Educating Underprivileged Children at The Highest Altitudes

Three days of continuous walking after a ten-hour mountainous drive will tire anyone out. When you do this in a high-altitude desert where less oxygen demands you to breathe slowly, it will exhaust you even more.

But what if, at the end of the journey, you are received with the warmest welcome, like loud clapping and cheers by hundreds of students who waited for five hours to greet you? It would in all probability bring a big smile to the most travel-weary face.

Sujata Sahu was introduced to trekking by her husband. She is a mother of two and was a teacher at the Shree Ram School. Even before starting her foundation, she loved visiting Ladakh and took the occasional science and mathematics class for the local children. 

But the devastation caused by the 2010 flash flood in the region prompted her to increase her commitment to the Ladakhi people. Within a year she quit her job and decided to work for the children in Ladakh. 

In 2012 she launched the 17,000 ft foundation and through an in-depth survey map, she was led to a common goal - to train the schools to become self-reliant in 3 to 4 years and to build capacities locally.

They signed an MoU with the Department of Education (DoE) of one of the two districts of Ladakh – Leh. 

About the organization 

The 17000 ft Foundation has a mission to transform the lives of high-altitude frontier communities to develop them into self-sustaining, resilient, and thriving regions by improving the Govt. School Education System, creating awareness about remote villages, generating opportunities for income and exposure, and strengthening communities.

Teaching at the school


The organization says, “Our vision is a world where geography and distances offer no barriers to opportunity and growth.”

They reach out to the remote villages and schools of the Indian Himalayan Region through technology, collaboration and passion. The objectives are – to strengthen remote schools, provide increased opportunities for learning, drive focus and attention to remote villages, arrest the slow rural exodus of young families to faraway cities, facilitate exposure through enriching exchanges with tourists and volunteers, and finally create a framework for economic independence.

The larger goal is to make Quality Education (Pre-primary and Elementary) accessible to 5,00,000 children of the remotest districts in the IHR (Indian Himalayan Region).

Empowering women in remote villages.


The story behind the name 

17000 ft – This is the highest the team has crossed on foot and the furthest they have traveled to reach the remotest beneficiary - A school in remote Ladakh that remains cut off from civilization for 6 months of a year due to harsh winters. 

The organization says, “We've seen some incredibly remote schools, in the harshest of terrains, with extremely dedicated teachers and sometimes just a handful of children. Struggling with bare minimum infrastructure and even lesser resources, managing just with determination and the will to succeed, these far-flung little schools of Ladakh are the only hope for the nomadic and rural children of Ladakh.”

17000 ft Foundation is the story of a team of inspired corporate professionals and avid trekkers who left their corporate worlds to embark on a journey of social change. Starting with just a few schools, today their programs cover two districts and almost 900 schools in Ladakh.

Scaling altitudes

Having started with the mapping of all 370 schools of Leh District, the foundation chose the first set of 100 schools in which to run their interventions. These schools were chosen based on several criteria. 

They were evaluated based on factors like the strength and positioning of the school, enthusiasm and commitment of the school authorities, as well as the local VEC (Village Education Committee), remoteness of the schools (we chose remote schools, off regular routes and in the most need of attention), and the presence or lack thereof of other support groups working to improve education (schools already receiving a lot of attention from tourists/NGOs were not chosen to not duplicate work). 

Today, the programs have been adopted by the local administration across all 300+ Govt Schools and are run in collaboration with 17000 ft. 


Roshini Muthukumar

Roshini Muthukumar, a native of Chennai, started her career as a content writer but made a switch to journalism to pursue her passion. She has experience writing about human interest stories, innovative technology, entrepreneurs, research blogs, and more. Previously, Roshini has done internships with The Hindu, Metroplus and worked as a correspondent with The Better India.