“They suspect 50 kids will attend school today” Dawit Gurung, a Program Manager for the Oda Foundation, translated from the conversation he was having with the acting principal of the ‘up school’. I nodded having understood a little of what the principal had said, but thankful for the clarification. The school has 377 registered students.
Oda has two schools. ‘Up school’, which is situated on the middle of the third hill of the Oda village and the ‘down school’, situated at the top of the first hill. Dawit and myself headed to the up school with a purpose to find out how we can develop tuition classes provided by Oda to correspond more with what is being taught in the local government schools and find out what the status of the school is right now with regards to how many teachers and
students are actually showing up day after day.
When I arrived at the school Dawit showed me to a large staff room. As I entered the room the first thing I noticed was how many plastic chairs there were, each neatly placed against the wall and a large wooden table in front of them. At the back of the room were two desks, one which had a large office chair, I assumed this was the principals desk. As we took a seat on one of the wooden benches near a desk at the back Dawit turned to me and said, ‘so many chairs, but they never get sat in’. And I knew what he meant. He was referring to the fact that one of the biggest problems at the school was no teachers were showing up. On the walls were white posters with pictures printed on them and large sheets of paper all written with a scripture that’s still very new to me. We had a short conversation with the acting principal, finding out about the number of students attending and he also told us of other issues he felt were influencing the school. The conversation was cut short as we wanted to see the assembly.
The assembly was when you could really see how very few kids were attending school. In Nepal assembly involves kids lining up in around the same age group. The kids do a few simple exercises and at the end the national anthem is sung. I see it every day with my nursery and kindergarten class students but this time it was very different. The kids were showing no enthusiasm and their monotone voices murmured through the lines of the song. It was very clear that they were experiencing no joy in being there. Three of the kids in the lines I already knew due to their mums being our kitchen aunties. Dawit told me how the oldest of those three kids always shows no interest in going to school and always needs to be convinced by the Oda staff, but now I could understand why he didn’t want to be there.
At the end of the assembly Dawit came over to me after having a few words with the teacher and informed me we were going to stay and take a class. At first, I was a little surprised. I hadn’t prepared anything at all and teaching is still a very new concept to me. I was expecting to only stay for a meeting and to chat with a few students, but by the time we were leaving a couple hours later I was so glad we had stayed.
We entered a small classroom in the middle of the school. It had bare grey brick walls, the type that crumbled when you ran hour hands over them. The far wall held three small windows with their wooden shutters closed. The room was very dimly lit with two more windows on the opposite side of the room and the open door. The floor was covered in dust, dirt and scrap building materials such as pieces of roof and wooden posts. Filling the
room were thin, graphited wooden desks that were far too long for the small space, leaving no room for a walkway to get to the back desks, resulting in kids climbing over the tables and each other to find a seat. At the front of the room was one rectangular white board, coloured a dark grey from where previous work had been rubbed away. It hung from two wires attached to nails in the roof and swung slightly as we scribbled onto it. We were told that the class would have students in class 7 and 8, but when I spoke to the students I soon realised there were kids from classes 4 to 10, the youngest I knew to be 10 and the oldest 17. The lack of kids in school also meant that they only took up the first few rows of benches, marking their seat by placing down their text books and notebooks, which were often held together by tape on the binding.
The Oda foundation has been providing English tuition for the last few years, but now we are reforming tuition. We have noticed a huge need for tuition in other subjects too, including maths and science. The first part of our lesson was asking our students what subjects they would want to have from tuition. “English” one voice called out eagerly. Maths and science then followed. We found out these three subjects were in highest demand. But something else we found was that many of the kids also had a desire to study health and social classes. When we asked the kids why they wanted to study these we were told it was because they hadn’t had a teacher show up for these classes the whole year, and I believed them.
As Dawit started leading the class I was writing some notes into my diary when I felt someone stood behind me. I turned around to find the only 3 teachers who were at the school that day stood watching our class, they remained observing the class, despite the fact they had students waiting to start learning in the surrounding classrooms. They remained for a while, curious to see what we were doing with the class. After spending a little time talking to students about tuition Dawit informed me the kids wanted me to take an English class. I was a little surprised. I looked around the classroom and saw 20 faces staring back at me. How was I meant to lead a class off the top of my head with no resources for kids of such different abilities and ages. I took everyone outside to a small clearing in front of the school and did an energizer with them that I had also lead at a government school I visited in Kathmandu for a class 6 and 7 tuition session. The game involves saying some simple sentences in English e.g ‘I have a sister’, ‘my favourite colour is blue’ etc. It was at this point that I realised just how different the level of English was between that school and this one. The kids really struggled with the game and lacked a lot of confidence compared to the previous school, which was really disheartening to see.
I then decided to take them back to the classroom and for the remaining time reviewed the statements that had been made through the game, checking the kids understood the spellings and sentences. We did this for around 30 minutes until Dawit returned from talking to one of the teachers about our tuition programme, and began a math class to assess the level of the kids. This was when I decided to explore more of the school. The school has around 8 classrooms, two of which were being occupied by classes. The first thing I saw when I came out of the class was two of the teachers sat outside of the school, one laying in the sun. I walked around a little to find empty classroom after empty classroom, all with the same uninviting environment. I came across one class with around 15 younger students, probably class 1 to 4. When I peeked inside I found there was no teacher and they were scribbling some drawings into their notebooks. As I headed back to the classroom where Dawit was teaching I felt my frustration growing more and more. If we
hadn’t gone today I don’t know if any of the kids would have been taught a lesson, but as I stood at the front of the class I always had the attention of the kids, eager to listen and learn.
Anytime I have been walking through the village since arriving in Oda we were always stopped by previous students and asked when tuition will begin again, and my experience at the up school today has given me a whole new understanding of why Oda’s work here is so crucial and why kids are so desperate to attend the tuition classes. The long-term solution to improving education here is rooted in these government schools, as they need to start
taking more responsibility. Yet as we work to bring about change within the mind-set of the different stakeholders including; local government, teachers, students and parents we are faced with challenge after challenge. I came away from that place with a mix of sadness, frustration and anger, but also determination. I am determined now more than ever to form a great tuition programme as well as a youth group. I see now how important providing a safe space and learning environment is for these kids, and how much of a need we really have for it here.
Going to school in a place like this is not easy, especially for the girls here. Yet they still come to an environment that’s so uninviting, where they know that it’s unlikely they will have a teacher turn up at all, because they are still hopeful that they have an opportunity to open the textbooks and will return home having learnt something new.
“They suspect 50 kids will attend school today” Dawit Gurung, a Program Manager for the Oda Foundation, translated from the conversation he was having with the acting principal of the ‘up school’. I nodded having understood a little of what the principal had said, but thankful for the clarification. The school has 377 registered students.
As the bus slowly makes its way through the winding roads surrounding the valley of Kathmandu on our way out of the city, I reflect on my time spent here and how it’s helped prepare me for the next 7 months I’ll be working with the Oda foundation.
