When you look at Elsie James, she looks like a regular seventy-six-year-old Grandmother, who is in great physical shape. What you don’t know is, she is the great-grandmother of twenty-nine children, twenty-two grandchildren, and mother to seven children. She worked as a banker for twenty years and at the age of sixty, hiked to Everest base camp, with two friends. She also fell in love with the Nepalese people.
She has always had an interest in hiking and outdoor leadership. After retiring, at the age of sixty, she and two friends planned and went on a hiking trip to Nepal. She fell in love with the beauty of the country and it’s people. She didn’t want to return home, not because she didn’t love her family, but because she saw the great needs of the people of Nepal. She fell in love with the Nepalese friendliness, humility and happiness, despite harsh living conditions.
After returning home to the Calgary area, Elsie started planning for another trip back to Nepal. This time, she connected with Partnership Canada (a Calgary nonprofit agency who was sending school books and medical supplies to Nepal, the program is no longer running) and four months later, she was back in Nepal. She had organized volunteer retired nurses and teachers to teach the Nepalese the programs being set in place in the medical camps, hospitals and schools.
After Partnership Canada closed it’s doors, Elsie volunteered with Nepalese NGOs (non government organizations) to start outlining and setting up social programs, organizing medical and dental clinics/camps, nutrition workshops, sanitation workshops and even adult literacy classes. She was also heavily involved in managing projects for building schools, developing modules for school classes, managing health camps and educating the Nepalese people in how to sustain all of these programs. She believes that, in order to truly help the Nepalese people, they need to be taught how to support all the assistance given them. She organized (and still does!) trekking groups to travel to Nepal to get to know the Nepalese people and to see the projects that were/are being worked on. Many people donated time and money because of these efforts.
Elsie has been involved with volunteering in Nepal for about fifteen years now and to celebrate her seventy-fifth birthday (in November 11th, 2009), she trekked back to Everest base camp, in a twenty-one day trek (it was called Trek 4 Kanti Kids), in an effort to raise $75,000 to start a blood bank in the Kanti Children’s Hospital in Kathmandu, the only children’s hospital in Nepal. She took with her one of her grandsons, a Nepalese man who was her porter on her first trip to Everest and now a good friend, birthday candles, hats and even cake! They travelled from Jiri to Everest Base Camp. She did this trek with 2 artificial hips.
She has also founded her own agency by the name of Willing Hands Around the Globe which raises money for projects in Nepal in other countries: Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Australia, and of course, Canada. She is a huge advocate for fair treatment of the Nepalese sherpas and porters. She has been working to make sure that they carry appropriate load sizes, especially children, so not to shorten their lives or severely injure themselves and not be able to work and support their families.
Elsie James, now director of the Calgary-based organization, Medical Mercy Canada, has struggled with wanting to be home with her husband, who has health issues, and her family. All of them have been very supportive and encouraging of her volunteer work, though. She has even travelled with her grandson, Brayden McCue. Last October, they went to Nepal and worked in the Medical/Dental health camp she was instrumental in starting.
Elsie James is an inspiration for us all to be the best human being we can be and as her quote on her Lonely Planet Thorn Tree profile says, “Remember..You cannot help everyone, everywhere, every time but you can always help someone somewhere, sometime!” She certainly has helped many, many people with her efforts and will continue to do so, even generations after her lifetime.
View a video of Elsie James HERE.