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Susan with Ang Rita Sherpa, Chief Administrative Officer of the Himalayan Trust, outside the Trust office in Kathmandu


Patients outside Kunde Hospital


Susan with Dr Kami Temba Sherpa, doctor-in-charge of Kunde Hospital

Shadow Valley

The shallow valley with the villages of Kunde and Khumjung. Kunde Hospital is in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo. Mt Everest is in the distance (in the photo it is the central peak beneath the white cloud).

Susan Heydon

University of Otago

Susan's Asia:New Zealand–NZASIA Award supported six weeks fieldwork in Nepal in March - April 2004. A doctoral candidate in the History Department at Otago, she is writing a history of the Kunde Hospital, one of Sir Edmund Hillary's main projects and where Susan and her husband worked as volunteers between 1996 and 1998. She is making a study of the hospital from three different perspectives: as an initiative in which the Sherpa and the Himalayan Trust are the main participants; as a Western medicine project; and as a recipient of foreign aid and development inputs.

The History of the Kunde Hospital

Fieldwork in Nepal, March - April 2004

The aim of my fieldwork in Nepal was to work on resolving some of the issues that have arisen from the research already undertaken from primary and secondary sources.

I spent the first few days in Kathmandu, where I was fortunate in being able to stay at the Himalayan Trust flat. Upstairs is the New Zealand Consulate. This location gave me easy access to Trust staff, enabling me to renew contacts, update myself on Trust affairs from the Nepal perspective and discuss various specific issues relating to my PhD project. I also visited the Central Bureau of Statistics to look at census material relating to the Sherpa and the Nepal Medical Association; I was looking for some early references to Kunde Hospital in the Journal of the Nepal Medical Association.

Kunde Hospital is situated at a height of 3840 metres above sea level in the Sagarmatha National Park and close to the border with the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. From Kathmandu, the journey to the hospital, first by plane to Lukla and then on foot, took four days; the going is slow to allow for sufficient acclimatisation to prevent altitude sickness. The spring trekking and climbing season was underway and there were a lot of overseas visitors. Unlike the rest of Nepal, the Everest area is considered free from Maoist activities that have created problems elsewhere.

Most of my time was spent at Kunde Hospital, where I had been invited to stay. My work divided into two parts. My main objective was to carry out a selective sample of consultations using the outpatient registers, as I had been finding that historical analysis of the hospital's work since its opening in 1966 has been limited. I also gathered additional historical statistics for antenatal and family planning attendance at the hospital. This data will now be analysed. As in Kathmandu, I was able to renew contacts and update myself about the hospital and the area, as well as gather further oral and archival material and discuss specific issues relating to my thesis.

The last few days were again spent in Kathmandu and I continued with work begun at the beginning of my stay. I had intended to return to the Nepal Medical Association, but unrest on the streets during the limited time in the early evening when the library was open meant that it was wiser not to go. Lastly, Kathmandu has some excellent bookshops, with a large range of material on Nepal not available in New Zealand. I was able to look at a lot of this and make decisions on whether or not these would be helpful to my research.

Overall, it was a very useful visit. I was able to gather additional archival and oral material that will greatly assist my thesis. I have, however, also received enormous support, both from Sir Edmund Hillary and Himalayan Trust people in New Zealand and Sherpa people of the Everest area, based initially on the two years our family spent at Kunde from 1996. The Sherpa and the area have a high international profile, but so much of what has been researched and written disappears from the reach of local people. From the beginning I have seen my research in terms of a two-way communication. The opportunity to continue my fieldwork in Nepal, therefore, was also particularly valuable in that it allowed me to talk to people about what I was doing, how I was carrying out my research, what I was finding out and what I was going to do with the finished project. I am extremely grateful to Asia:New Zealand–NZASIA for enabling me to do this.