On the 25th of April, 2015, a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake thundered through large swaths of Nepal, sending tremors into Tibet and neighboring Indian states and even as far as South India. The destruction was pervasive and shattering. Over 9,000 people were killed in Nepal alone and over 23,000 were injured while countless more lost their homes and livelihoods. In the days and weeks after the earthquake, the people of Nepal continued to be traumatized by often powerful aftershocks as they took stock of the devastation and looked warily towards the coming monsoons.
Immediately after the disaster numerous international and local organizations sprang into action, both for short term relief and longer term reconstruction and support. Among these groups were many of the Khoryug monasteries and nunneries in Nepal. Under the instruction of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, they formed an Earthquake Relief Committee along with two lay organizations, Nepal’s Karmapa Service Society and the Kagyu Welfare Association.
Graciously spared from debilitating devastation, these monasteries and nunneries drew from their own budgets to offer immediate and ongoing support to the afflicted communities around them. Monasteries, nunneries and the partner lay groups were able to draw on their well-established community presence to begin relief efforts without support from any external organizations. Through their intrinsic knowledge of the area and organically developed connections, as well as through their community commitment and compassion for all beings, these monasteries and nunneries naturally began organizing their support.
Over the weeks that followed the earthquake, Khoryug monasteries and nunneries, acting with the Earthquake Relief Committee as well as independently, provided combined assistance to (a low estimate of) over 12,000 families spread out over 15 districts. Over 100 families were given immediate shelter within monastic compounds. An additional 2,200 people received direct medical support from doctors hired by the monasteries and nunneries.
The families were provided with rice, dal, oil, drinking water and tents or tarps, and many received provisions of salt, sugar, soya nutrelas, instant noodles, biscuits as well as foam mattresses and blankets. Some villages received building materials like zinc sheets to begin reconstructing their homes. In total, these monasteries and nunneries distributed over 140,000 kgs of rice, 10,000 kg of dal, 5000 L of cooking oil and 340,000 L of drinking water. Monasteries and nunneries estimate a total expenditure of at least 30 million NRS (approx. $280,000 USD) in relief supplies, labor and direct financial assistance. They also received and distributed countless more supplies that were organized and sent from Indian monasteries and nunneries wanting to contribute.
In addition to this essential support, monks and nuns joined rescue teams, helped clear villages and roads of rubble, donated blood, volunteered at hospitals and schools and organized activities for children where schools had been destroyed. The monasteries and nunneries opened their large and expansive courtyards to the public as a safe space to regroup and actively provided emotional support to traumatized victims of the disaster.
The 2015 Nepal Earthquake offers a tragic illustration of the significant role monasteries and nunneries can play in their communities, whether in the form of immediate disaster relief or long term community development. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has consequently announced a plan to establish disaster response teams in each Khoryug monastery and nunnery that can provide crucial support in areas of crisis response, recovery and community health and hygiene. This project will formally begin with the 7th Khoryug conference in March, 2016, in Saranath, Varanasi, with the topic of Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction.