Short-term Specials, Medicine in Nepal by Thomas Tawse
Nepal is a beautiful country that offers a unique and challenging experience for any volunteer who decides to visit. Having had an unforgettable experience with Projects Abroad in India 2 years previously, Nepal gave me the opportunity to take a break from a busy student life and immerse myself in a new culture and way of life.
My first day in Nepal
Having left the UK whilst rainy days had become the new summer, it was quite a relief to see the clear skies coming into Kathmandu Airport. However, the first thing you will notice when you land is the heat. I quickly realised that a hoodie and jeans were perhaps not the best choice of clothing. The second thing you will realise is something I like to call organised chaos. The myriad of cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, people and cows makes driving on the roads of Nepal quite a fantastic and equally worrying experience.
When I arrived in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu, the Projects Abroad staff gave me a quick crash course in Nepali language which I applied rather unsuccessfully to my bargaining attempts in shops! Nonetheless, getting to grips with the local language is a great way to integrating yourself in the culture.
Chitwan and my placement
My main placement was in Chitwan Medical College Hospital along with several other volunteers. The 6 hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Chitwan takes you along high winding roads with breath taking views of mountains and rivers.
In the hospitals, volunteers were given a choice as to which departments they would like to work in which made experiencing different specialities of medicine possible. There was also the opportunity to watch surgeries, although, this is not for the squeamish as standing alongside the surgeon as they pull out intestines and gall bladders can come as quite of a shock!
If that wasn’t enough, the lectures on anatomy at the medical college provided an educational yet rather amusing day seeing the expressions on volunteers as preserved digestive tracks and lungs were pulled out of jars. Perhaps the perfect way to discover if medicine is the pathway for you!
During the second week we worked in the Bharatpur Cancer Hospital and Bharatpur Eye Hospital which gave us a different perspective on the extent of healthcare available. The doctors and nurses enjoy speaking English and are happy to explain all the procedures they perform. This gave us an opportunity to learn about life as a medical professional in Nepal and get a basic understanding of the different treatment plans available for various patients.
In Kathmandu, we also visited MSPN which is a care and support programme for children living with HIV and AIDS. The centre focuses predominantly on children under the age of 10 and gave us an idea of the support available for children and their parents, from medicines to counselling. We learnt about the need to raise awareness of how transmission of HIV and AIDS can be minimised and how programmes such as that at MSPN need the support of volunteers and other organisations to allow the service to be provided free of cost.
Getting a taste of the local food is must for anyone travelling to Nepal. Dhal Bhat is the traditional Nepali food eaten by most families during the day. In Chitwan we even got the chance to make another local delight known as momos. These are a kind of dumpling filled with anything from vegetables to buffalo meat, a definite must try.
At the weekend we went to Chitwan National Park. During the day we visited an elephant sanctuary and took part in cultural dances. We were also lucky enough to see crocodiles, whilst canoeing down the river and spot rhinos in the wild. The National Park was an incredible experience that gave me a completely different perspective of Nepal away from the hustle of the cities.
In Kathmandu, we went sightseeing to different temples and landmarks. These included Patan Durbar Square, Buddha Park and the long climb up to Swayambhunath, where you will come across a lot of holy monkeys!
The Projects Abroad staff
The whole Nepal experience would not be the same without the dedicated time and effort put in by the Projects Abroad Staff. I would like to extend my thanks to the 2 week supervisors Jess and Janus, Jess your relentless advice and guidance with the group helped every volunteer settle happily into life in Nepal. The local staff also did a fantastic job coordinating the volunteers within the community and hospitals, thank you Binod.
When the inevitable time came for me to leave Nepal I knew I would be returning again. Nepal allows you to have an experience in the medical field that you cannot usually get back home and you get the opportunities to work and learn in a wide range of disciplines and areas of healthcare. Sharing the whole experience with other volunteers makes volunteering abroad with Projects Abroad the complete package full of unforgettable experiences and lasting memories.
Thank you to fellow volunteers Bridget Park and Hannah Weinstein for use of their photos with this story.