Practising What They Preach: Monks Leave No Stone Unturned to Provide Help
DHARAMSHALA: The axiom that nature is a powerful phenomenon was reinforced during the earthquake that devastated Nepal on 25 April. When such a natural calamity strikes, there is nothing you could do except perhaps pray that somebody is watching over you and that you will make it through.
International aid teams have flocked to the country after the calamity to conduct rescue operations and provide emergency relief to those affected. Yet, the efforts of the aid teams were limited to the urban areas of the cities, as most of the worst affected regions remain inaccessible, languishing in dire need of assistance.
At least 7,000 people have died and many more are missing or rendered injured and homeless in the aftermath of the earthquake. The loss of lives and properties, coupled with the fear of rising epidemics, was heartbreaking. However, it is at times of such tragic adversity that arouses the underlying cohesiveness of humans with one another.
Literally, almost everybody who survived unscathed pulled together and started helping each other. And at the forefront of many of those local aid teams were the Tibetan people, mostly monks and nuns residing in Nepal, who organised themselves to provide whatever relief they could salvage to those in need.
The monks of Shechen, Kopan and Rinchen Ling monasteries, were prime examples. The monasteries, although themselves victims of the earthquake, dispatched teams to remote regions to provide assistance. They distributed basic amenities like tents, blankets and food items like water, rice, dal, salt, sugar etc. The monks also joined local people in rescuing people trapped inside fallen houses and walls.
The vast open courtyards of the monasteries also served as emergency camps for those seeking refuge after their houses were destroyed and got nowhere to evacuate. “Seeing the large influx of people into the monastery trusting us with their lives, we knew we had a task at hand to make sure that we live up to it,” a monk from one of the monasteries reportedly told a Nepali newspaper.
The monasteries set up huge tents to accommodate the people and arrangements were made to provide food. They also set up make shift clinics providing first aid medical treatments to those injured.
Thrago monastery, Tharlam monastery, Shelkar monastery and many others are also heavily involved in the relief efforts including monks from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religion.
Tibetan nuns, who are usually known to be more reclusive, were also not far behind in the relief efforts. Nuns, carrying sacks of food items and other basic needs, walked up steep hillroads to distribute relief materials. They also distributed various essential items for women’s needs, which are sometimes overlooked during emergencies.
Nuns with basic medical training gave tetanus shots and helped around with bandages and medical treatment to the injured. While others provided moral support to grieving family members.
The Tibetan laypeople, mostly concentrated in Kathmandu and Pokhara region of Nepal, also organised themselves and launched various initiatives to provide relief. Tibetan organisations like the Tibetan Women’s Association and Tibetan Youth Congress also launched campaigns to clean the outdoor areas where people are camping for safety. Community members prepared food and drinking water and delivered it to the hospitals where the injured are taken.
The Tibetan communities in Pokhara have also formed relief committees and went to affected areas like Gorkha district, Lamchung district and other affected areas to distribute materials. They also held prayer services for those who passed away in the earthquake.
The Tibetan Co-ordinator and the Tibetan settlement officers in Nepal, faced with a herculean task ahead of them, visited the various affected sites to assess the damage caused to the Tibetan people. They have been able to airlift three severely injured nuns from Sengdrak monastery at the border between Nepal and Tibet to Kathmandu city for treatment.
They are also visiting various severely affected Tibetan-populated regions, currently rendered inaccessible by landslides and avalanches triggered by the earthquake.
The Tibetan Reception Centre in Kathmandu is also giving food and temporary shelter to people seeking refuge after the destruction of their homes and properties. Many prominent Tibetan lamas and rinpoches have also sent donations including His Eminence the Karmapa Rinpoche, who contributed USD 200,000 worth of relief supplies to Nepal. The Nepali people have greatly appreciated this prompt support from the Tibetan people.
However, despite the huge international and local aid, the relief and restoration works are still in the first stages as most of the remote mountainous regions, affected first by the earthquake and then by the avalanche, remains inaccessible.
Meanwhile, the people in urban areas are still reeling from the shock and devastation caused by the quake and are slowly returning to their homes, and to a life, where nothing has remained the same.