When I pictured how Kathmandu would be, I didn’t really know what to expect. But what I found was that anytime I went to the terrace of the building we were staying in, I was never disappointed by the view of the city, with its brightly coloured buildings, towering hills circling the valley and endless miles of prayer flags linking the city together. It truly is its own unique place.
The biggest challenge for me has definitely been taking on the language classes. In a previous placement I did, I really felt like I couldn’t fulfil my potential in community work due to not knowing the local language. I really want to make a bigger impact on the people I’m working with this time, and as a result of this past experience I knew the importance of Learning Nepali, which therefore meant it pretty much consumed my time in Kathmandu. We would spend 4 hours in the morning in language class and in the afternoon, I could easily spend just as many hours revising the things we had learned that day. At first, I felt like I was putting in a lot of work and not improving at all. I could never seem to remember the sentence structures and vocabulary. Being from England, learning languages was never a priority in school and I hadn’t taken a language class since I was 14, and even then, it was just clock-watching in French class an hour a week, I knew that I was taking on a huge challenge and I wasn’t wrong. I won’t deny that it’s been really tough, but it’s also given me a lot of confidence for when I reach Oda. I’m genuinely very excited to start trying to communicate with people and develop this new skill.
One achievement for Radha and myself was learning how to catch a public bus. You’d think it would be a pretty easy process, how hard can it be to get a bus a few miles away? After a couple of days we’d worked out how to get to our Nepali class and Radha had also figured out she could use her Johns Hopkins University student card to get the bus for just 10 rupees a ride, something I think she will always be happy about. We felt like we had finally got the hang of it, but then we would try and get the bus back to the area we were staying and that’s a different story in itself. On one of the days we ended up on a bus heading to the wrong side of Kathmandu and eventually onto the ring road surrounding the city, or on another occasion we got the bus to a completely different part of Kathmandu and ended up taking three other buses to get back. The best journey of all though was going from Nagarkot, an area in the hills surrounding Kathmandu, back to Bhaktapur. There were around 50 people on this small bus, which ended up getting stuck in the mud. Radha also ended up holding someone’s baby for half of the way. As he sat on her lap eating some cheese flavoured crisps, we just started laughing to ourselves about how we get ourselves into these situations. That’s what we would always do. Anytime we got confused or messed up, we would just laugh about it because at least we were trying and we always got to see more of the city.
Two weeks into staying in Kathmandu, and I was starting to feel like it was getting very repetitive. I realized I had to start finding some other ways to fill my time than just learning Nepali. This is when Radha and I took a cooking class. We spent a few hours leaning to make momos, a food I had started to love since being in Kathmandu. This was also a great test of our Nepali as the other people in the class were also learning the language, we got to start learning the names of vegetables and spices. It also meant that I could blame my poorly folded momo on my lack of Nepali language rather than my lack of cooking skills. It was a really refreshing way to break up the routine we had formed during our stay in Kathmandu. I know when we’re in the village that things may get repetitive at times but I now know that just finding one thing new to do can really help lift your mood and keep your work on track.
I feel like all the challenges we faced in Kathmandu, whether it was confusing two different Nepali words every class, taking the wrong bus, or living and spending the day with someone I had never met before, helped me to gain more confidence and prepare for the rest of my time in Nepal. There were times when I just saw my stay in Kathmandu as something I needed to do in order to start my journey to Oda, but really it was the start of my journey. I quickly realized I had to enjoy this ride and not just think about getting to the destination, because now that time is over and the next stage can begin.
The Fellows Recap: 8 Months in Oda
Health & Operations Fellow Sarah Helms, and Education Fellows Taylor Murillo and Aaron Charney have been living in rural Kalikot for 8 months, serving the Oda community. From teaching our daily English tuition classes, to a mural project, to a water usage research survey, to shadowing in the clinic and grant-writing, they have been crucial to our operations and our community-driven approach to development. Below, they share some Oda moments and lessons learned.
What have you learned?
I want to be honest that coming in to a community this vulnerable and marginalized was intimidating. I didn't know exactly what teaching students in rural Nepal would look like - what the students would respond to, how quickly they would learn, how it would feel to be with them all these days in the classroom. When I started, I would do a bit of hand-holding during lessons. I've learned that every day, my expectations are exceeded. When people are given an opportunity and given a platform, they have amazing capacities.
Alongside teaching, my current project is a 60-household comprehensive water survey. I had worked in marginalized communities before coming to Oda, and knew I wanted to work in sustainability. The water project is an in-depth experience of a way to work in sustainability with a direct impact on people that don't get enough help. I've learned you can't do that work without actually knowing a community - I relied a lot on community help, and being able to talk with community members in order to figure out the best research process.
Compassionate problem solving. The number of challenges here can be overwhelming - injustices against women, lack of health education, intense poverty. But the challenges intertwine with what unfailingly connects us all - the fact of each individual's life and heart. Compassionate problem solving means sitting down with complexity, and then asking: but what more can we learn about our community, and what more can we do? What could work better, both for overall development and each individual that comprises this community?
Share a moment with a community member.
I worked on a month-long poetry-ethnography project in January. I'll always remember sleeping in the one big room with the family, laying down next to three of the younger girls, and we would chorus back and forth "Raamro sapona dekhnos," see good dreams. And then, "Amma-buwaako sapona dekhnos" see good dreams of your parents, "Gaaiko sapona dekhnos," have good cow dreams, "Bakrako sapona dekhnos," have good goat dreams, and on and on like that, whatever the kids would say.
There's a young woman named Rajenpura who is now really involved with both our women's health trainings and our tailoring center. When she went to her first health training with Days for Girls, she could hardly stand up in front of the group and felt really self-conscious that she couldn't read and write. Two months later, and she is the one teaching, telling the newest women entering health trainings to stand up straight, to speak up.
Advice for the next Fellows
Be prepared for the unexpected - and be excited for those unexpected things to happen. Remember that these are rich and rewarding times, and once in a lifetime. Take advantage of Bagawati, our language teacher in Kathmandu. Her advice on culture and on learning from the people we serve was invaluable.
Look for the in-between moments, when you're waiting for a program or class to start, waiting for dinner to finish and sitting with the staff, when you pass one of your student's houses and see them doing a chore. Those are the moments when you start to build an actual life here.
Please copy and paste the link below into your browser to view our Education Fellowship posting! https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ReAbuKZG75Kpk3CZff5q1RfJqbZ8WMXe/view?usp=sharing
Please copy and paste the link below into your browser to view our Operations + Wellness Fellowship posting! https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kmoMt6L3FlPgYqp7Ot4l6SE1_GGXjUm3/view
After leaving Oda at the age of 12 to find work in India, Karan Singh's journey led him to trekking expeditions across Nepal, managing trip operations for a five-star hotel in India, and guiding rafting in North Carolina - and then back to Oda, to become the Nepali Director of the Oda Foundation. From the ground in Oda, Karan manages our Nepal-side operations - the Nepali staff, our American fellows, government relationships, assessing growth, and providing continual insight into the community and the Kalikot District.
