Dinasha Perera - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
As the clouds parted and the blue sky appeared, the Himalayan range greeted me with its stunning snowy peaks. It was like something you’d see in a travel magazine or a National Geographic documentary. Witnessing the breath-taking landscape of Nepal from thousands of feet above was incredible. It was difficult to comprehend that it was actually happening. After a long and restless wait I was about to embark upon a Medicine project for two weeks.
My first impressions of Nepal
When the plane touched down at Kathmandu airport, I rode on a humid and musty bus to the terminal. I collected my baggage under the curious gazes of the people around me and had frequent smiles directed my way. The Nepalese are very friendly! It wasn’t long before I met another volunteer who was as nervous and excited as me.
We both made our way out of the airport towards our supervisor Jemma and the taxi that would take us to our hotel. The roads are extremely busy, with motorbikes and mini cars everywhere. After a 6 hour ride, we arrived in Chitwan and went straight to our hotel.
The majority of our stay took place in Chitwan. After a quick induction we learnt that our days would be structured as follows:
- - A quick breakfast of curried potatoes, bread and Nepalese tea
- - Spend the day at our designated healthcare centre
- - Afternoon activity
- - Dinner (which was always a surprise!)
- - Games/ Quiz night/ Relaxation time
In addition to such a busy schedule there were sunset yoga classes, lectures with Nepalese doctors, and visits to the internet café.
Along with the rest of the volunteers, I was ready to delve into medicine in a different culture and country. We were ready to be inspired and we were ready to learn, and the programme organised by Projects Abroad hit the nail on the head.
My Medicine Project
We were placed in five different health care centres, including an oncology hospital, abortion and family planning clinic, general hospital, eye hospital and a community hospital. Every morning we were dropped off and immediately attended to by enthusiastic hospital staff. Everyone spoke English to some degree and the doctors did not see us as students, but more like colleagues, hence why we got to see what we did!
In each of these places we witnessed miracles in medicine. C-sections, natural births, neurosurgery, abortions, doctor and patient consultations and cataract operations were only some of the highlights. During our break, we would eat at the canteen where we’d be served traditional Nepalese cuisine, such as momos, samosas, noodles and naan.
What makes work experience in Nepal different from work experience in Australia, the UK, USA or New Zealand? I found that we were given great privileges. What we witnessed could not be seen in your local hospital at home. Nepalese doctors and surgeons go out of their way to educate you, to listen to you, to speak to you and inspire you.
You’re given the opportunity to see a health care system in a developing country and this can sometimes be daunting but incredible. You’re placed outside your comfort zone and you gain experience that few students can say they have. By the end of the trip everyone was more independent, cultured and inspired.
In addition to our work experience we participated in a dental outreach programme where we visited a Nepalese primary school. Here, we taught the little ones how to brush their teeth! We even came up with songs and dance moves to go along with it. We gave out tooth brushes, played games with the kids and high-fived a hundred eager hands. Satisfaction is probably the best word to sum up our experience at the school.
We visited an old age home where we tuned our musical talents together and presented a neat little song to the elders. They were beyond impressed. We also visited a home for children with HIV and had the best time playing some intense games of basketball!
Travelling and sightseeing in Nepal
Of course, what would a trip to a different country be without some sightseeing and shopping? We visited the monkey temple, did a jungle walk, visited the local medical college where we played around with a cadaver and spent a lot of time shopping at the local markets. We got some bargains though, thanks to bartering!
My advice for travelling to Nepal would be this: always keep an open mind, barter down as far as possible (but be reasonable), and bring lots of insect repellent.
Saying goodbye to Nepal
I cannot even begin to sum up this incredible journey. When I say it was the experience of a lifetime, I mean it. Once you go on a trip with Projects Abroad, you’re hooked for life. I hope to come back to Nepal in a few years as a medical student and do some more volunteering then. Everything could not have gone more perfectly than it did.
The best part of this trip was the volunteers. Everybody was interested in health or science, whether it was medicine, physiotherapy, emergency medicine, research, or psychology. I was surrounded by students my own age who shared similar mind sets and goals. Becoming friends and getting to know one another was a breeze. By the end of the trip we were bawling our eyes out over having to leave each other. It’s not every day you get to spend two weeks with twenty people who’d be excited about seeing a cataract operation!
If you have a strong passion for science, medicine or a keen interest in the health sector and want to make it your future, then this is hands down the programme for you. Don’t be afraid to take a step out into the big scary world, because you’ll soon realise how amazing it is. This was a journey I will never forget. Thank you, Projects Abroad!