Nabiah Malik - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
From the moment I booked my placement with Projects Abroad to go to Nepal I was beyond excited. Even when I was sitting in my nurse’s office getting the vaccinations, I was still filled with excitement! I chose to do my placement here simply because the culture is so different to the UK and I had only ever heard positive things about the friendly people of Nepal.
Culture shock. The drive from the airport to the hotel is one that I will never forget. You sometimes see in movies how the roads of Asian countries are portrayed: animals roaming around, the sound of car horns every millisecond and with no road lanes, all the motorbikes and cars surrounding you are literally about an inch away. It is exactly like that! It sounds dangerous and chaotic but to the driver in Nepal, this is the norm, and they know how to get you from A to B completely safely.
The Projects Abroad base is located in Thamel which was a perfect welcome because there a lot of tourists there and it is a very lively place. Thamel is full of shops and bars and you can get a feel of the country straight away. Taxis are everywhere and it is very easy to see the remarkable sights because you can haggle for the journey fare. A tip for haggling: always go for half of what they are asking for. Don’t just say yes at the first price the taxi driver gives you – they expect you to haggle! It’s so common and actually becomes fun.
A lot of other volunteers from Projects Abroad stay at the same hotel when they first arrive or at weekends, and you can make friends really easily on the first night and hang out. I made quite a few and even coming back to the UK, I’m still in contact with them so you never feel alone on this trip.
My Medical Placement
I was honoured to have such a lovely placement for my work experience. The Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital is the second biggest cancer hospital in Nepal and the cases that walk in there are extraordinary. Awareness of cancer in Nepal is nowhere near that of the West and patients will sometimes walk in having a tumour that is in its very terminal stage and still have no clue what is going on.
I went to work every morning with my friend who was also volunteering there too via the local buses. This is one hilarious mission in itself and I really miss the bus rides. My supervisor named Bal was lovely and made everything so clear for me so I knew exactly what I was doing every day. All of the staff were friendly and the doctors want you to know exactly what is going on and gave me so much hands-on experience.
I touched and saw a lot of things that would make many grimace, such as wounds and boils, but if you have an interest in medicine, this was the best thing you could ask for. I saw lots of procedures too like an endoscopy and live surgery for the removal of a perianal abscess. Back in the UK, you would not be allowed to see or get up close and personal like I did in Nepal.
Just from my work experience I learnt a lot about the social aspects of Nepal and how their medical system is run. They do not have the NHS and things like paying for drugs and treatment is such a struggle for some. Medical knowledge wise, I learnt so much in my 2 weeks. Everything from what factors affect cancer to diagnosing breast cancer and calculating the correct amount of drugs to prescribe.
My Host Family
Staying with a host family – early morning yoga and delicious shell roti! I will admit that before leaving for Nepal, I was extremely apprehensive about staying with a host family. What will their toilet be like? Are they going to serve me horrible meals? How am I meant to even bond with a family that is going to have such a different culture?
There was no need to worry because the host family I stayed with completely made my experience. My host family were the kindest people ever and have been looking after volunteers for the past 15 years! The room I stayed in was massive and I was given a mosquito net by my host father so instantly, I felt at ease. There are lots of other volunteers who stay in the same house as you so socialising is very easy. Also, the friends I made in Thamel were staying close by so we kept in contact.
Staying with a host family makes you embrace the culture and is a once in a life time opportunity. They are happy to help you with anything and are so interested in finding out more about where you live. My host father would always eat breakfast with the volunteers asking us questions and trying to learn more words with his Nepal-English dictionary.
Being woken up at 5am to go to a yoga class doesn’t sound like the best thing in the world but what a hilarious time it was! I loved dinner time as the dal baat that was served was yummy. And you just can’t complain with fresh pancakes for breakfast!
One day my host father took us for a morning walk and we stopped at a café to try shell roti. I have been craving it ever since I left Nepal. It is a deep fried bread ring but is made from rice flour – basically, it is like a doughnut.
When you travel such a long distance, it’s obvious that you would want to see the country and the things it has to offer. Because of the wonderful flexibility and independence that Projects Abroad gives you – I managed to do exactly this!
I did many things in Nepal like visit temples and even see the world’s tallest statue of Lord Shiva. But nothing beats how I spent one of my weekends in Chitwan National Park, with a fellow volunteer that I am friends with. Lots of volunteers do this weekend package and it’s amazing.
I was depressed on my last day in Nepal. I was so sad to leave the stunning country and its people. The contrast between the culture there and the UK is unbelievable. You really do appreciate what you have and count your blessings when you return. Especially with 24/7 electricity.
Will I go back? Yes. Without a doubt and I cannot wait for when I return to see all the staff I worked with and my wonderful host father again. I have made so many friends with other volunteers there and plan to visit them in the USA.
As a whole, this experience has been unforgettable. I developed so much as a person. I have become very independent and now have such a taste for travelling. I have many great stories to tell and the work experience I actually went for gave me such an insight and was so inspiring. It’s made me certain that my dream of becoming a doctor is what I want to achieve and hopefully, when I am qualified, I will go to countries like Nepal and help out in hospitals similar to my placement.
This sounds so cliché but there really is no other way to describe it. Something happens when you’re abroad doing voluntary work like this and when you come back – you really do realise how short life is and how lucky we are.