Mona’s Visit to Nepal

After finishing my studies in social work in summer 2019, I wanted to see something different and do something good, something helpful. I know, in Germany there are many people and especially children with big problems and needs.  I saw these at work and during my many internships. That is also the reason why I studied social work – to help, to change something, to learn more about people and the society we live in. But to understand, to learn and to broaden my horizons, I think it is important to get to know other cultures with different traditions and a different way of life. I wanted to go somewhere else in the world to make a new experience.

So, I got connected with Mr. Dr. Arnoud Weider from Germany, who is part of an organization called DHM  in Achern/Germany which has supported HDCS for many years. I was fascinated by their projects and their mission. I thought: Yes, that’s what I want to do, that’s a place I want to go! At first, I didn’t know what to expect at HDCS in Nepal, because normally medical students going there to gain practical experience in a hospital in a different country. I have no medical background and neither have I worked in a hospital before. However, they told me, for example, about the school Asha Bal Bikash Sewa (ABBS) for disabled children, about mother-child houses and the international school KISC in Kathmandu. Because of my job in a Home for people with disabilities during my studies in Germany, I was excited to get to know the work in ABBS Kathmandu.

Before I started my trip to Nepal I was wondering, if I may need some special injections or medication. I talked to doctors and many other people. In the end, I didn’t take any special injections. I kept it with the regular ones I already had. It is important is that you have Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus shots, etc.  I took some antibiotics with me, just in case I got typhus or something like that. Usually, I always travel with my big backpack. However, after a while, it always ends in a big mess, so this time, because I thought I’ll stay for a long time in one place, I decided to use a suitcase. Later, I recognized that my backpack would have been the better choice. I will tell you then.

So, as I arrived in Nepal Kathmandu Airport, I was picked up by one of the staff of HDCS, who was holding a sign in his hands.  He was very friendly and brought me directly to the office. I needed to become used to put my hands together and say ‘Namaste’ instead of shaking hands. The car was very small, noisy and old. I was overwhelmed by the traffic in this country. I have been in India once, so I thought I was a little bit prepared, but actually I was not. The traffic is absolutely crazy in Kathmandu.

I arrived at the office of HDCS and I got to know many lovely people. I talked to Mr. Kapil, the Executive Director of the organization, about my stay here and what I could do, where I could help and what my possibilities were. I was asked to work with the teachers in the School ABBS for disabled children, which is attached directly to the office. I was very happy and it was a pleasure for me to support the teachers in their daily work. However, because of the festivals Dashain and Tihar in October, the school was closed because of holidays. So, we decided together that I will go to Rukum to stay in Chaurjahari hospital for this time (both festivals-1 month) and then come back and work at the school again. I was totally fine with that even if I didn‘t really know what I could do and how I could support the people in the hospital without any medical knowledge.

On my first day in the office/school, I had lunch, so I got to know dal bhat, the national dish, right away and learned my first Nepali word “mitho” – “delicious”. And actually, I really like dal Bhat – Dherai mitho cha! – It is very tasty!  The children at school are full of energy, was most of the time in a very good mood and without any kind of wariness of me, something I didn’t expect before. I really liked that!  It took some time until I understood the daily routine and lessons. I could join many different classes so I gained a broad range of insights.  I recognized that it would be good if I could speak Nepali language, so all the time I asked for words and tried to remember them. The teachers and also the children helped me with that. However, I learned speaking is not the most important thing to work with the children. When you dance, pray, eat, relax, laugh, play memory games, puzzles or something else, the language doesn’t matter. We’re all the same and need to go with our instincts.

The first two weeks were totally busy. Everyone was excited because of the 25 years anniversary of ABBS. So many things needed to be done. We made a lot of decoration stuff and the children practiced dances for a special performance. Many people from far away, most of them from Norway, who supported ABBS since the beginning, came to Nepal to visit the school, the children, and to join the anniversary celebration.  I was very excited and so happy that I could be a part of this important event. The teachers were wearing saris and they gave one to me as well. It was a wonderful experience for me and I am so thankful for that! Tulsa Sharma, the head of ABBS can be very proud of her great and amazing establishment.

Children with special needs who are not accepted in their society have found a place where they can enjoy education, where they are loved and supported, where they can be who they are. I have never seen teachers interacting with students with such a big heart as these teachers. It is not always easy; they need to be very patient and pay lots of attention.  Many parents still do not accept the disability of their children and still need a lot of help on how to support them in their daily lives. Also, many unanswered questions remain, like what happens after school? Is there a place to go for these children? I asked because there are students who are already 30 years old. What are the opportunities for these ones after school? Are there opportunities? The unemployment rate in Nepal is already high and how difficult would it be to include people with special needs, who are not really accepted in their society, not to mention the job market? That’s one reason why it is so important that families accept their children as they are and that they know how to manage their handicap, to include them in family’s daily work, to give them tasks and to let them assume some responsibility.

The ABBS teachers schooled me in many things and showed me how to teach, to love the children and to manage difficult situations. Through many interesting conversations with each woman, I gained lots of impressions of Nepali life, culture, and traditions. I was fascinated by how well every teacher knows about their students’ lives, families and stories. We had a lot of fun, dancing and singing together. I already really miss them!

