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Reaching new heights

Davis trio climb Mount Shasta to educate children in India.

Special to the Enterprise
Davis Enterprise, Monday June 16, 2008 (page A3)

Echo Lake
Koen Van Rompay (left) and Ramin Yazdani take a practice hike at Echo Lake as they train for their ascent of Mount Shasta this week. Van Rompay, an AIDS researcher at UC Davis, is the founder of Sahaya International; Yazdani, an environmental engineer, is director of the Davis-based nonprofit organization.

Three Davis residents will attempt to reach the 14,179-foot summit of Mount Shasta this weekend and, through these efforts, raise funds to construct a school for underprivileged children in rural India.

This is the second school Sahaya volunteers have raised money to build. The first, the Mother Teresa School, is just about complete.

The team leader, Ramin Yazdani, is an environmental engineer and a director of the Davis-based nonprofit organization Sahaya International. “The last few years we have raised funds here in Davis to construct a much-needed school building in a remote village in India”, Yazdani said. "As I thought about our success, and realized how much this will help generations of children, I became inspired to do more, especially when I learned that there is such a great need to build another school for children in our local village."

One of the climbers, Koen Van Rompay, is the founder of Sahaya International. “For the past 10 years, we have been supporting the Jawahar Matriculation School, which is close to the headquarters of our longterm partner organization, READ, in India”, Van Rompay said.  “This school serves more than 60 children, but the building is starting to fall apart, and the owner is planning to demolish it and sell the land this coming January," he added. "So we felt we had to do something for these children.”

Sahaya purchased a piece of land. "School children in Belgium have already raised almost half of the $45,000 that is needed to construct a brick-and-concrete school building, and the digging of the foundations began a few weeks ago. "So now I feel it’s up to us to help with raising the remainder of the funds so the school children will have a place to continue their education at the end of this year.”

Sponsorship needed

When Yazdani approached Van Rompay with the idea of climbing Mount Shasta and asking for sponsorships, Van Rompay was immediately interested. “We were also fortunate that a sponsor came forward and promised to match any contribution for this school 100%”, Van Rompay said. “In other words, if somebody donates $50, it means we are $100 closer to our goal.". “Where else in life can you get such a double deal to make a difference?” Yazdani asked.

“While continuing the education of the Jawahar school children is our primary goal, I’m also pleased because we plan to use the new school building for many other programs when the school is not in session.”, he added. “I envision that we can provide English courses and computer training to many local children, including the many orphans who are supported by Davis residents.”

Lauren Vaage
Lauren Vaage, third member of the hiking group

The third member of the team, Lauren Vaage, said that there are plans to use the school to teach local people about environmental issues and give practical demonstrations, such as solar cooking and waste management.
“So it fits really with our idea of climbing Mount Shasta to appreciate and respect nature", said Vaage, who will celebrate his 50th birthday on the hike. The climb is planned for Wednesday through Saturday.

"It will be a wonderful, symbolic event for me," he said. "I'm pleased to think that my efforts may help children in India gain a simple classroom with a roof and chairs to get a basic education that we take for granted."

Practice hikes

To prepare for the climb, the three friends made several practice hikes in the Sierras. “The practice hikes have been very useful.”, Van Rompay said. “The muscle and joint pain that’s associated with these ardent preparations make me realize I’m not that young anymore. But I plan to carry a piece of paper with all the names of the children close to my heart throughout the climb of Mount Shasta, as the thought of them will definitely boost my energy and determination.”

Van Rompay added that the new school is being built close to the guesthouse in the village that he returns to each year. Davis residents are encouraged to come and visit and perhaps even teach a little, Van Rompay said.

For more information on the schools, or to contribute, visit, or visit the team’s fundraising pages at or

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