After biking for 300 miles through the Himalayan Mountains, over terrain that looked "like the surface of the moon," Amazon employee Liam Ackerman and his two friends finally reached their destination. Sheltered beneath the towering peaks of northern India sits the little town of Leh, and nestled amidst its remote beauty is the Shey Lamdon School, home to many children from all over the region. In Liam's backpack were some gifts: two Kindles and £10,000.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. People will surprise you.”
A long journey to give back
Liam first trekked through the Himalayas during university. He fell in love with the culture and the incomparable landscape, and decided that next time he wanted to give back. “We visited an orphanage,” he explains, “and I was made aware that, due to the climate, the environment and the opportunities they have, there are a huge number of children in need of funding through their education.” Eight years later—one year after taking a job with Amazon Logistics—Liam set out with two friends to bike the gruelingly steep miles from Menali to Leh as a fundraising effort for Himalayan Children, a charity that supports children in 13 schools across Ladakh - including the Shey Lamdon School. He connected with his colleagues at Amazon to help lift the idea off the ground.
“People were really supportive,” says Liam. “I had just joined Amazon Logistics and I thought, we deliver so many different parcels, how can I tie Amazon in with this charity idea and potentially raise some more money? I also wanted to show other employees that if you want to push the boundaries and do something a little different, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t aim for it.” That’s where the idea for ‘Amazon’s Highest Delivery’ came in. “Amazon provided a way to increase my fundraising, which grew exponentially after that,” he says. The gift of two Kindles for the children was all it took to turn Liam’s journey into a true delivery.
In the end he raised over £10,000, enough money to fund new buildings for the school, extensions that would give the growing student body more space and provide better insulated sleeping quarters in the winter months. The winter weather in Leh (elevation 11,562 feet) is extreme, with roads impassable, buried under deep snow and ice. Some children remain at the school through the winter months because they can’t make the long journey home. “Almost all of them stay in the hostels throughout much of the year,” says Liam of the kids, who range in age from four to 15. “They all have bunkbeds, they clean their own clothes, and they do all their own chores. The facilities are pretty sparse, but they are doing a really good job with not a lot of resources.”
A school open to anyone
The Shey Lamdon School, started by locals in 1980, aims to preserve the region’s culture while offering children a formal education in subjects like math, science, English, Hindi and social science. The surrounding region of Ladakh is culturally linked to Tibet and remains largely Buddhist, but there is a sizable Muslim population as well. Children of any religion are welcome at the school.
After his return to London, Liam was delighted to discover that his journey had raised enough additional funds to allow for the construction of a second extension to the hostel block. "Liam's journey has really made a difference for the Shey Lamdon School, I am hugely impressed by what he has achieved. Making a difference, no matter how big or small, is what our charity is all about," says Gail McAllister Young, founder of Himalayan Children.
What would be Liam’s advice to anyone interested in launching a similar initiative? Picking the right challenge and planning well in advance are paramount, he says. Most importantly: “Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. People will surprise you.”