Allan Waldon's desire to live outside the box has helped build a new future for Nepalese children by bringing them new schools and some much needed basics.
It all started with the documentary Into Thin Air: Death on Everest chronicling a 1996 climb that saw eight people die after being caught in a blizzard while trying to reach the summit. Something about the movie inspired Allan, from Gloucester in NSW's Hunter Valley, to head to Nepal and hike to Mount Everest base camp.
"I believe you've got to get out of your comfort zone," Allan smiled. "I like to do things other people don't do."
After watching the movie in 2005 and listening to Australian's youngest summiter, Rex Pemberton, he'd booked in a budget trek for himself, his 17-year-old son Scott and a workmate. In 2006, days before they were due to fly out, the British company running the trek made the call to cancel due to political turmoil in the Nepal.
"I don't like being told I can't. I had worked my guts out for almost a year to get fit enough and my head told me I would probably never be that fit again," he said. "So I used my contacts and started calling people in Nepal I didn't know to find out the situation."
After being told things were fine in the mountain region, they boarded the plane and met up with guide, Prem Khatry. Eager for his mountain adventure, Allan wasn't prepared for the confronting state of living he would encounter.
"You never see the three foot wall of rubbish in front of it (Mount Everest). You don't smell the open sewer," he said. "They don't show you that stuff in the brochure."
What he witnessed really shook him. To see children covered in filth and sleeping under buildings was heartbreaking. To see tiny little schoolhouses with leaking roofs and nothing inside - no tables, no chairs, no papers, no pencils - was confronting.
"There were schools with no toilets or toilet paper, the basic things we take for granted," he explained. "I don't think people know that nothing, means nothing."
During the trek, Allan got to know Phem. Phem believed that the best way to make a difference in his country was through education.
"On the plane trip back home, I decided I needed to do something," Allan said.
Through email, he and Phem put in plan in motion to rebuild Bhairabi Primary School in the remote Ratmate Village. To raise funds, Allan placed a donation bucket for dog bones on the counter of his North Sydney butcher shop. "The bucket raised $139,000 over 10 years which went towards the primary school and the nearby high school," he said.
From 2006 to 2010, the Nepal School Project (Sambhav Nepal) was driven by Allan and Phem - Allan raising funds and Phem putting it to good use. Since then, others have gotten involved and the organisation has rebuilt six schools, helped over 50 schools and each year brings over Australian teachers (at their own expense) to train the Nepalese teachers.
In 2013, Allan's focus shifted from schools to helping the young women.
"There are no (feminine hygiene) pads or tampons. They used old shirts ripped up," he said.
He learned that the school-aged girls stayed at home for five days while menstruating, missing out on 25 per cent of their education. He started working toward getting Days for Girls packs of reusable pads, into the villages.
It hasn't been an easy task but his determination has prevailed and last February, he and his daughter, Sammie delivered around 100 packs. Eighty of them were made in Kathmandu. "I saw the biggest smiles I've ever seen," he said.
Allan's goal pre-COVID was to deliver 5000 packs. At the moment, he has enough for 2000 packs, which includes the cost of production, transport to the village and a nurse to help educate the girls.
Allan isn't looking to change the culture of the people. It's important for him that this stays intact. He's simply trying to provide the tools and a safe environment to help them think outside their box. For more information, visit The Butcher and Nepal Facebook page.
Allan sold his butchery shop in 2016 and moved to the Gloucester region with his wife about 18 months ago.