Speaking with Health and Operations Fellow Sarah Helms below, Karan shares his amazing story:
S: What was it like when you and John [Christopher, Oda Foundation Founder] first started?
K: At my old house, we cleaned out a cowshed, put down a tarp, and set up our medical. We converted the kitchen to a patient room. 5 volunteers slept in one room, and John and his brother, Bobby, slept next door because there wasn't more room. Everything was small. We just wanted to help.
S: And why does Oda need help?
K: It is because we don't have access to health or education. Nepal, we are a developing country. Even with the clinic, people walk 2 hours, 3 hours for medicines from us. Other parts of Nepal, they have a good school, or they have a hospital, but not in Kalikot.
S: What led you to help start the Oda Foundation, then?
K: When my father died, and no work here in Oda, and no good schools, for my family, our life was blocked by a big wall. I didn't have shoes, we couldn't buy clothes or a school bag. There were no medicines for my dad. That is what life was like here. I had to go to India to make money. My life was hard, and that is what made me want to help.
S: How did your journey end up leading to meeting John [Christopher, Oda Foundation Founder]? Or feeling like you could start an organization?
K: My first job, I was a dishwasher in India. But I was very lucky - I met people, I got to know other cultures, and I got a tourism job at a hotel and ended up becoming a manager. I had the luxury life - a nice apartment, the hotel gave me a car, I had two phones - but I was always asking if anybody was interested in helping Kalikot. I always thought, I have to go back. It has always been my dream.
S: And then how did you meet John?
K: There are other NGOs in Surkhet, in Kathmandu, and I got know people there because I wanted Oda to get help from these NGOs. Because there were no NGOs only for Kalikot. I always said, if you meet someone who wants to go to Kalikot, who wants to help, please tell me. Then one day a friend called me and said, 'Hey, there is this guy John, he wants to see Kalikot, he wants to help.' The next day, I told my boss at the hotel in India, I am sorry, it is short notice, I have to go back to Nepal. This might be my dream.
S: That's amazing.
K: Yeah, I took the overnight bus, and when I showed up the next day, they said, woah, you are already here! I was so nervous to talk to him. And then when he came to Oda with me, he actually got very sick, because the water was not filtered. We had to carry him down to Padma [a steep hour and a half walk down two stretches of mountain], and the treatment there was very expensive. He said, what do people do here when they get sick? How do they support their parents if they get sick? And I said, we can't do anything.
S: So that was where the idea for a medical clinic started?
K: Yes, well, and he fell in love with Kalikot and with the people here. And then, basically, that was when we got started with everything.
S: So tell me about the Oda Foundation now, and what you do.
K: I am always thinking of all the tiny things - when we need new medicine, reporting to governments, meeting the government in other villages, keeping things clean. Talking with the community, if people are really getting benefits or not. Supplies, managing our volunteers, staff meetings and payments. Choosing new staff. All of these things.
S: What is your relationship with the community like?
K: This is my heart. I donated my father's land so that we had a place to build. I said to other people, please donate land. And they donate because of my connection, but it is not for me - it is because they want a better future, too. Our community wants to be happy and healthy.
S: Can you tell me about how you work with the government, and why that is so important?
K: To do anything, you have to get permission from the government - a health clinic, starting a new school like our nursery school, or getting support from the government. And then, when we work well with the government, we can have more partnerships with them, and with other NGOs. They trust us.
S: What do you mean that they trust us?
K: We work in these remote areas - few others are doing these things and making this impact. I am able to talk with government leaders, and make relationships the Nepali way - like recently, when a past Prime Minister came to visit, I hosted him at my house and talked with him, and now he believes in the work we are doing and will help in the future.
S: When you are meeting new people, how do you tell them about the Oda Foundation?
K: I tell my story first. I tell them how I came from here, and how my father passed away. And now, my whole heart is here in Oda. I live with my mom and my family, next to the same house where I grew up. I get to see my dream every day, that all the people here in Kalikot will have health and education in the future.
S: Are people ever amazed that you left what you had in India?
K: You know, they are. And I tell them, I remember how I grew up - I remember not having shoes, and not going to school, and wondering about if only my father had medicine. I know these families. All these things sit in my heart and I said, I need to do something. That's why I returned. Now we have a school, a clinic, we have our new nursery school, and we are still so new, only four years old. I am always ready to do more.
With the start of our new nursery school class, the Foundation's "Crebilly Classroom" is used by our 5 teachers and 175 tuition students for 8.5 hours a day, 6 days a week. Students flow in and out all day, carrying their notebooks, yelling to each other from across the fields, eagerly waiting outside the classroom door - dedicating time to this additional English class, on top of their chores (cutting grass, caring for livestock, collecting water...) and six hours at their government schools.
You might wonder, why exactly do we teach extra English in rural Nepal? Nepal specifically has an 8-section exam, the SLC, at the conclusion of high school, which includes an English section. If students do not pass the entire exam, there is no possibility of higher education. At government schools, English is largely taught by rote memorization - for many students, Oda Foundation tuition (tutoring) is their first chance to develop critical thinking, experience creative learning, and be specifically encouraged and empowered in a school setting. Tuition class also emphasizes and creates a space for equality, regardless of caste or gender, which remain burdensome cultural barriers in rural Nepal.
Read on to join us for a day at school!
From not knowing a single word of Nepali, to having conversations in and
reading a new language that before had appeared as gibberish;
From a place where I would check the weather, and adjust my thermostat
accordingly, to a place where to find out the weather, you look outside, and then
From constantly browsing social media and texting my friends, to having no
Internet access and living entirely off the grid;
From my free time being spent watching TV and going to concerts with
friends, to my free time now being spent studying Nepali, lesson planning, and
exploring the village;
From spending time with college friends, to being surrounded by children all
From waking up in the middle of the night to sounds of parties, to waking up
to the sounds of cows and dogs;
From going out to eat burritos and pizza every day, to eating rice and
potatoes…..for every meal;
From eating frozen Tyson chicken wings, to helping to slaughter the chicken
that I would later eat that same day;
And for that matter, from eating just chicken breasts, to eating the meat,
stomach, liver, intestines, anything and everything salvageable from the animal;
From a place where pedestrians have the right of way on paved roads, to
where buffalo have the right of way on narrow dirt paths;
From a place where Charmin Ultra Soft is ubiquitous, to a place where toilet
paper is non-existent;
From one of the cleanest towns in America, to a village where you see animal
and even human feces on the paths;
From seeing the occasional daddy-long- legs, to having spiders the size of my
full hand drop from the ceiling in my bedroom;
But those aren’t the only changes I have noticed and experienced. Where I live now, is absolutely stunning.
I went from a place where people don’t get along for petty reasons, to a
community where everybody has to work together;
From a place where children will fake sick to not go to school; to a place
where the kids will show up ten minutes early screaming with excitement to get
into the classroom;
I went from a place where stresses created by material things can distract
you from living in the moment, to a place where the simplicity of life is utterly
I went from a place where if you say hi to a stranger they might look down
and ignore your gesture, to a place where all strangers will invite you in for tea;
And mostly, I have arrived at a place where everybody seems to, honestly
and genuinely, care about each other.
