Legend has it that civilization in the Kathmandu Valley started when Buddha stood atop the highest peak and commanded that the huge lake in the valley below be drained. The valley quickly emptied and the fertilized land became the foundation for civilization in Nepal.
The peak on which Buddha stood is now Swayambhunath. It is better known as the Monkey Temple. At the top is an ancient Stupa that has stood for three thousand years. From its summit there is a breathtaking view of the entire Kathmandu valley and a thriving metropolis.
Hundreds of thousands have visited the Monkey Temple but the recent earthquakes in Nepal have caused severe damage to this historic treasure and homes of the 29 families who reside there.
When physician’s assistants Don and Kathy Pedersen from Utah volunteered in Nepal with Project HOPE after the earthquake, they were eager to visit the Monkey Temple and provide care for its residents.
The couple had actually been in the exact location, on another humanitarian health mission, just days before the April 25th earthquake struck.
“We could never have imagined that within a day, this religious shrine would be reduced to piles of rubble,” said Don Perdersen. “It was heartbreaking. The physical destruction was overwhelming. The main stupa escaped serious damage but many of the other temples and most of the homes were destroyed.”
After providing care at a hospital in Kathmandu with Project HOPE volunteers, Don returned to the Monkey Temple establishing a small, outdoor clinic amongst the ruins. For three days, he trekked to the top carrying needed supplies to help people who had little access to medical care.
“The 220 residents of the Monkey Temple trace their origins back over 1600 years to the first residents of the Kathmandu valley,” said Don. “They are young and old, religious leaders and merchants, and they have dedicated their existence to maintaining the treasured relics that are so important to the people of Kathmandu. They are now living under tarps in the small area that was once a courtyard.”
Fortunately, most of the residents escaped major injuries following the two major quakes, but there were a litany of minor injuries from severe abrasions to the psychological impact of surviving such a massive upheaval.
It will take a lot of work to return Swayambhunath to its historic existence. But, the recovery has started. Don Pedersen and Project HOPE can be proud that they were there to help the residents of the Monkey Temple as they begin the process of rebuilding one of the world’s most important historic landmarks.
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