Amy Zhao - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
I have always loved to help people and in addition to my love of people, I also developed an interest in medicine. When I came across the Projects Abroad 2 Week Special project, I knew I had to take the opportunity. As I tried to decide on a country, I felt drawn to Nepal. It seemed so enigmatic. I had to explore it.
Arriving at Kathmandu, I was taken away by the beauty of the natural landscape: the lush green hills and the snowy Himalayas. The modern developments in the city surprised me though; who would suspect that there would be traffic in Nepal? Being able to get a visa at the airport was a definite plus, making it easy to get out of the airport. I was happy to see Projects Abroad staff waiting for me when I walked out of the airport.
While in Nepal, my fellow Project Abroad volunteers and I stayed at the Hotel Global in Chitwan. It was a great place to stay, comfortable and simple. All the rooms came with air conditioners, although some worked better than others. Hotel Global was a great place to relax by the pool or just spend time with new friends. Hotel Excelsior was where we stayed for those few nights in Kathmandu. The rooftop garden was absolutely gorgeous. The food was simple, traditional Nepali cuisine with some western meals thrown in on some days.
Experience - that is the one word I would use to describe the Medical placements. You experience so many different fields of medicine from the more common fields such as paediatrics and surgery to more specialised fields, such as optometry and oncology. The placements were spread over four different hospitals: Chitwan Medical College and Teaching Hospital (CMC), BP Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital, Bharatpur Eye Hospital and Mary Stroppes Family Planning Clinic.
The placements were a learning experience, watching doctors perform their different tasks. The placements didn’t just involve observing though; there were many hands on opportunities as well. These hands-on opportunities were unique, such as taking care of children in the paediatric ward, or my favourite, playing ‘carom’ with the patients in the psychiatric ward.
During my time in Nepal, my placement in the psychiatric ward of CMC has impacted my life the most. Going to the psychiatric ward was a spur of the moment offer that the Projects Abroad staff offered. I took the opportunity because I was interested in psychology and thought it would be a unique experience. It wasn’t anything like I expected. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting.
A few other girls and I went together. Rounds were just ending and we went around and talked to some of the patients who knew some English; two of the girls could also translate for us since they spoke Hindi. We learnt so much about the lives of these patients. A group of patients and nurses were playing carom in the lobby; carom is a traditional Nepali board game similar to billiards. Each of the volunteers paired off with a patient or a family member; I was paired with a patient who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. As the game went on, all of us laughed because of how bad we as volunteer newbies were and how good the patients and family members were.
In the moments of the game, I saw how patients and family members escaped and were happy. Since the sensitive topic of mental illness had been in the news and my awareness of the demons people close to me were fighting, I was more aware of judgment against the mentally-ill, the fear. When the patients played carom, they were seen as people, not as mental illnesses. I knew then and there I wanted to strike out the judgment of the carom-men.
One of the best aspects of this trip was the opportunity to explore the cultural aspects of Nepal. The Projects Abroad staff took us from our placements to a local temple for a Hindu holiday and a historical cave, in addition to the weekend trip to Chitwan National Park, a cultural Tharu dance, the Monkey Temple and Pashupatinath Temple.
The weekend at the national park was fun. There were so many activities planned. The cultural dance was over the weekend. It was entertaining and my adrenaline raced as I ran to the stage and danced with the dancers and other audience members. The temples in Kathmandu were beautiful and give a great insight into the huge role religion plays in this country. The monkeys are adorable. Overall, Nepal and its culture gave me a huge breath of relaxation and helped me take life as it flows.
The staff at Projects Abroad is there for you one 100%. Advice to any future volunteers reading this, do not hand your phone or camera to the children. They’re adorable, I know, but I made the mistake and it cost me my photos! All 500 of them. All seemed lost, but the Projects Abroad crew saved the day. They helped recover all my photos on the memory card.
I hope to see Nepal again soon. The country is beautiful and I am so thankful I was able to go to this country. When living in the United States, I sometimes forget what I take for granted. I am so happy to see Nepal gaining access to advanced medical technology and medical treatment.
I hope to return to Nepal soon. I miss my fellow volunteers, as we became a family. We would always spend time together during work and after work. Everyone came together and helped one another. As I write this, I am flooded with the memories of Nepal: the laughs, the awe, the excitement, the love. I can sometimes return to flow of Nepali life when I sip my Nepali tea. Nepal, I will see you again soon.
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