My father cautioned me about the fragility of the environment, and the adverse consequences of greed and of abandoning religious behavior. He taught me that cultural traditions take generations to form but only a few years to disappear. Change is inevitable, but we can choose the character of that change.
— Norbu Tenzin Sherpa, Vice President, American Himalayan Foundation

Founded in 1913, the Deboche nunnery is the oldest Buddhist nunnery in Nepal. Many of its buildings were constructed in the 1920s and 30s. In 1976 the Sagarmatha Natural Park, where the nunnery is located, was designated a World Heritage Site.

In the fall of 2004, while leading a trek, I was searching for a peaceful and remote Buddhist convent to arrange for a puja for my recently deceased brother-in-law. Our guide took us down a secluded path to a convent in tall pines lying in the shadow of Everest. The nuns welcomed us into their historic Prayer Hall with its beautiful works of art. They shared what little they had after performing the ‘puja’. The convent was in desperate need of repair and restoration…broken windows, leaking roofs, lack of sanitary facilities and, drinking water and no heating sources in their stone huts—their cook stove was made of welded cooking oil cans. Most of the nuns were suffering from respiratory infections brought on by the cold, inclement weather. We made a vow to change these deplorable conditions and the lives of these beautiful, dedicated women.--Marcia MacDonald

Joined by Dan Mazur, Head of the Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development in Nepal, and Mingma Tenzing Sherpa, Marcia founded the Deboche Project in 2006.

Relying on private donors and the generosity of friends in the climbing world, the following was accomplished over the course of the first few years:

  • Installation of a 3 kilometer water line to the monastery and the nearby village
  • Construction of two greenhouses to extend the growing season and provide fresh vegetables for the nunnery and local residents. Johnny's Selected Seeds of Maine provided seeds for the greenhouses for the convent and for the village community.
  • Repair or replacement of damaged windows, walls, and roofs of the convent buildings
  • Construction of two sanitary facilities with composting capacity
  • Installation of new seating mats for the shrine room
  • Installation of a new large cook stove for the kitchen and three small wood burning stoves in the nuns’ quarters
  • Insulation of the small kitchen/dining area which also allows a limited number of residents to use the area for study and recreation
  • Weatherproofing and insulation for three of the nuns’ living quarters

Read more about Deboche and the history and goals of the Deboche Project.

Read more about initial improvements to the site.

In 2013, Seattle-based Architects Without Borders generously agreed to conduct an assessment and design a comprehensive plan for restoration and improvements to the site. The initial plans were completed in 2014. The involvement and dedication of AWB has made an invaluable contribution to the Project.

The earthquakes in April and May 2015 did not spare the convent and created major setbacks for the project. Working with a government crippled by infrastructure damages and inundated by requests for help slowed our efforts to respond to the crisis. Earthquake damage also necessitated a rethinking/redesign of our plan for the site. However, slow and steady progress is being made.  AWB continues to play a key role in this process.

It is a testament to the importance of Deboche and the compassion that visitors feel for the nuns that others have been inspired to assist in the restoration efforts. We are happy and grateful to acknowledge the work that has been done by the nonprofit Altruistic Odyssey, which has restored the kitchen and prayer hall.

We are now concentrating our efforts on construction of the meditation/teaching center, which will also provide housing for several nuns. Building is scheduled to begin in spring 2017. Please visit our Updates section to learn more.