While some of the changes I mentioned are more than enough to make coming to Oda a challenge in many ways, it is the positive lifestyle changes I have experienced, along with the ability of this community to welcome me with everything they have, that have made this transition into a different life, and my first two months in Oda, unforgettable.
We've always had the long-term goal that the English tutoring at our tuition classes helps students pass the SLC (Nepal's high school exam, necessary to attend higher education), and that through these classes, we are able to provide scholarships to our most ambitious students, students who may dream of going to college but don't have the means.
One of our most recent scholarship recipients is Khalasha - now interning in our pharmacy and assisting with Women's Health Support Groups, Khalasha is preparing to go to medical school in Spring 2018! After school, Khalasha will return to Oda to work for six months, repaying the scholarship "in-kind" by giving back to the community.
Health/Operations Fellow Sarah interviewed Khalasha - read on for her amazing story.
S: How many years have you been involved with the Oda Foundation?
K: I have been with the Oda Foundation 4 years.
S: Can you tell me about your family?
K: My family is my brother, me and my mother. Before we worked at our house, and there was so much work - I cooked, I cut grass, I looked after the cow. Sometimes I went to school, sometimes I didn't. Only my brother was going to school. After John came, and Oda Foundation told my mother she could cook, and she cooks for all the people there. Now my brother and I live in a different house, and we are going to school. My mother lives at Oda Foundation and cooks
(Kalasha's mom is Tulki Singh, who has now worked for Oda Foundation as our Head Cook for over four years).
S: And how old are you now? And how old were you, before the Oda Foundation?
K: Now? I am 17 years old. Before, I was working at my house until... 12 or 13 years old.
S: When you worked so much, were you thinking about college?
K: No, not thinking about college at all.
S: When did you start to think about college? Or why?
K: When I started coming to Oda Foundation school, and government school every day, I was learning so much. So much reading. But I was thinking, 'I am learning, wow I am so happy.' I was thinking, 'maybe I can go to college if I learn.'
S: In Nepal, what does it take to go to college?
K: You have to pass the SLC, after tenth grade. It is so much studying. Many people, after the SLC, they just work in the field or they get married. And money, my mother does not have much money, for college.
S: But you passed the SLC, right? And you took the Oda Foundation SLC class?
K: Yes, I passed! I was taking the SLC tuition class with Purna Singh (Oda Foundation teacher).
S: And you have a scholarship from the Oda Foundation? Can you tell me about it?
K: I will go to nursing school in Nepalganj, and after school is finished I will come
here and work here at the Oda Foundation medical.
S: Why do you want to be a nurse?
K: There are so many sick patients. When I am a nurse, I can help them, and help poor people. I like helping sick people and poor people, and there are so many in Nepal.
S: Right, you are interning in the Oda Foundation clinic. Can you tell me about what
you do there? How long are you there?
K: Yes I go to the clinic six days a week. I help in the pharmacy, I write patient names, diagnoses, and medicine in our logbook. I organize medicine and find the right medicines to give to the patients, or I make patient appointments.
S: What do you learn during your internship?
K: Narendra, Mim, Tanka, Sarita (Oda Foundation clinicians), they all teach me. Tanka shows me this medicine is used for this, this medicine for that. They teach me how to do check-ups - how to look, and for what to look.
S: Outside the Oda Foundation clinic, do people learn about health?
K: No. I don't know. No hand-washing, not eating different kinds of food, there is so much work. Before, when I worked at my house, I was very dirty always, I did not wash my hands, if we are sick we keep working.
S: What did people do before there was the medical facility here?
K: So many people die. So many people sick.
S: What did they die from?
K: Fever, diarrhea, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), common cold, so many. It is very hard here, and there was not medicine.
S: Yeah, it is really hard, a hard way to live. Can you tell me about other things you help with at the Oda Foundation? You've been helping me with the Health Classes in Tuition, and you are helping with the Women's Health Groups.
K: Yes, I help. Because people here, they do not always know health. Dudhkala and Karma [two young women who help with the Community Health Groups] teach very good things - what is the reusable maxi-pad, how to use it, how to wash it and let it dry in the sun, no sleeping in the cow house (most women in Oda practice chauppadi, a practice where women are considered impure the first days of their period and sleep in separate places, often a cow shed. Learn more here. Women here do not understand, and they only wear pants, no underwear, like my mother, so learning this is very important.
S: So for medical school, are you excited?
K: Yes, I am so excited. I will learn more. I will help sick people. Thank you John, thank you Oda Foundation.
S: Well you do a lot of work too, and you have worked hard. It is so good. Anything else you want to share, about your life, or the Oda Foundation? Maybe, is there anything you want people in America to know?
K: I am not sure... now... now my life is so much better. I am happy, and my family is happy. Life is much better, I think.
Hello hello from Oda. My name is Sarah Helms, and I am the 2017-2018 Health+Operations Fellow. I heard about the Oda Foundation via Professor Hess' Social Entrepreneurship class at Washington & Lee - as a French/pre-medicine major, it was the only business class I took! After working in marketing+operations in Washington DC for two years, the Oda Foundation had stayed on my mind - such an impactful and community-driven organization, and the chance to be involved in community health as I was redirecting towards med school. Now here I am, in Nepal.
So far, I wear a few different hats - helping John (Oda Foundation's founder) and Karan (Oda Foundation's Nepali director) with expense and operations updates, teaching health class and the six-year- old class at our tuition school, and working on a research project that can combine with one of our preventative health programs. For a first blog post, though, here is a window into some moments in Oda...
Wild kids!! Those smiles!! I've been teaching Rainbow Class, which is just three days a week (compared to the other tuition classes, which are 6 days a week), and mostly 6 year-olds just learning English. Rainbow Class captures more kids at a younger age into our tuition program, and also helps them get used to being in a respectful classroom. I integrate music, movement, and real objects - anything that holds a 6-year-old attention span. We've been working on "green" and "leaf," and I always bring a leaf into the classroom for us to look at. The other day one of the boys, Sudesh, came up to me with a pretty substantial foliaged twig and said, "Gahween weef!" I was like, "Yeah!!"
When helping in the pharmacy, or talking with the clinicians, there have been so many times I've thought to myself, "What would this patient have done without our medical clinic here??," especially with something that would be so worrisome in the States - continued bleeding after a pregnancy, or a child's recurrent high fever. And then I recall - the medical clinic is here, and so this community does receive care. At least for 40,000+ individuals, there is a dependable place where they can be assured of relief and fair treatment. But this photo in the medical hall also captures a common sight in Oda - the boy at the end of the hall, carrying his younger brother
back out of the clinic. Oda's population is 45% children (under age of 18), and as soon as kids here are able, they help take care of their younger siblings.
