“I work in a rehabilitation clinic in Kathmandu called Shanti Sewa Kendra. I work 6 days a week from 10am – 4pm. I see the patients who are diagnosed with leprosy, patients that are physically challenged (paraplegic, wheelchair bound), those with mental illnesses, and those who have serious illnesses but cannot afford their treatment. Moreover, our clinic serves and focuses on the street vendors, saints, beggars, and socially discriminated and excluded people.”
How I do it I do not know, but somehow I manage to meet the most fascinating people on Facebook. As I finish up my degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, my background as a humanities scholar with a strong attachment to social justice rumbles loudly and reminds me that there is important work to be done. I met Kumar Paudel via one of his posts in one of our communal healthcare groups and I reached out and asked him if we could talk. I told him of my background and explained what I wanted to do with my future and, just like that, we started a conversation. The following interview, like my exchange with Jesse Marimat, a rare disease advocate and liaison for healthcare in the Philippines, is part of my efforts to extend the reach of Two Hearts Wellness into realms of world health and wellness. As Kumar notes, collaboration and cooperation provide great ways to get things done—no sense in reinventing the wheel all alone, right? And so, and with great delight, it is my pleasure to herein introduce a new friend to my readership at Two Hearts Wellness.
Kumar Paudel was born in a small village in western Nepal called Mayatari. It was there, in a region where life expectancy was lower than even the Nepali average of age sixty and where the one hospital was not readily accessible, that he spent his childhood years. Traditional native healers served the local populations to their best of their abilities, but Kumar felt that he could contribute to the wellbeing of his countrymen by becoming a medical doctor after studying allopathic and biomedical principles. To this end, Kumar relocated to Kathmandu, where he completed his medical studies at Tribhuvan University. He arrived in the city with a firmly established desire to change the injustices and address the shortcomings he had seen while growing up.
When asked about Nepal, many people on the opposite side of the globe can only conjure visions of the Himalayan mountain ranges or, perhaps, remember that it is the Buddha’s birthplace. The relative health of its citizens probably isn’t on the horizon unless there is a catastrophe. However, flanked on one side by India and, on the other, by China, Nepal’s geographical location and physical attributes are not the only major determining factor in the country’s limited access to healthcare and its population’s modest life expectancy rate. A civil war that lasted for ten years (1996-2006) left its scars on those who survived it and, Kumar told me, “A few years before the earthquake, I visited most of the rural areas of Nepal (Rolpa, Rukum, Sankhuwasabha, Pyuthan, Dolakha, Tsum Valley). I wanted to see how the civil war of Nepal had affected the people of those areas. I met one Japanese doctor who made a hospital in Thabang, Rolpa. He had spent the past 20 years of his life in rural Nepal.”
This experience was a transformative one for Kumar, who says of it that the meeting inspired him and gave him a sense of his own ability to survive any extreme. “I developed a positive spirit,” he told me and, he explained, this experience also made him realize that, “I wanted to help and give back to the people of my country.” The effects of the earthquake of 2015 that killed thousands and devastated poorer areas only confirmed Kumar’s determination to make a difference in the lives of the rural people of his homeland.
One thing I wanted to learn about pertained to the specific challenges he and other healthcare providers face where he works. Unsurprisingly, the geography of the country itself is not welcoming and, he explained, “It still takes days of walking to reach some places in Nepal. This discourages doctors from going there and makes health access very difficult for the people that live there.” In addition, he said, literacy rates are low and people simply lack access to education and skills that promote health. Infrastructure is lacking and, he says, “There are no special healthcare plans for poor people, and most of the time they die because they cannot afford to treat their illnesses.” One ideal that is in pilot form is to provide health insurance for all citizens; at present, though, what services there are rely on the hard work of caring and dedicated medical care providers who are diligent and who effect considerable good with what little they do have. In addition to the Japanese doctor mentioned above, Kumar has been encouraged by other dedicated physicians and he notes that, “When I was a medical student I was very much impressed with works of my professor, Dr. Govinda KC.” Indeed, his former teacher continues to raise a strong voice for healthcare reform in Nepal.
