The Oda Foundation

EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES IN NEPAL'S REMOTE REGIONS THROUGH HEALTH AND EDUCATION INITIATIVES

Fresh Faces in Oda - A Welcome Q&A

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.

                                                                                                                      Aaaron & Taylor our 2017/2018 Education Fellows

                                                                                                                      Aaaron & Taylor our 2017/2018 Education Fellows

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"].

                                                                                                                               Female students in Tuition (Tutoring!)

                                                                                                                               Female students in Tuition (Tutoring!)

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.

                                                                                               Students waiting with baited breath for the start of their afternoon session

                                                                                               Students waiting with baited breath for the start of their afternoon session

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.

                                                                    Our former education fellow and current transition fellow Nick Kraft with Nepali teacher, Purna

                                                                    Our former education fellow and current transition fellow Nick Kraft with Nepali teacher, Purna

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.

                                                                                                                     Taylor Murillo getting into Tuition with Yellow Class

                                                                                                                     Taylor Murillo getting into Tuition with Yellow Class

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.

Big Changes - A message from John

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.

Humble Beginnings

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.

                                                                                                                We've come a very long way from our earliest days in a mud hut!

                                                                                                                We've come a very long way from our earliest days in a mud hut!

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.

                                                                                                                                                                John + Karan

                                                                                                                                                                John + Karan

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.

Self-Importance

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.

                                                                                                                   Our newest Fellows Sarah, Taylor and Aaron are in Nepal now! 

                                                                                                                   Our newest Fellows Sarah, Taylor and Aaron are in Nepal now! 

Conclusion

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!

Warm Regards,

John

PS

*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.

 

Friday, November 4 2016 – 10:41 AM – My bed in Oda

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.

Outside of the Classroom with Jamuna and Bhakat!

Outside of the Classroom with Jamuna and Bhakat!

Hiking with Becca, Bim, Bishna, Mim, and Prem!

Hiking with Becca, Bim, Bishna, Mim, and Prem!

Becca's Post!

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.

Just after arriving in Kalikot with Nick & Jade!

Just after arriving in Kalikot with Nick & Jade!

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 health center and tuition (tutoring) room. “Ekdam raamro chha!”

The health center and tuition (tutoring) room. “Ekdam raamro chha!”

The last leg into Oda - the community and the journey is stunning!

The last leg into Oda - the community and the journey is stunning!

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!

Sitting with Nirendra, Purna, and Kalashah.

Sitting with Nirendra, Purna, and Kalashah.

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!

Working on some Nepali with the Daughter of Oda's cook - Kalashah Singh

Working on some Nepali with the Daughter of Oda's cook - Kalashah Singh

 

 

Purka Dunga – A Quick Upate from Oda

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.

Purka Dunga - A welcoming site for anyone coming into Oda.

Purka Dunga - A welcoming site for anyone coming into Oda.

Kalashah & I catching up on Purka Dunga.

Kalashah & I catching up on Purka Dunga.

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.   

Life in Oda and life in New York are quite different.  Above is the view from Oda's New York office space and below form the Oda Foundation Office on-site.

Life in Oda and life in New York are quite different.  Above is the view from Oda's New York office space and below form the Oda Foundation Office on-site.

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.  

Thank you from Oda!

Thank you from Oda!

Oda Foundation 2016 English Fellowship

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!

Oda Foundation Job Posting

Reflections from Oda

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.

                                                              The path to Oda - more than 2 hours from the nearest road.

                                                              The path to Oda - more than 2 hours from the nearest road.

After almost a year of planning with John via skype, we finally arrived in Oda Naku-2 on April 30th, 2016. John had prepared us for our long journey to one of the most remote regions in Nepal, a 1 hour flight, 9 hour drive and 2 hour trek, but no words could describe the adventure, the adrenalin and out-of-this world scenery we experienced on our journey. 

After almost a year of planning with John via skype, we finally arrived in Oda Naku-2 on April 30th, 2016. John had prepared us for our long journey to one of the most remote regions in Nepal, a 1 hour flight, 9 hour drive and 2 hour trek, but no words could describe the adventure, the adrenalin and out-of-this world scenery we experienced on our journey. 

                                                                                                                                                                            Oda, Nepal!

                                                                                                                                                                            Oda, 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.

                                          Annie and Sarah with staff children Asuta, Jamuna, and Asmita in the Kitchen!

                                          Annie and Sarah with staff children Asuta, Jamuna, and Asmita in the Kitchen!

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.

                                                                                Tanuja and Mim Karki!

                                                                                Tanuja and Mim Karki!

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. 

                                                                                                                                     Sarah working in Oda Medical.

                                                                                                                                     Sarah working in Oda Medical.

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.

 

 

 

 

Kheen

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.

A portion of the path to Kheen.

A portion of the path to Kheen.

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).

Even the youngest kids must work to support their families - carrying supplies over 16 hours.

Even the youngest kids must work to support their families - carrying supplies over 16 hours.

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.

To combat food insecurity the wealthiest families hire mules to carry in rice. 

To combat food insecurity the wealthiest families hire mules to carry in rice. 

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.

Stunting and nutrient deficiencies are all to common in area's like Kheen.

Stunting and nutrient deficiencies are all to common in area's like Kheen.

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!

 

Observations from Nepal

The remarks and observations below were written by Kirk Adamson following his recent trip to Nepal.  Kirk is an Oda Board member and longtime friend of Oda Founder John Christopher.

I recently visited JC in Nepal with a friend of mine and wanted to send around some of my thoughts and observations.  Despite being very familiar with the charity, seeing it first hand was really eye opening as it was a truly unique cultural experience. 

