Emily Sun - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
In December 2013, I journeyed to the land of the Himalayas where I took part in a volunteer medical project. After spending 15 hours up in the clouds, I finally arrived and was greeted warmly by the Projects Abroad staff. Although I was exhausted, my enthusiasm and excitement didn’t disappear as we drove through the cramped streets of Kathmandu City.
“I was surprised by how the Nepalese drivers could skilfully and calmly manoeuvre their vehicles in such hectic traffic where there were few or no traffic lights, road lanes and signs. The occasional sight of a buffalo, monkey or goat only added to the thrill of the ride. We spent our first night at Hotel Excelsior, getting to know the other volunteers and we had a fun time eating dinner with our hands. The next day, we drove six hours to Chitwan where our placements awaited us.
My Medicine Placement
Our first Medicine placement was at the Asha Bal Bikash Disabled Centre, which looks after children with special needs during the day. While there, we played games, read English books, danced and joined in musical activities with them. The children were all very energetic and it was a joy to play with them. As some children had physical disabilities, we helped perform their daily physiotherapy routine by following the staff member’s directions. I also helped to hang colourful pennants around the room for their Christmas celebration. At the end of the day, it was rewarding to see the children beam back at us and know that we made a difference.
We also visited the Community Hospital where we spent our morning and afternoon observing consultations with Dr Shrestha. We also witnessed an endoscopy, a circumcision and a transurethral resection of bladder tumour in the pathology lab.
It was interesting to compare the differences between healthcare in Nepal and Australia. An endoscopy that was scheduled at 7am did not take place until after 9am and this appeared to be normal to both the patient and doctor. Also, hygiene was not practised properly in the operating theatre. What was even more startling was that the surgeon answered his phone midway through the operation. Nevertheless, we gradually adapted to the laidback culture of Nepal and enjoyed every bit of it!
The other placements we visited included the Marie Stopes Family Planning Centre, the Bharatpur Eye Hospital, the Spinal Injury Unit, Chitwan Medical College Teaching Hospital (CMC) and the Bharaptur Cancer Hospital. Some further highlights include witnessing a gall bladder removal, plastic surgery and a nasal surgery at CMC.
As my interests lie in oncology, I was looking forward to visiting the cancer hospital. We observed several endoscopies and went to the histopathology laboratory. At the hospice and inpatient units, we were guided by nurses who let us visit patients and view their patient notes, which showed their medical history.
Visiting Schools in Nepal
We visited a community school where we taught children how to brush their teeth. We showed them pictures of good and bad teeth and the causes of both. We also spoke to the children there and they were curious about me and my life in Australia. I also met students my own age and seeing the differences in our education and living conditions made me realise how lucky I am in Australia. They were all very friendly as they helped me with my Nepali language skills.
Just before we were about to leave, one of the supervisors gave me a folded note from the Class 10 students, which said in neat handwriting, “We will miss u, both of you”. I ran back into the school grounds to wave a final goodbye to the students, who were all upstairs waving back to me. I was deeply touched and knew immediately that I had to return to this beautiful country one day.
Travelling in Nepal
At the end of our first week, we stayed at Chitwan National Park for the weekend. We went to see a Tharu cultural dance performance and later, we were all invited to join the dancers on stage. We followed along with the dance routine and it felt wonderful to be immersed in the Nepali culture.
Throughout our two weeks, we also had yoga classes, meditation classes and the opportunity to do lots of shopping. Shopping in the streets of Nepal definitely put both my haggling and Nepali to the test.
By the end of the trip, my passion for medicine had solidified. I have made lasting friendships with likeminded people from all around the world. Additionally, I have fallen in love with the Nepalese culture – the adventure on the streets, the laidback mood, the spicy yet ‘Mito-cha’ dishes and the friendliness and hospitality of the people – these are the things that I will never forget and are also the reasons that I’ll be returning to Nepal one day.
To future volunteers out there, I cannot recommend this project strongly enough. At first, the thought of volunteering in a developing country might be overwhelming, but don’t be afraid to take on this challenge. When you are in Nepal, try to embrace the culture as much as you can and don’t be shy to talk to the doctors or nurses because they are all friendly and kind.
Finally, I’d like to say a massive ‘dhanyabaad’ to Nepal and the supervisors who were there for us 24/7 during our trip!