Stories of the philanthropic work of one of New Zealand’s true heroes, Sir Edmund Hillary, are told in a new book being launched this month.
Himalayan Hospitals: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Everest Legacy is a remarkable chronicle of a unique aid project that also gives fresh insights into the life and personality of Sir Edmund himself.
Beginning in the late 1960s, twenty-three New Zealand and Canadian doctors volunteered, together with their families, to spend up to two years of their lives living and working at one of the two hospitals conceived of and built by Sir Edmund in Nepal. Both were staffed by Western volunteers until there were local doctors trained and available to hand the hospitals over to.
The decision to turn the stories of those years into a book came about in 2006, at a gathering of the volunteers in Nepal for a reunion to celebrate forty years of hospital medicine. Consequently Himalayan Hospitals: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Everest Legacy is heavily illustrated with photos taken by the doctors during their tenure and, together with additional interviews, draws strongly on the monthly correspondence between the volunteers and the committee that selected and supported them. The author of Himalayan Hospitals, Michael Gill, was secretary of that committee from 1982 to 2001.
Mike is also a medical doctor and a mountaineer who climbed with Sir Edmund and worked with him to set up the Himalayan Trust.
“When I was 22, Ed was putting together an expedition to research physiology at high altitude. They needed someone who could climb but who would also be useful in a laboratory at 19,000 feet. Fortunately, I qualified.”
“Ed’s life was a series of projects, climbing a mountain, jet-boating a river, building a school or a hospital – he’d draw up a plan of what he wanted to do next and launch into it with all his energy until he achieved it.”
“The Himalayan Trust was the most pared away of aid organisations and still is,” says Mike. “At one end of the line was Sirdar Mingma Tsering, a Sherpa, and at the other end was Ed himself, doing the fundraising. There was no bureaucracy between them, just a succession of volunteers who grew to love Nepal.”
The first of the two health clinics, Khunde Hospital in the Khumbu region at the foot of Mount Everest, was built in 1966 and was handed over to Dr Kami Temba in 2001. Phaplu Hospital in the Solu valley was built in 1975 and was handed over to Dr Mingmar Gyelzen in 1982.
Himalayan Hospitals: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Everest Legacy is being launched with fundraising events in Auckland and Nelson. Dr Kami Temba will visit New Zealand to take part in the celebrations. The book will be available to purchase from bookstores nationwide or online at www.craigpotton.co.nz