Kumar has long-range plans and one of them is NGO status for his and co-founder Alex Falk’s organization, the Red Pearl Society. What they aim to do (and indeed are doing) is to provide a voice for the people who live in remote areas of Nepal. Their organization relies on donor generosity and they are eager to collaborate with other relief organizations in turn. Kumar is pragmatic and open to cross-pollination. In fact, he says, “I want to help people in the best possible way. I have been fortunate to come across people and organizations that have similar feelings. It is always good to collaborate with the organizations that are already working and established rather then replicating what they are working on. We are all in this together.” When I told him about the Acupuncturists Without Borders group that was providing treatment in his country after the earthquake and asked if he would want to work with them at the clinic where he performs his duties, he replied, “Acupuncturists Without Borders are welcome in Nepal to extend their services at our clinic. I am always ready to work together and collaborate.”
Kumar’s background is impressive. The above-mentioned clinic, Shanti Sewa Kendra, is a German run facility. There, Kumar and his colleagues provide free healthcare, food, schooling, and nursing care. Kumar says that, “In my free time, I read books. I am very interested in health care policies of other countries.” I’m not sure how he has free time, because in the past couple years he has worked with varying organizations, including but not limited to groups like Medecins sans frontiers where he helped to provide healthcare in emergencies and Global outreach doctors, an outfit that among other things gives hygiene lessons. He has also worked with the Spinal Cord Injury and Rehabilitation Centre to help spinal injury patients. His current position, of course, keeps him very busy indeed.
Kumar says, “I admire the work that these organizations do, and I always want to learn as much as I can from working with them.”
Kumar has big plans and high hopes. I asked him, as we neared the end of my interview questions, if he could say what he hopes to be doing in five years as a medical care provider. His answer was both pragmatic and poignant. “The situation in our country keeps changing,” he said, “as we never expected the major earthquake.”
But there is hope and hard work, and there are long-term goals and programs, including advocacy for healthcare insurance. Kumar says that “For the time being, we will try to bridge this healthcare gap by doing health camps/outreach clinics all around Nepal.”
He and his compatriots “have special healthcare programs in schools, which screen for developmental delays, malnourishment, and physical challenges in children [and they] coordinate and find the best place and solution for them like SOS children Village and Shanti Sewa Griha.” Their focus is broad, and he explains, “We help them with community/home based rehabilitation by supporting their families. We visit impoverished communities. We screen the people living there for acute and chronic illness such as diabetes, COAD, hypertension, and arthritis. We then provide them with any necessary medicines. We also screen for major and fatal diseases like cervical cancer and breast cancer. We support hospitals and health posts with necessary equipment. Also we are involved in community based awareness programs.”
According to Kumar, things are improved to a certain degree in Nepal at present. He explained that, “there are more medical colleges and hospitals, and more doctors; however most of them are centralized to the major cities. There has been no significant improvement in healthcare reform. Still thousands of people are deprived of access to healthcare service because they cannot afford it.” For Kumar, the individual he sees on a daily basis is part of a much greater whole that demands his response, and he says: “Being a doctor, it is not only that I treat a patient’s illness. I have always wanted a sustainable healthcare plan so that every person can get equal access to health care. Healthcare needs to be accessible, affordable, and equitable.”
I asked Kumar, then, for any words he would like to share with a readership that may not know much about Nepal or its challenges. What, I asked him, is it that you would like people to know about your country?
His answer really touched my heart. In his own words:
“Nepal is a beautiful country with people that have big hearts. I would like to thank the international community for their efforts and support during the earthquake. Every person has a story. Some of them are happy, and some of them are sad. There are hundreds of people living with disabilities. Some of them cannot be cured, however every person deserves the best life possible. We are also concerned about the children who are deprived of education, healthcare, and proper nourishment.
I want to join with people who also want to support them and empower communities.”
As I come to the end of my program (July of 2017 will be here quicker than I can imagine) my heart opens more and more towards matters larger than the textbooks in front of me. When I work with coaching and training clients or bodywork patients I gain greater respect for the challenges, big or small, that we all face in this world.
When I am able to relieve pain or diminish the effects of illness in clinic, I feel a tremendous sense of respect for what it means to be vulnerable, what it means to trust. As I reach out and find others in the worldwide healthcare community, I am again imbued with a sense of duty to my profession and it is the same sense of duty I felt when I was an academic. I hope that one day I can go to Nepal and do some work with Kumar and his colleagues. I hope to continue to write, and to reach out, and to make new friends in this great big world of ours. Maybe I can do something meaningful for others, with a starting point here in Austin and with a reach that goes all around the globe.
And…what about you? If you would like to donate to the Red Pearl Society, you can find them here. And check back because I am sure there will be more collaborations and conversations with Dr. Paudel in the future.
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