Danica Mullin - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
In December 2015, I left my family and friends for two weeks to embark on a life changing adventure in Nepal. I had stumbled across Projects Abroad through a Facebook advertisement, and after reading about the High School Medicine Project in Nepal, I was convinced it was perfect for me. I have a keen interest in both volunteering and the medical profession, and though I was pretty sure that I wanted to study medicine after school, I was excited for the opportunity to learn more about my intended career path.
After looking through all the countries available, I decided to apply for the Nepal program. I was curious to compare what I knew about the healthcare in Australia to what was available in such a different culture. I had also heard a lot about the beautiful country and the kind people, and I was not disappointed. Once I was accepted into the program I gained access to the My Projects Abroad website, where I found guides to obtaining a visa, information about my chosen country and my travel itinerary. This helped me feel prepared for the trip ahead and made sure I didn’t forget any important details such as immunisations or what to pack.
Arrival to Kathmandu
I was fortunate to travel from Melbourne with two other volunteers, so we got to know each other really well on the flight. On arrival, we were greeted by a Projects Abroad staff member who drove us to our hotel in Kathmandu. We stayed in Kathmandu for two days at the beginning of the trip, and two days at the end, where we got the opportunity to do some shopping and get to know the other volunteers. The hotel staff was fun and friendly and all spoke English very well.
Medical Placements in Chitwan
From Kathmandu we travelled five hours by bus to Chitwan, a small district in the southwestern area, where all of our hospital visits took place. The thirteen of us were broken into small groups of three or four and we visited a different hospital every day. We were able to watch consultations, operations and read patient files. One of my favourite placements was the teaching hospital, where we watched a birth in the morning, visited some children in paediatrics and then saw some x-rays in the afternoon. We also visited a cancer hospital, health post, eye hospital and family planning clinic while in Chitwan. In each of the hospitals, there was a variety of wards to visit, so if a procedure was ever too intense we had the option to see something else. The doctors and nurses at the hospitals were all happy to explain what was going on and were very friendly. We also had some lectures on particular health concerns in Nepal, and an anatomy class with actual body parts!
The best times were when we got to interact with the local people on the outreach placements. In Chitwan, we went out to a school one day and taught some children how to brush their teeth. They were all super friendly and eager to meet and play with us. We even got the opportunity to practice speaking Nepali. We also visited a centre for children with HIV/Aids in Kathmandu. It was amazing how healthy the children had become, having arrived at the clinic malnourished and agitated. The work that was being undertaken at the clinic was really moving, and was very special to see.
I am still in touch with the twelve other volunteers in my group and we are now lifelong friends. Amidst visits to hospitals and lessons we had fun-filled bus rides, late night card games and amazing memories were made. Making such great friends completed the experience, and we all encouraged each other to get the best out of every moment. One night we went to a cultural dinner where we ate and watched traditional Nepalese dancing. Towards the end, we were invited on stage to join in, something I would have never done by myself, but we all agreed to go up and had one of the best nights, even though I’m a terrible dancer. Most of us were from Australia but we also had volunteers from England and New Zealand, so it was awesome to learn a bit about where they come from.
The hotel which we stayed at for 10 days in Chitwan was gorgeous. We were provided with food there which was delicious, and there was always variety. There were often weddings hosted in the gardens and we were welcome to watch and even join in with some of the festivities afterwards. I stayed in a room with two other girls which also had a bathroom with a shower, however there were times when the hot water didn’t work and we’d have to have a cold shower or use a bucket. This was an interesting experience, which made us all the more grateful for when we did have hot water. We were provided with free Wi-Fi, so getting in touch with home was no problem.
Though we spent a lot of time in hospitals and learning about the health status in Nepal, there was also plenty of time to learn about the culture. We had a lesson where we learnt how to speak a little Nepali, which made introducing ourselves and shopping a lot easier. We spent the middle weekend of our stay in the National Park, where we went on a safari and saw rhinoceroses, monkeys, crocodiles and elephants.
Our Projects Abroad supervisor who stayed with us for the whole two weeks was like a mum away from home. She organised activities such as getting henna tattoos and having dance lessons at our request, and was always making sure we were happy and comfortable. Our safety was her number one priority, and there was never a time we couldn’t tell her about even the smallest of problems.
If you’re considering a career in the medical field, I would highly recommend the Nepal High School Medicine project. It not only increased my motivation but was informative and exciting. But be prepared for a completely different experience than anything you could ever imagine. At times you might have to go without a hot shower, and you may get a bit sick of rice, but you’ll never be without a friendly face. We saw and experienced so many things that aren’t possible at home. I’m so glad I made the decision to apply for the program, and hope many others get the same fantastic opportunity.