I spent two remarkable weeks volunteering my dental nursing skills in Nepal.
We were the first Dentaid volunteer group to venture into Nepal and it had been exactly one year since the devastating earthquake had hit. We were all keen to set a good foundation of promoting preventative oral health advice and providing emergency pain relief.
We had a great group of volunteers with a varied skill set. Our team leaders, Simon and his wife Liza, were both fantastically positive and encouraging, even in the most testing of times. We also were very lucky to have Stuart as part of the team. Luckily for us, Stuart had lived in Nepal previously and could help with basic translations and give insight into the fascinating Nepalese culture.
During the two weeks, we partnered with wonderful local charities doing some fantastic work.
In Chitwan National Park, we assisted HDSN (Health and Development Society Nepal) at the Friendship Clinic. The clinic was set up by Hari Bhandari in 1997 and it is the first and only medical care facility for the surrounding rural population. Hari is the initiator of many Nepalese charities and works tirelessly on improving the living conditions of his fellow citizens.
In a very remote, rural village called Garambesi, we worked alongside SAHODAR – an education, health and development charity. Garambesi lies in the Lamjung region which was extremely close to the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake. Over half of the homes were destroyed in the devastation. Thankfully, many of the villagers were working in the fields and therefore avoided the immediate danger of collapsing homes.
Here we worked in the small and greatly appreciated SAHODAR community hospital which was originally a small family home and church. Interestingly, the home was converted into a hospital and gradually extended to include an x-ray unit and operating room.
Whilst at the hospital, we set up and worked outside in temporary and basic conditions, which was demanding due to the intense heat. The sprawling views of the surrounding countryside were breath taking, and more than made up for the any discomfort we felt.
Whilst in Pokhara, a touristic gateway city to the Annapurra trekking region, we were fortunate enough to visit the Indreni Children’s Project. This is where we met Chanman Shreemal, a man with a heart-warming story.
We worked together with some truly inspirational individuals, however, we all felt that Chanman was particularly special. After arriving home, I felt compelled to write about my brief but influential encounter with Chanman.
Touched by an ‘untouchable’
Chanman was born in the Lamjung region of Nepal surrounded by the majestic Himalayan mountain range. Born into the Hindu caste known to many as ‘The Untouchables’ a man born with a destiny only to serve others, a caste ostracized as impure and tainted. And yet here before me stood a man with such grace and unfaltering belief in the goodness of others. How could a man born into such unfair misfortune, still manage to see the light in the world? Maybe this is why Gandhi called them the Harijan’s ‘Children Of God’.
Chanman was destined for more than a life of servitude, through a rare opportunity, he and his brothers managed to gain an education and become masters of their own destiny. Converting to Christianity, escaping the confines of the caste system, Chanman’s brother Shiva became Nepal’s first ‘ex-slave’ to graduate as a doctor. Chanman decided his mission in life was to help street children.
The children were clean and well dressed, they were happy and energetic, the older one’s keen to assist and help us treat the younger children. Most of the children were boys, abandoned to the streets and not necessarily orphans but from abusive or drug dependent parents. They were at risk of becoming addicts themselves, exposed to exploitation and violence. The centre is based on a holistic approach, art therapy and sporting activities to help tunnel angry emotional energy into productivity.
I watched how small children would happily run and play with Chanman and his wife. How inspiring to witness personally, how a man from humble beginnings had given a second chance to Nepal’s forgotten children. How inspiring to see how something so beautiful can grow from a hopeless place. How inspiring to see how love really does conquer all.
As I sat on the plane home, I thought of how meeting Chanman had left a mark on my life and how he has left a mark on many others, I thought of how he really became the change he wanted to see.
There are so many positive aspects to volunteering with an organisation like Dentaid. I anticipated some of the them, I did not however predict the profound impact that certain individuals would have on my own life.
It gave me a different perspective, that I would take away with me and implement into the way I act and interact with others.
I believe that is the real magic. To fleetingly cross paths with a stranger, that can stir an emotion in you. An emotion which can lead to a change. That is a priceless gift.