I love the feeling of working side-by- side with someone to prepare a meal, so helping out in the Oda kitchen has meant a lot to me. I taught Narendra, one of the CMAs (Community Medical Assistant), how to make banana pancakes (bananas are precious here!), and in turn he taught me how to cook a chicken, complete with plucking the feathers. Everything cooks together - feet, head, nothing wasted. We saved the blood, letting it congeal with rice, then grinding them together into a fine paste to add to the cooking chicken. Sani Kanchi, one of the staff cooks, has also been teaching me how to make roti (Nepali flatbread).
This photo may not look like much, but this was the moment right before we hiked around an active landslide that was blocking the road to Oda. We'd stopped alongside a line of buses and trucks pulled alongside the road, and stood with everyone watching astonishing sections of the mountainside crumble and crack down onto the road. I remember that moment we looked at each other - ok, we're hiking all the way around this, then! We bolstered ourselves with peanut butter and raisins, and got moving. It was an adventure, of course, but also the reality of a developing country. The landslide blocked the Karnali Highway for 10 days, preventing our medical clinic from receiving needed shipments of medicines, and preventing buses full of people, trucks full of supplies, from reaching their destinations. Luckily we were able to meet up with Karan Singh, Oda Foundation's Nepali Director, and make our way to the other side.
We go to bed around ten and all wake up around six. This is the view out my window, every morning. There aren't really words for a few minutes with this view every day. And then quickly the day is full - teaching, writing grants, meeting with women in the community, running down to the river with students... but there are, of course, moments to recharge. I am reading a few books, but especially I have listened to David Whyte's "On Being" podcast a few times. So much that he says applies to being in Oda, but one thing that describes Oda itself - "Human genius lies in the geography of the body and its conversation with the world, the meeting between inheritance and horizon. In the ancient world, the word genius was not so much used about individual people, it was used about places, and almost always with the word loci, so genius loci meant 'the spirit of a place.' And we all know what the intuitively means, we all have favorite places in the world...it's this weatherfront of all of these qualities that meet."
All in all, being a part of the Oda Foundation's work is amazing. So many projects are just getting off the ground - health classes, Aaron teaching at the government school, clinician-patient dialogues, more women's community groups - we (the three Fellows) are all excited to share more on the Foundation Blog as it all develops. All my best from Oda!! Thank you for reading.
Hello from our first week here in Oda. Everything is completely new, but we had a warm welcome and then truly hit the ground running - largely due to the indispensable guidance of 2016-2017 Education Fellow Nick Kraft, here for 3 weeks to help the 2017-2018 Oda Fellows' transition. Aaron and Taylor are already teaching full classes 4 hours a day plus lesson planning 2-3 hours a day, and I (Sarah) am shadowing each day in the pharmacy, prepping to continue all our preventative health programs, and updating operations/finances to send to John.
Still how do we begin to really express what it's like to show up in Nepal, spend three weeks in Kathmandu learning a language, then travel to remote Kalikot and begin getting to know this entirely different community? As a start, I asked Education Fellows Taylor Murillo and Aaron Charney about their experiences so far.
Question & Answer with Sarah (S), Aaaron (A), and Taylor(T)
S: First impressions in tuition classes?
T: Something I wasn't expecting/hadn't thought through is the different sense of obligation from the students. There is more of a drive that changes the dynamic in the classroom.
A: They just love tuition. It's a testimony that we've split classes. [With tuition classes growing beyond 20 students per class, we split "Green Class," usually just 7:00 a.m., into a 7:00 a.m. segment and an 8:00 a.m. segment. We also split our youngest class, "Yellow Class"].
S: How are you approaching teaching?
T: Of course we know there are a lot of outside factors - very different lives outside the classroom. But still in the classroom, teaching is teaching. We are both conscious about building up women in the classroom, though. Aaron did a lot of reading about the gender disparity before, and John [John Christopher, Oda Foundation founder] and Cara [Skillingstead, 2015-2016 Health Fellow] have also talked about that effort.
A: Definitely, just building esteem and their own individuality, and instilling the hope that they can be educated and do something in their future.
T: And before we came, John explained that we are teachers teaching English, and because of that presence, we are also role models.
S: Aaron, what's your role at the government school?
A: Yeah this is a new project for the Foundation. It's a way to improve English teaching across Oda, because that's still a space where the government schools (students attend from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day, up to 10th grade) are lacking. After the October holidays [a holiday month in Nepal], I will teach at the government school each day. They have an unused classroom that we are painting and fixing up, and I'll teach 6 English classes a day, 25-30 students in each class.
S: What about first impressions of Oda?
T: Oda is the inbetween times. Talking with students before they walk in the classroom, catching up on a walk around the village, talking with staff before dinner. And the kids!! They already see us as familiar faces and recognize us as their teachers.
A: People are really happy for us to be here. It's a testimony to the Foundation and to past fellows, since we really haven't done that much yet. The kids, the staff and community, they want to know us and want us to help.
T: But I will say, the first time I saw someone carrying someone strapped on their back down to the clinic - a younger man carrying an elderly woman - was shocking. You can't prepare for seeing that. And they didn't just walk across the street, they came down the mountain, or maybe walked an hour or two from a different village.
S: It's true. I don't have words yet for first impressions of being in the clinic. Mostly I'm just listening to the staff - I've spent a while talking with Nirendra (CMA) and Tankha (Lab Technician) about health in Oda, what's common and learning about how they understand their roles as clinicians. But anything else you'd want people to know about your experience so far?
T: A big moment was the first lesson we taught where you could tell the kids were really understanding. Even if we mess up speaking Nepali, we can get the point across, and if I say something wrong and they are laughing, then that works, we are all laughing.
A: I was a little timid the first few days, then it clicked to be just goofy and loud, and comfortable doing what you're doing.
S: Should we say anything about lesson planning? You guys have been putting so much time into that.
A: With Nick's help, we made ultimate goals for each class, then broke them into learning across each individual class time. In government-school, teaching emphasizes memorization but tuition classes emphasize understanding and interactiveness. Memorization can pass a test, but learning language is communication. And if it's interactive, it's just more fun for them, and they want to pay attention and end up learning more.
We are all so excited to finally be here! As what we learn and our own projects develop, we'll continue to write monthly blog posts about the Foundation's work and life in Oda. Thanks for reading.
An Oda Story
As I sit here on the front porch of Oda’s medical center during a particularly rainy monsoon morning, I thought I’d take some time to provide an update that strays from our normal posts. Historically I’ve done my best to highlight the works and achievements of our team, our students and our community rather than provide personal updates. I’ve prioritized making the people of Oda and the story of their amazing community the centerpiece of The Oda Foundation, as I’ve always found their stories far more compelling than my own journey and the perceived sacrifices that I’ve made along the way. Today, for what I believe to be good reason, I’ve decided write a bit about the evolution of our project, the intersection of my life and Oda, and my decision to attend Columbia Business School this fall.
