“It was Dr Kami Temba more than anyone who shaped Kunde hospital.”
The story of how Dr Kami Temba (pictured above) from the small mountain village of Mende came to be the first doctor-in-charge at Kunde hospital is a story that spans the whole of the Himalayan Trust’s aid work in the Everest region.
“Without the schools and the hospital built by Sir Ed I would have grown up as yak-boy and never have acquired the education, training and opportunity to get a medical degree,” said Dr Kami.
“I was born in the village of Mende near Thame in 1957 – we don’t really know which month. My father died when my mother was pregnant with me. We don’t really know what he died of. My aunt said he had some sort of swelling. But in those days we had no medical care.
“When I was six years old, Sir Edmund Hillary, Burrah Sahib, built the school in Thame. We had a big reception and stood outside the school in line and gave him khatas (a traditional ceremonial scarf that symbolises compassion). I remember he seemed very tall!
“All the local children went to that primary school. My mother really wanted me to get a good education. I liked schoolwork very much. Thame school only went to class 4 so after that I went to Khumjung school – also built by Sir Ed. We would see Burrah Sahib every year when he visited the school.
“Going from Thame to Khumjung school was hard. We had to walk five hours each day to get to school.
“After class 7 I got a scholarship from the Himalayan Trust to continue my education at the school in Salleri. It was tough and hard work too. The money didn’t go far so we collected our own fire wood and bought grains at the market and ground our own flour.
“There was no scholarship to college level, so once I finished school, it was expected that I would work at one of the Himalayan Trust schools – for me that meant Thame. I worked at the school for a while and then the volunteer doctor at Kunde hospital asked me to help work at the hospital.
“Sir Ed built the Kunde hospital in 1966 and from then until 2002, Sir Ed recruited volunteer doctors, mostly from New Zealand and Canada, to help run the hospital.
“From 1979 to 1997 I worked at the hospital and received some training. I wanted to study medicine but wasn’t sure it was possible without any tertiary qualifications. In 1996, the volunteer doctors helped find me a place at the Fiji Medical School, which would accept me without tertiary qualifications.
“Fiji was hot and humid but very friendly. The course was all in English so it was very hard for me. I qualified in 2000. I spent two years working at a hospital in Kathmandhu before returning to Kunde hospital in 2002. I was now doctor-in-charge.
“I received so much valuable help from the volunteer doctors, from the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation of Canada, and above all Sir Ed, who was very generous to me and very, very kind.”
Shaping the Kunde hospital
Mike Gill, a doctor who worked with Sir Edmund from the beginning on his education and health projects, said: “Everyone who knew Kami came to love him. The volunteer doctors changed every two years but Kami provided consistency, and his role as interpreter was of central importance.
“Even before he became a doctor, it was Kami more than anyone who shaped Kunde hospital.”
Find out more
- Listen to the interview on RNZ with Dr Kami Temba and Dr Mike Gill.
- Read more: A day at Kunde hospital
- Find out more about our work to improve health in the Everest region
Story adapted from “Himalayan Hospitals: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Everest Legacy” by Michael Gill.