Compassion Connects: Volunteering in Nepal

In just three weeks, I will be boarding a plane at the SeaTac International airport loaded down with clinical supplies and warm clothing.   My destination– Nepal.  Once in country, I will spend the next two months volunteering for the Acupuncture Relief Project at a high-volume, non-profit acupuncture clinic based in the Kathmandu valley.  The main clinic is located in the village of Chapagoan.  We also have a handful of satellite clinics.  One is a thirty minute walk through terraced, rice patties, the others require a motorbike to reach.

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I will be living with four other acupuncturists in a Tibetan buddhist monastery.  The monks are kind enough to host the organization and we have the added bonus of the clinic being right next door.  Our daily life will involve waking up to the horn call to puja (morning meditation) at 5:30am, then breakfast around eight, and in the clinic treating by nine.  We each work closely with an interpreter, rotate who travels to the satellite clinics, and are projected to treat anywhere from 15-25 patients a day.  I’m told that after the first week, we’ll be so tired that we’ll sleep through the puja call.  I am a wee bit skeptical, as those horns pack a decibel punch.

Tibetan Buddhist monks blowing the long horns,...

Tibetan Buddhist monks blowing the long horns, and drumming, Tharlam Monastery, closing ceremonies, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal (Photo credit: Wonderlane)

Why am I leaving my warm, cozy house, husband, and two cats for Nepal in the middle of winter?  There are many reasons, some selfish and some not.  I’ll start working in the clinic on January 10, 2013.  It will be cold.  There is no heat and the floors are marble.  The only method for heat, I am told, is with propane tanks.  Propane is expensive, so is rationed for cooking and the occasional warm beverage.  One reason I am doing this is for the vast experience of it all.  The experience of providing health care in one of the most impoverished countries globally.  The experience of living winter as winter.  The experience of treating both the physical and the emotional aspects of living.  I’m not going to fib, there is a strong sense of adventure in this for me as well.  As a child that came of age in the nineties, surrounded by “free Tibet” bumper stickers, I’ve long wanted to be near Tibet, the himalayas, and be in Nepal.  I’ve had the pleasure of living in towns that bring Tibetan monks to share their culture with us in both high school and college, and I am excited to spend two months living at one of their monasteries.

Our founder impressed upon all of this year’s volunteers, that treating in Nepal is akin to medical field work.  You have to address the mental and emotional stress of being ill in a subsistence demographic with just as much attention as to the physical ailment.   We also have to be prepared for each and any illness.  Since the clinic is free, patients will come to us before going to the Western medical clinic down the road.  The Western clinic, while inexpensive by our standards, can cost a family all of their land for a simple ER visit.  Due to this situation, we end up catching many cases of unregulated hypertension and diabetes that we have to send on to the Western clinic.  There are many cases that we co-treat with the Western clinic.

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Working in Nepal will significantly heighten my clinical skills and will benefit my hometown when I bring these skills back to Walla Walla and the United States.  At this point, I am eager to learn.  I know that I will learn a great deal from my future patients about both health care and the human spirit.  I will learn about both myself and global medicine.  I also know that despite my planning and asking questions of my colleagues that have gone before me, I cannot be fully prepared for this experience.  There will be surprises.  There will be success and heartache.  I hope you chose to join me on this healthcare journey.

You can find out more about my organization by going to their website at:  http://www.acupuncturereliefproject.org

And by watching the 30 minute documentary at:   http://player.vimeo.com/video/44075076

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