Since 2012 I have spent eight to nine months a year living and working in remote Nepal, falling in love with the country and the people in the process. Despite the many challenges and cultural barriers that surround life out here, the people of Nepal and specifically the people of Oda have become family to me. In many ways it was these challenges that helped forge such a special connection. Living in a small mud home with no electricity, internet, or running water in one of the most remote places on earth was as tough as you might expect – and during my most overwhelming days I came to lean on our team and community for support. Despite many early challenges, doubts and insecurities our project slowly grew from that small mud cowshed into a fully functional hospital, our team of three grew to eighteen and our startup project became a well-respected development initiative with over 50,000 beneficiaries.
Evolution and Maturation
My goal has never changed…while our journey has had ups, downs, and hit almost every kind of bump – my personal mission has remained constant. I’ve always sought to put our local team in a position to succeed, striving to encourage their success and independence. With this is mind, since the day we saw our first patient I have remained focused on elevating our local team and “working myself out of a job.” I’ve always believed that a Nepali project should be Nepali (and not American) led, and while I still have lots of work to do, (largely relationship building & fundraising) our Nepali team, specifically my partner Karan Singh, has taken over ownership and control of the project. This operational stability has been a seminal achievement for our team and for the organization.
As a result of this rapid progress, I’ve spent much of the past 12 to 18 months consciously reducing my workload and responsibilities on the ground – most of the time serving as a cheerleader for our incredible Nepali team and Fellows as they continued to impress. On both accounts they have not disappointed – and in almost every way performed more competently and capably than I believe I could have.
The reality of our progress didn’t sink in until last year, as I was sitting with one of our Fellows I looked around our mountain top compound and exclaimed – “this is the realization of a dream”. While I would never delude myself into thinking our work was done, that moment on the mountain top brought into focus how much we had accomplished, and left me with a tremendous sense of pride in our team.
With this new reality in mind, I began to think about how I could best serve Oda and maximize my ability to live an impactful life. Since March of 2013 Oda has consumed almost all of my mental bandwidth. The Foundation has been My Life, however, our evolution and maturation led me to start wondering what life would look like as Oda became an important Part of My Life. This period led me to think about how I could step back from the day to day operations, keep learning, and still be able to meaningfully contribute.
A Big Change
When we started Oda I would acknowledge that I lacked critical social sector know-how and as a result was forced to quickly acquaint myself with the fields of public health, education, public policy, non-profit management and of course Nepali Language.
While I’ve always been a fan of learning by “jumping in to the deep end,” the development of our team has given me confidence that now is the right time to take a step back from my decreasing day-to-day responsibilities in Oda to think critically about my time on the ground. After an enormous amount of conversation, reflection, and research I decided that the best next step in my journey and that of the Foundation was for me to return to graduate school. With that said, I’ve decided to attend Business School at Columbia University this fall where I will focus on social entrepreneurship and enterprise. In addition to putting my experiences into a broader context, my time at Columbia will provide me with opportunities to develop a more defined framework for addressing the many challenges surrounding sustainable development. I return to school acutely aware of what I would like to achieve, and I believe this time will be imperative, as I evaluate next steps for The Foundation and my own life.
I have shared my decision to return to school with a number of close friends and family, however, despite making my decision several months ago I’ve been hesitant to broadcast it. This was due in large part to a deep insecurity that a large portion of our support stemmed from people who contributed to Oda because of a personal relationship with me and the perceived sacrifice that supporters believed that I was enduring to make a difference. This unfounded insecurity led me to the conclusion that if I spent less time in Nepal, people would care less about the project and ultimately care less about the people we are working so hard to support. In talking with friends, family, fellows and donors I have realized that while this may have been the case in year one or year two, it is certainly not the case today…I’ve also realized that this insecurity was self-important or even vain in many ways. The Oda Foundation has evolved into something much larger than one person, it is now an ecosystem consisting of our Nepali team, current and former fellows, donors, board and of course the tens of thousands of people we help in a given year. I have faith that anyone who has read this far is just as much a part of the Oda Foundation as I am…and while I may have worked to light the initial spark the number of torch bearers is now many. Our successes, our failures and the profound satisfaction that we are making a real difference are shared by all of us – a reality that is both humbling and reassuring.
What about the Foundation?
As I mentioned previously, my ability to take a small step back from the project is a seminal achievement and a testament to how far our team and our project have come. In our earliest days, I would spend my time on the ground actively managing the ins and outs of our operations. Since that time, my responsibilities have changed drastically – and while I still regularly have important conversations with Karan, the “trains run on time” in my absence. As a result, while in Oda I serve as an observer and a friend to our local team as they continue to thrive.
While I have relished this role, the lack of internet and a reliable cell phone connection have made it increasingly challenging to fulfill my responsibilities to the organization. At this point those responsibilities largely include relationship building and identifying the resources we need to sustain the project – as you can imagine that is a tall order when you don’t have email!
While at school during the next two years, I’ve made a commitment to wear two hats – as I work towards my degree and to share Oda’s story…and what better place to share our story than in New York City.
So what happens now?
So now the beat goes on. In just a few short weeks a team of three new Fellows will join our team on the ground to help provide the enthusiasm and energy which helps fuel our project. They will continue to provide rich social media content and serve as an intermediary to ensure that our sponsors, donors and followers continue to hear about the impactful work we are making each day.
I believe whole heartedly that my ability to pivot from 9 months a year in Nepal to 3 months a year in Nepal is one of our most significant accomplishments to date. I believe that this is the beginning of an exciting new chapter where our team will continue to lead the project to even greater heights…and I’m excited to be a part of this chapter, as my role and responsibilities evolve.
I wanted to end this post with something I wrote on our second Oda Foundation blog post four years ago. It is not particularly poetic, however, it captures the emotions that I felt at the time – and accurately predicted the emotions that I would experience over the next four years:
“At such an early stage in the game I can’t have every eventuality covered and I can’t expect to fundraise like a finely tuned machine…Rather, I am the squeaky bicycle doing my best to get moving in the right direction. I know full well, that this is just the beginning of my challenge and my struggles, but as I scroll through the pictures of the kids the smiles of the kids, I remember the sense of fulfillment I took away from my experience, and ultimately I remember why I’m doing this. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy, but as with everything the most satisfying things in life take time, dedication, and effort. They take falling down and getting back up…so to that end, despite the angst and the fear, the hope and the dream will keep this bike squeaking along.” – John, August 2013
Thank you all for reading – I’m excited to keep you posted on all of the exciting things to come!
*I would be remiss if I did not mention how bittersweet this decision has been. I am so proud of our team’s ability to run the show; however, I am profoundly sad about what that means. The people of Oda have become family to me – and the disappointment on the faces of the children when I let them know that I would not be returning until winter break cut deep. I imagine this is just a taste of what it feels like when you take the training wheels of your child’s bike or send them off to college. An odd and unsettling mix of pride and sadness as you realize that they don’t need you like they once did. I have been so blessed to have an opportunity to spend so much time in this magical community – and am eager to continue to work toward their and the projects continued success.
**In this post I write perceived sacrifices, because while there were many things I have missed or “sacrificed” along the way, I have been able to take far more from Oda than I have ever given. I have learned about international health, education and development however, above all else I’ve learned about myself through the incredible relationships I have built in Oda and in Nepal.
