Porters' Progress founder visits Bates College to describe work in Nepal

Ben Ayers, a 1999 Bates College graduate and founder of an organization that supports expeditionary porters in Nepal, brings a presentation about Porters’ Progress to Bates at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20 in the Benjamin Mays center, 95 Russell St. Ayers’ presentation is open to the public at no charge.

Ayers is the force behind Porters’ Progress, a non-profit organization that provides empowering education and apparel suitable to harsh Himalyan conditions to mountain porters in Nepal. Bates is one stop on a U.S.-Canadian tour that Ayers is making with his 90-minute presentation, which includes a slide show and the award-winning BBC documentary Carrying the Burden, a 2001 Banff Mountain Film Festival selection.

A creative writing major at Bates, Ayers spent a junior semester in Nepal. In that country known for stunning natural beauty and harsh poverty, he started working with the porters who accompany tourist treks in the Himalayas. Moved by the hardships that these hardy and hardworking people endure, he founded Porters’ Progress after graduation.

Not to be confused with the Sherpas famed for their role in newsmaking mountain climbs, the porters that Ayers supports are typically lowland farmers who augment a subsistence living by carrying luggage for tourist treks. In thin clothes and flimsy shoes, they spend weeks at high altitudes carrying up to 250 pounds. Their cargo baskets are strapped to their foreheads with a cord that distributes weight to the spine.

“There’s a certain brilliance to them,” Ayers says, “that I was amazed at in the face of such hardship.”

Ayers’ presentation is sponsored by the New World Coalition, the Anti-Sweatshop Coalition and Amnesty International.