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Himalayas 'papa' gets Hillary award

PUBLISHED: 15:03 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:29 14 July 2010

He is celebrated as “papa” in the remote village in the Himalayas where he has tirelessly fundraised for the community for almost two decades.

And now Tony Freake, who lives at Old Buckenham, near Attleborough, has reached the pinnacle of his achievements to date by being awarded the 2008 Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal.

He is celebrated as “papa” in the remote village in the Himalayas where he has tirelessly fundraised for the community for almost two decades.

And now Tony Freake, who lives at Old Buckenham, near Attleborough, has reached the pinnacle of his achievements to date by being awarded the 2008 Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal.

The award was set up in 2003 by the Nepalese NGO Mountain Legacy to honour the work of the late Sir Hillary, who together with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa was the first person to stand on the summit of Everest in 1953.

Sir Hillary's son Peter, himself a renowned mountaineer and adventurer, made the announcement at the end of a presentation to a packed audience at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday evening.

Mr Freake, 71, will be presented with the medal, which is for “remarkable service in conservation of culture and nature in remote mountainous regions,” at a ceremony at Tengboche Monastery in Nepal in May.

Through his tireless fundraising and community efforts, Mr Freake has helped secure mains electric running water, a school, medical centre and monastery for the village of Phortse, which is nestled in the foothills of Everest.

During his 26th visit to the village last year he opened a community centre built with £10,000 raised through the Phortse Community Project, which he set up in 1990.

At home in Norfolk yesterday he spoke of his pride at being chosen to receive the award.

“It is a real honour,” he said. “It is the third medal that has been struck since 2003 so they do not do it all the time. I wasn't expecting it. I had been nominated along with quite a few others and was lucky enough to be chosen.”

Mr Freake now hopes to raise at least £5,000 to install a library and learning centre inside the community centre in Phortse.

“I have been out there 26 times over a period of 19 years and would like to tackle this next,” he said.

Last July Mr Freake and his wife Sheila welcomed a Sherpa couple into their home in Norfolk.

Panuru Sherpa and Passang Diki Sherpa were the latest in a long line of Sherpas brought to the UK by the couple who have forged a close bond with the village.

Mr Freake first fell for the generosity of the people during a charity mountaineering expedition in 1989.

Mr Freake has worked closely with Eton College in Windsor and groups such as Himalayan Hands and Austrian Alpine Club and a range of other agencies to secure tens of thousands to build up the infrastructure.

For more information about the project visit http://www.ianhills.net/phortsecommunityproject/projects.

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