As a few of you personally know, and as I am positive many of you might imagine, Oda is a beautiful place. It is nestled among towering, yet forgiving, green hills; a calm and welcoming river runs just below it, and every night the Milky Way struts its stuff from above it. At no moment are you without a panoramic view of unfettered beauty, the kind of beauty so rare to find living in the same quarters as mankind. Oda’s pure and natural magnificence, however, is not the reason that I am here; nor is it the reason, without wanting to speak for him, that John created The Oda Foundation in the first place.
In my humble and still very early-on-opinion, it seems as though there is a beauty in Oda that far surpasses the eye; a beauty that remains present on the foggiest of days and the cloudiest of nights. In this village there is a radiance that glows from its very own people; an internal beauty so far surpassing its enviable environs that words can only hope to crack the surface.
In August I spoke with John over the phone about the prospects of joining his team in Oda. In the midst of our conversation I asked him a question to the tune of, “How did you end up in this particular village?” His answer was, paraphrasing, “It was an emotional connection.” Now, those of you who know John know there is no way his answer capped off at five words. And you’re certainly right; his answer was nothing shy of a short novel, but when he summed it up as, “an emotional connection,” it was those five words that stuck with me.
I am just now starting to see the depth behind those five words. I’d like to say that I am becoming attune to the swirling personalities and endearing characters that are to be listed as first and second in Oda’s ingredient list. What follows them are ingredients of great importance: the medical facility, the classroom, the office - and of physical description: the hills, the river, the jungle and sky; yet they are not Oda’s defining ingredients.
I’ve only had a short 35 days to meet and appreciate the personalities and characters that define Oda. In that time we’ve shared meals, gone on a camping trip, spent many hours in the classroom together, walked around the village, shook hands, held hands, played games. We’ve engaged in hundreds of choppy conversations, going back and forth from English to Nepali, this facial expression to that, confusion to comprehension. We’ve shared laughs and tea and gum that goes dry too quickly. We’ve shared knowledge of one another’s language and culture and we ultimately share an enthusiasm to cultivate that emotional connection.
Don’t we all want to see happiness, health and success brought to those with whom we share that emotional connection? It has appeared to me that, yes, take out the context and the fluffy stuff and you have an INGO working in an extremely remote and extremely poor region of Nepal, a region that so perfectly qualifies for such work.
But, push aside the black and white assessment and you have one man who was captivated by the human spirit that could be found in such a region’s village. You have an INGO that from the top down, from its founder to its fellows, continues to develop (both consciously and subliminally) an emotional connection with the inhabitants of that village. And it seems as though it was inevitable.
Out here we are driven by a force that is hard to define, a transcendental energy if I had to give it a try; for a human connection is a human connection, no matter where you are on this tiny, pale blue dot.
Nick, Jade and I arrived in Kathmandu a little more than a month ago—how time has flown! Our stay in Kathmandu provided a much needed introduction to Nepali language and culture but I have to admit that Kathmandu is very different than I expected. The city’s pollution is oppressive—from noise to physical to water to air—and I found that walks around the city were almost unbearable. It was also really sad to see the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in their current state of disrepair. However, it is hard to tease out how much of it is a result of the earthquake, if the overcrowding was mostly caused by the city’s population boom after the nation’s 10-year civil war and/or how much is engendered by governmental factors and Nepal’s place as one of the poorest countries on Earth. Despite the hurdle of confronting my expectations versus the reality of Kathmandu, the intensive Nepali classes made the time in the capital well worth it. Although I am far from fluent, my ability to understand the sentence structure of Nepali as well as individual word comprehension has paid serious dividends. So all in all, malaai kusi laggyo (I am happy) with our time spent in Kathmandu taking Nepali language classes.
So after finishing up three weeks of class in Kathmandu, Nick, Jade and I finally began our journey to meet John in Manma (the district capital of Kalikot) and then trek onto Oda. To reiterate the sentiment proposed in previous blog posts, the journey was long and at times frightening. My favorite part though was when we finally arrived in Sarabara and began our trek up to the site of the Oda Foundation. A smile didn’t leave my face the entire 2-hour hike as so much anticipation built up to this day—about a year of conversing with John in fact! After two suspension bridges, two steep uphill climbs, and a host of spectacular views, we reached Oda right around dusk. The first thing that struck me was that Oda is so peaceful. Three of Oda’s communities spread behind the health center (numbering to around 2,000 people) and the site lies on flat ground amidst a sea of towering and vibrantly green mountains. It was all I hoped for and more.
The first thing I did the next morning, and continue to do every morning, is open my windows wide to some incredible views (see photos above). I truly do feel “off the grid” here but in the best possible way. Nick, Jade and I are some of the only people in the world to behold these sights—how ridiculous is that?! The company of the Oda staff and the relationships I am beginning to build with the people, this place is really starting to feel like a second (or third, as Nick and Jade can attest to John and my endless talking about the great Washington and Lee University) home. Despite witnessing a lot of hardship this year working in the health clinic, it is easy to see the love, gentleness and tenacity of the people who work day in and day out to shape the mountains to provide for their families. The fact that the roads that transported us here are carved out of the highest mountain range in the world and that people are able to toil among the rocks and carry back-breaking loads to survive makes me wonder what people can’t accomplish. Hopefully in the next 50 years, we can add eradicating extreme poverty to the list!
So far in Oda my days have been devoted to shadowing the various CMA (Community Medical Assistants) in the clinic, hiking, maintaining Sean T’s Insanity workout regimen in the most unlikely of places, hand-washing clothes, entering patient data into a massive spreadsheet, reading and most of all, getting to know and practicing Nepali with the Oda staff. After shadowing Surita in the pharmacy, I got a sense for just how many patients the Oda Foundation serves everyday—an unbelievable 70+ appointments! Since then, I have seen patients and helped fill prescriptions for diseases we only read about in textbooks in the U.S. such as ringworm, scabies and dysentery to name a few. My most impactful experience thus far was watching Nerendra stitch up a woman’s ear after a painful bout of domestic abuse. Despite how heart-wrenching working in the health center can be, I only have to think about the 15,000 patients that the Oda Foundation has served to turn my mood around. I also only have to walk about 50 steps to the classroom to witness dozens of smiling Oda kids learning English and shouting “hi, how are you?” along my path.
From the breathtaking environment to the shyly friendly people, I am enjoying my time at Oda immensely. The relationship that John has built with the community is inspiring and every conversation with him seeps with his love of the people of Kalikot. Our “workplace environment,” if you can call it that, is marked by laughter and compassion; I have to say that although people may call me crazy, I haven’t missed the Internet or home at all (sorry mom and dad!). In the next week or so I look forward to beginning my various projects on preventative health strategies, creating an Oda Women’s Health pilot program and researching traditional medicine as well as continuing my ongoing project in the Monitoring and Evaluation arm of the organization. Stay tuned for more on those projects in the near future!
