Cath Snape volunteered with PHASE Worldwide in September of 2018. Situated in Manbu her days were spent working in the village clinic, teaching local nurses and integrating herself within the community. The following is an account of her time spent in Nepal, from rocky roads to mountain monkeys.
I have just returned from Nepal where I have learned, laughed and fallen in love. I learned about resilience, friendship, and similarities across cultures; I laughed with my Nepali hosts and I fell in love with the mountains, the peace and especially the people. I hope I also offered something in return; friendship reciprocated, encouragement to continue good work in challenging circumstances and sharing of knowledge.
At the airport I was met by a sign attached to my anxious host, Sumi; swallowed by immigration for hours she feared I was lost. After an exciting drive through the busy, dusty, near-miss streets of Kathmandu we arrived at Sumi’s home. The next day we visited PHASE Nepal’s office; a hive of activity and organisation. Agricultural advisers, teacher trainers, nurses trainers and admin staff; all welcoming, all busy and all very enthusiastic about their work. Sweet, milky tea appeared at regular intervals, as I was introduced. My teaching tasks were set: emergency care, fractures, poisonings, intravenous fluids, and assessing a sick child. Not my everyday fare in the UK, but all things I had seen and been trained for. Using the excellent PHASE treatment guidelines (written in both English and Nepali) I had a quick refresh and devised my teaching plan.
Five of us travelled to Manbu. I was joined by my host Sumi, who was visiting schools in the area; Evie, PHASE Worldwide’s fundraising manager from the UK; Rochana, a volunteer from Innocent offering communications advice and Leah from the US, who was working on disaster planning. A diverse group in terms of skills and backgrounds but each so committed, generous and funny.
“My phone recorded 20,000 paces that day – the bouncing was obviously regular and severe enough to mimic walking!”
Google maps suggested that our destination, Soti, was only 140 km from Kathmandu and should take no more than four and a half hours by car. Fortunately we didn’t use google maps, opting instead for local knowledge, and knew it would take at least eight. Once past the crowded streets of Kathmandu, we hit the highway; trucks were bumper to bumper as we wound our way through the valleys until we turned off up a dirt track. We now had the added excitement of a 300-foot drop beside our potholed, flooded road. Our driver was great and we arrived safely just as the light was fading. My phone recorded 20,000 paces that day – the bouncing was obviously regular and severe enough to mimic walking! We stayed overnight in a trekking lodge, we were now only a four-hour walk from our destination. Next morning after an altercation with a determined string of donkeys, we crossed swaying steel bridges, climbed endless steps of grey granite and admired enormous iridescent spiders. At one point we stood aside to allow a crowd past, sure-foot relatives hurrying down the mountain carrying a young woman on a stretcher; bringing home to us the remoteness of the area.
Manbu was a welcome sight at the end of the day. Our village was spread over the mountain side, the stone houses with blue corrugated iron roofs were connected by narrow paths skirting between tiny terraced fields of millet. My home for the next week had stunning views, buffalo and goats tethered nearby and, most importantly, a welcoming mug of tea. That first evening I was concerned as our two Nurses were uncommunicative. Only later did I realise that they had walked five hours to an outreach clinic where they had seen 30 patients then walked four hours back again. I was surprised they were even awake, let alone talkative. My respect for these young people and their commitment to the community is enormous.
“I’ve never had a monkey accompany a patient before.”
My fellow travellers walked further up the valley and I stayed in Manbu. My days were either spent in the local clinic, observing and discussing cases, or in the community visiting patients, giving health education and impromptu advice. Much of the work was the same as in the UK, skin rashes, coughs and colds, chest infections, abdominal pain and contraception. Some aspects were more surprising; I’ve never had a monkey accompany a patient before. After work we would have a snack before sitting cross legged on our porches and reviewing the day. We discussed the cases we had seen and covered my assigned topics. It seemed to be helpful and sometimes in clinic I saw our learning being put into practice.
Some evenings our teaching was interrupted by locals bringing gifts of spinach, cucumber or buffalo milk; a sign that the PHASE staff were well respected by the community. The food was simple but tasty and nutritious, Dahl (lentils) baht (rice) with a variety of vegetables – many of which I had never seen or heard of before, all freshly cooked each day. I caused great hilarity when I asked to be taught to cook; my rudimentary Nepali meant I actually asked them to teach me to eat myself. The Nepalis have a keen sense of humour and didn’t let me forget this.
I wrote in my diary: ‘It feels a great privilege to be here, the scenery is stunning, the lives are very hard but there is a simplicity and generosity that makes me question the materialism of the west.’