Friday, January 11, 2008

Great generosity of spirit

Sir Edmund Hillary (1919 - 2008)

I have just finished reading a fascinating article about Sir Edmund Hillary who died yesterday (actually, Jan 11 New Zealand time). Here's part of what it says:

He conquered Mount Everest and the South Pole and captured the world’s imagination. Yet where others would have been content to admire the view, look down and bask in the sheer individuality of achievement, for Sir Edmund Hillary it was only the beginning of a lifetime of service to others
Hillary was never the sort to accept the profession of full-time celebrity. He had higher ideals than that. His travels in Nepal and his friendship with [fellow mounaineer] Tenzing had given him a deep appreciation of the Nepalese culture and people. Yet he was not so blinded by the romantic beauty of the landscape to overlook the very real social problems that Nepalese people faced, living in a small, poor country dwarfed by two huge neighbours.

Hillary recalled how an elderly Sherpa from Khumjung village, the hometown of most of the Sherpas on his Everest ascent, had come to him a few years after that expedition and said, "Our children lack education. They are not prepared for the future. What we need more than anything is a school in Khumjung."

What the Nepalese needed was practical help, to be able to help themselves improve their standards of education and health. Hillary established the Himalayan Trust, and in 1961 a three room school-house was built in Khumjung with funds raised by the tireless mountaineer.

Throughout the 1960s Hillary’s commitment to Nepal broadened as he returned there to help the Nepalese build clinics, hospitals and more schools. Over the next four decades, he worked to raise the funds and help set up over 30 schools, two hospitals and 12 medical clinics. He also raised the funds to build two airstrips in Nepal to make it easier to bring in supplies.
Hillary is someone who did the virtually impossible, climbed the world’s highest mountain, and then did the nearly impossible again refusing, as Don George writes, "to be spoiled by all the adulation and accolades that the achievement earned him, and remaining loyal to an ideal and a people he loved. Because of this man, countless lives have been bettered, and an entire culture has been preserved."

A headline in New Zealand said, "We shall not see his kind again". I rather think this is true. May he rest in peace.

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