My next step was the Chaurjahari hospital in district Rukum. I was very excited and the 6 hours ride in a jeep from Nepalgunj to the middle of the countryside intensified these feelings even more. I was so tired but I couldn’t sleep in the car because there was so much to see out of the window – beautiful landscape, colorful and busy villages, wide fields and all the way along a huge river. I saw people swimming in this rapid stream, washing their clothes, taking water out of it. The road isn’t good and I was wondering how the buses can safely drive this way. When we arrived, it was already dark and I couldn’t see where we were. We needed to walk for a while down a hill, then cross a long chain bridge and finally walk up a hill again. Now a backpack would have been the better choice. It was crazy not to know what the area around us looked like. While crossing this never-ending bridge I just could hear the rapid stream below my feet. Only the next morning could I see what an awesome and beautiful area the hospital is placed on. I got a lovely welcome from Dr. Caleb and the whole “hospital family”. I instantly felt very comfortable, just like home!

I met many interesting and great people. For example, the lovely and brave midwife, Brenda, from the U.S., who is working in the hospital for the next 4 years.  She is teaching nurses in special cases of pregnancy and delivery. I learned a lot from her and she could explain everything! After one year in Nepal, she speaks Nepali too, and it was so impressive how she is interacting with the patients, nurses, and doctors in the hospital. I got to know Noemi, a volunteer nurse from Switzerland, who worked there for three months. We soon became friends and I hope we’ll keep in touch! Also, there was Yukiko, a very care doctor from Japan and Dr. Mori and his wife, who comes every year also from Japan to operate in the Chaurjahari hospital. There was also the social mobilizer from the Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) team and Jenisha, who is leading the under five years children program.

On the second day, I was allowed to join the first delivery in my life. I don’t know how to explain my feelings towards this time. It was a wonder for me – absolutely poignant. This little girl, a new life just saw the light of the day. I was overcome by emotions. Nevertheless, it was hard, I noticed that the mother of this wonderful little girl was kind of disappointed. It was her first baby and it was a daughter, not a son. It’s different cultural thinking and tradition. In Nepal, it is important for a family to get at least one boy, who takes care of all of the family members in future life.

Everything was so different for me, so different from Germany. It is an absolutely rural and remote area where the hospital is located. There are no streets, just some ways, where motorbikes and jeeps or little ‘cars’ still have the struggle to come forward. Often it takes many days until people reach the hospital because they come from far away and the only possibility to come is by foot. The patients are brought sometimes by four people carrying a stretch, by motorbike or piggyback. Here I could see incredible things. People reach the hospital with unknown bites… They got bitten during fieldwork, but no one knows what it was, a spider? Snake? Scorpion? During my time in the hospital, one woman came who got attacked by a bear. She got huge scratch marks in her face and deep wounds in her legs. Children are falling from trees or roofs and break several bones. Everything is so normal but abnormal. I could often watch an operation; I definitely learned a lot! The doctors and nurses must be really flexible and creative on how to use the facilities they have to treat the patients in the best way they can.

Attached to the hospital you can find the office of CBR. The staff there are responsible for the disabled people in the community. They have different tasks and projects. It is part of social work here and it was absolutely interesting for me! I could join many home visits and mother groups. Besides, they sometimes conduct interviews with important people in the community, who talk about disabilities in their districts and how they can handle it and help.

The work I saw of the CBR is absolutely important. For example, they talk with people with disabilities and their families about their rights and their needs. Many of them don’t know that they are entitled to benefits from the government. If you have a disability card it’s divided into different categories of the degree of disability. How much money they can get monthly depends on this.

There are also some mother groups. The people from CBR give advice and support for/to them. Mothers and women in the community have special problems and needs and they can organize and help themselves in these kinds of groups. There are saving funds, so every month they pay a bit of money on it. It’s like a self-insurance in Europe, just on a small scale. So, if a woman has any problems, or her children need to go to the hospital, for example, she is able to make some money out of this fund. Very smart!

The social mobilizers maintain a radio program, too. It’s also located on the hospital ground. This is a good chance to inform and to reach people in the countryside and tell them things about disability their rights and what they can do and who they can ask if they have problems and stuff like that. I got to know a very moving story of one of the patients in the hospital. It’s the story of Brame Sharma and his family. It would be too long to write it down, but I was fascinated by how satisfied he was after all that happened to him and his family. He stayed in the hospital for a very long time and I could talk to him many times and ask a hundred questions because I got some help in translating, which was perfect to communicate and I am really thankful for that!

I also got to know Jenisha, who is leading the under five years program.  The hospital offers families and their small children free treatment and food. If the kids were too light and weak they get special food, which makes them strong again and helps them to recover. Many poor families wouldn’t go to the hospital if one or more of their children get ill, because it would be too expensive.  With this program, they try to encourage them to bring their children to the hospital before their illness gets worse and before it is maybe too late and healing is not possible anymore. It is very interesting and it works very well. People get to know of it in many different ways and come to the hospital. Besides that, the nurses can tell them, how they can prevent this and what to do in special cases.

I learned lots of Nepali language during my time at the hospital, which was also very helpful afterward in school. I am still impressed by how the stuff in the hospital work together and help so far as they can to give the best treatment to all their patients, no matter how difficult are the special cases. They need to be very creative and spontaneous sometimes.  Each time I could ask and they explained to me in detail. I enjoyed my time there so much.

I really miss the MOMO/cooking-parties we had, the barbeques with open fire, evenings with singing to the sounds of the guitar, interesting and deep conversations, trips to special and wonderful places around the hospital ground, football matches after work, the jokes and positives vibes, and briefly being a part of the hospital family! I definitely want to come back and visit the school and hospital again, because they found a place in my heart!