show my gratitude. I will use the skill I know best, running, to increase awareness of this incredible area and to generate funds for the children of Darkha. A little here goes a long way and I know the children in Darkha will be forever grateful for any help we can send them.”
Gibbs said he never did go back to Everest after that second trip. “To be honest, my goals and perspective changed after that experience,” he stated. “Think about this. It costs a minimum of $25,000 to get to the top of Mt. Everest. When I think of how many lives could be changed with a fraction of that money it makes me cringe. When you put both sides on the measuring scale which would you rather have? ‘I stood on top of the tallest mountain’ or ‘I made a positive change in countless lives.’”
Gibbs will run for 24 hours for HANDS for Nepal. He has received much support and many contributions from friends and family to reach a goal of $2,000 to support his run during HANDS 24 Hour Run that will take place June 7 in Shanghai, China. The contributions will bring much needed funding for the children in Darkha.
Gibbs continues his training as time ticks down to the approaching starting line on June 7. HIs parents, Ivy and Gary Gibbs, are very proud of what he is trying to accomplish.”We love him and support him with his efforts for such an inspiring cause.” Mr. Gibbs added, “As his father and Scoutmaster during his tenure as a Boy Scout, I am not surprised but grateful that he is exemplifying the values instilled in him from Scouting. This is a noble act but certainly characteristic of an Eagle Scout. I couldn’t be more proud.”
HANDS in Nepal is a non-profit organization with a mission of building schools, promoting education, providing scholarships, and creating safe environments for women in the remote, rural areas of Nepal. “I truly believe this is a good cause because 100 percent of the money will go directly to the children, improving their education, and therefore increasing their quality of life in the future,” wrote Chris in an email.
To receive emails and updates on Gibbs’ training, thoughts and information about Nepal and the people the contributions will help, and to make a contribution go to gofundme.com/K6vfo.