It is very fitting that I’m writing this brief update from a rock known by everyone here as “Purka Dunga”. For anyone that has been to the project – arriving at Puka Dunga mean’s you’ve made it - it is a welcoming site on any trip to Oda, and marks the end to the final ascent into the village.
Just moments ago, as I was finally sitting down to reflect on my first week back two of my favorite students, Jowla and Kalasha stopped to say hello. They were on their way up the Mountain with sugar and salt for their family, and were very excited to catch up. It was a conversation similar to many others that I’ve had this week –like reconnecting with an old friend– and while four months have gone by since I was last here I feel like I haven’t missed a beat. Despite the many big differences between my life in Nepal and my life in the US I feel blessed that I am able to seamlessly transition back and forth between the two - and am thrilled to be back on the ground.
I often equate these two parallel lives to books on a shelf. You can put down one book to start an entirely different story, and for the most part as you move from one to the other, things will remain where you left them – There are obvious exceptions to this rule, including major milestones in the lives of family and friends, both happy and sad. But after four years in these very different worlds, both feel like home.
While I miss everyone back home, I am eager to turn my attention back to my Nepali life as we work to expand our reach and impact in the months ahead. We have a number of exciting initiatives planned for the fall, in addition to three new fellows who will arrive later this week. On behalf of our students, patients, and everyone else here – Thank you to everyone at home and abroad who continues to make this progress possible.
Interested in teaching some of the world’s most incredible kids in one of the world’s most beautiful places? We’re looking for an English Fellow to join our team in Nepal and help our “OdaKids” take the next step forward in their education journey. An ideal candidate would be willing to join our team for 5-8 months starting this September. If you or anyone you know is interested use the link below to get more information!
Sarah Wells, Annie Masterson and myself (Tanuja Devaraj) came to Oda, Nepal as part of a global health elective, to complete our four year medical education at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, USA. We had worked with refugees from Nepal in Philadelphia for the past four years providing health care, education and advocacy through a student run organization, Refugee Health Partners. We loved the people from Nepal that we worked with and were eager to see Nepal, come full circle to understanding the culture, background and health challenges of Nepal.
We reached Oda and were immediately welcomed into the Oda Family. For the next three weeks we were at home away from home with Karan Singh and John (founders of Oda) going out of their way to ensure our comfort, Tulki Aunty making sure we were well fed, and the entire Oda community including us in their daily lives.
We shared family style meals in the dining area, took walks around the village, enjoyed our saturdays bathing and doing laundry riverside and had many memorable playtimes with the kids.
We were also fluidly incorporated into the incredible medical work at Oda by the current staff, two doctors Dr. Mim and Dr. Narendra and one pharmacist Sarita. The medical clinic is a 24/7 urgent care facility with a fully stocked pharmacy, two examination rooms, and four hospital beds for short term admissions.
We teamed up Dr.Mim and Dr. Narendra to deliver care to 40-50 patients a day. We took care of a range of clinical presentations from urinary tract infections, lacerations, malnutrition, anemia, gastritis, diarrhea, viral infections, pneumonia to COPD exacerbations. Prior to Oda Foundation, members of Oda and surrounding villages had to travel hours to days on foot to get to the nearest hospital, delaying care and leading to preventable health adversity. With the establishment of Oda Foundation, an infant with pneumonia, a disease that is deadly if not treated early, has timely access to the required antibiotic and a woman with diarrhea which can cause severe ehydration, sepsis and death can now receive the needed IV hydration and IV antibiotics.
We were inspired and impressed by the health care that Oda Foundation is accomplishing. The trust the community and patients place in the organization is palpable and the health outcomes have improved significantly. In addition, Oda Foundation goes beyond providing medicine, whether it is providing eggs (beyond the reach of most individuals) to a severely anemic and malnourished patient, providing funds to support more advanced testing and treatment or making home visits to follow up on a severely ill patient.
Thank you to the entire Oda Family for inviting us and giving us this incredible opportunity to work at Oda Foundation.
After two hours walking from Oda and another two hours on a bus, our team begins our ascent. Up into the mountains - passed herds of pack mules carrying rice, beans and oil, passed communities of mud homes nestled into hillsides, passed children tasked with collecting firewood – and up we climb. The team is not quite as enthusiastic as I am. For most Nepalis that live in this part of the country, walking is a necessity – rarely a leisure activity.
Our research team is hiking to the remote area of Kheen (pronounced “khee-naa”). The journey is long and requires two full days of hiking up and down mountains to reach our destination. The walk to Kheen is breath taking, walking for hours with the snow-capped Himalayan Range as our backdrop. Hiking for 16 hours provides much time for reflection, and I can’t help but feel guilty for enjoying the walk - I will walk into this community once, and walk out once. I will never know the burden of making this journey regularly to survive - or perhaps, even more unfathomable, the idea of never leaving this remote community at all (a reality for many of Kalikot’s girls and women).
When we arrive in Kheen, it seems other worldly. After having spent the previous month interviewing in areas of the district that are either touching the road or are only a few hours from the road, we realize very quickly the difference that this little bit of infrastructure can make. After only a few interviews, the extreme conditions that define this area come into focus – poor/nonexistence healthcare, cultural practices that even in other areas of Kalikot are considered to be “outdated,” and most strikingly, a persistent and debilitating food security crisis.
In an area where the nearest market is two days away, growing food locally becomes a priority. This is the case for the people of Kheen, and yet a subsistence lifestyle is not viable for most families. Some of the survey questions that we ask the women in our study touch on subsistence farming, and the general sentiment is that they just don’t have enough land to grow food on. Even for the few families that have enough land to grow on, Kheen is situated in an area where water is scarce for just about eight months out of the year. The shortage of both water and land leaves most families having to walk the four-day round trip journey to the market to carry the food that their family needs to survive. To break it down a little bit further – this means that an individual has to spend four days walking to carry a bag of rice that will likely only last between one to two weeks. Put simply: it is almost impossible for a family in Kheen to get the food that they need to be healthy.
The children of Kheen show a clear depiction of the problem. In Kheen, I had to stop trying to guess the ages of the children that we met – the one year old that looks like a two month old baby is all too common. Stunted growth and severe nutrient deficiencies of both mother and baby is the norm in Kheen, and contributes to a cycle of malnutrition within households.
Looking back on my experience in Kheen, there is so much more that I want to say – and even more that I am still processing. We recently had a visitor who came to visit Kalikot from Europe, who expressed his surprise by how many people were living in the mountains – “rural density,” he called it. He had expected to see most of the country’s population living in the cities and plain areas, with a few houses scattered throughout the rest of Nepal’s mountain terrain. He was right to be surprised – it is incredible that people can survive out here, and have been doing it for generations. The word remote takes on a new meaning – just using that word alone does not do the reality justice.
Our research team at the conclusion of our trip to Kheen!
The data collection phase of the project is just about complete – next is getting it all organized and analyzed. The goal is with the information that we have collected to create an easily digestible overview of the status of health throughout Kalikot- which will hopefully be used as a tool for groups working in development throughout the district. More to come soon as I chronicle the process and my experiences!