Photo from Oda - After Holi Celebrations

Photo from Oda - After Holi Celebrations

Oda is very, very remote

After flying into Kathmandu, you stay in the City for the night.  The next day, you need to take a 1.5 hour flight to Birendranagar, the capital of the Surkhet District (1 of 75 districts in Nepal).  Then you need to drive 5-6 hours on a single lane, partially paved road without guard rails through the mountains where most of the time you drive along a steep cliff meandering along blind corners every 50 feet or so.  It was terrifying.  You then stay for the night in Manma, the capital of the Kalikot District, at a very basic hotel.  The next morning, you drive for one more hour and arrive at a small village along the road.  You then hike for 3 hours, with 2 river crossings and 2 mountain crossings to arrive in Oda.  Saying Oda is remote doesn't do it justice.  You are off the grid. 

Walking through the fields of Oda

Walking through the fields of Oda

I was shocked to see JC's original accommodations the first year he lived in Oda

The size of the mud floored room John lived in was probably 35 square feet with <5 ft ceilings.  He lived in the village among the c.2,000 inhabitants of Oda.  While his current accommodations on the second floor of the health center are still very basic, it is infinitely better than what he first experienced.

 JC and the Oda community have a strong affinity toward one another

There is a mutual respect, appreciation and friendship.  The community is very grateful for JC's social impact on their community.  JC clearly loves the community, knows literally everyone's name and has a unique connection with the c.1,200 children under the age of 10 that live in Oda (c.60% of the population). 

 The Oda Foundation is really a community development platform rather than just a health clinic

While the health clinic takes the lion share of the funding, JC has built the nicest classroom in the Kalikot District.  The classroom has a computer specifically created for the developing world pre-loaded with everything on Wikipedia + various teaching tools so it doesn't require an internet connection.  It has a local Nepali teacher (+ an American volunteer) who teach 3 sections of students in the mornings from 6-9am and 3 sections of students in the afternoons from 5-8pm (c.300 students per day, 6 days a week).  Just before class starts, you see students running from all directions to make it to class on time.  While the health clinic is more tangible and easier to quantify, the classroom helps with community buy-in and support for the Foundation as the local schools struggle with inadequate resources and teacher absenteeism. 

 

Karan appears to be a great manager to run the projects in Oda

This transition is well underway and will help free up capacity for JC to plan out the next steps for the charity.

 

 Hope that's a helpful summary of my thoughts on the trip.  

 Best,

Kirk

Photo overlooking Nepal's Largest Lake - Rara

Photo overlooking Nepal's Largest Lake - Rara

Thank You MedShare

For those of you who don’t know, 2015 was a year unlike any on record for Nepal.  While most people know about the April earthquakes that devastated Kathmandu and the surrounding areas, Nepal continues to suffer a more silent emergency due to civil unrest and an unofficial blockade on the Indian border.  It was during this year of immense challenges for Nepal that I received an email from Jason Chernock and the incredible team at MedShare. They explained to me that in response to the devastation that Nepal has sustained, the MedShare community united in an effort to provide relief through the donation of medical supplies and equipment.  From the very first call with the MedShare team I was impressed by their enthusiasm, candor, and desire to help Nepal.  During the summer of 2015 the Oda team worked hand in hand with MedShare to assemble a packing list, facilitate logistics, and deal with regulatory hurdles in order to bring vital medical supplies and equipment to Kalikot. 

Supplies nearing the end of the 2 hour hike into Oda.

Supplies nearing the end of the 2 hour hike into Oda.

In November 2015 the hard work put in by the Oda and MedShare team culminated with the arrival of a 40 ft. container of donated medical supplies and equipment.  The shipment was greeted with enthusiasm by our team and many of the area’s top district government officials.  After several days of distribution, the supplies were almost immediately put to use – both by our health team at the Oda Foundation and by our partners in the local health posts.  Since the arrival of the shipment in November, supplies have been distributed to 2 hospitals and 30 partner health posts, which serve over 150,000 Nepali people.

On behalf of everyone in Oda & Kalikot thank you so much for your incredible support.  It could not have come at a better time and will continue to provide relief in rural Nepal for months and years to come!

Karan Singh providing the ceremonial first box of supplies to District Health Officer and Friend Dr. Shankar Lohala.

Karan Singh providing the ceremonial first box of supplies to District Health Officer and Friend Dr. Shankar Lohala.


Reusable is Best

In the remote mountains of Kalikot, an area that faces serious transportation issues due to geographical and infrastructural challenges, the availability of feminine hygiene products is limited, if not totally lacking. This coupled with the low socio-economic status of many of Kalikot’s families, means that the options available for many girls and women to manage their period each month is restricted. Furthermore, in a remote area like Kalikot, methods like disposable pads and tampons become less viable when you consider how waste is disposed of. In Kalikot (and in much of Nepal) there is no landfill or mainstream method of garbage collection and disposal – meaning that all waste that is collected is either discarded around the village - or if there is a more significant amount of waste, set on fire near the home. In a setting such as this for both economical and environment reasons, reusable is better.

The organization Days For Girls is working to address this problem and has developed a reusable maxi-pad kit that has proven to be very effective. With the help of Mia Amicas Globally, and local women’s centers here in Nepal we have been able to bring over 3,000 kits to Oda. In each kit there are two moisture barrier shields which snap around the underwear and hold the pads in place, eight absorbent pads, one pair of underwear, and a cloth drawstring bag to transport your kit.

Kit Distribution in Pakha

Kit Distribution in Pakha

Over the past year we have distributed nearly 700 kits throughout our area, and just recently traveled to the neighboring community of Pakha to distribute an additional 200. In our most recent disbursement, we travelled to Pakha school and had a 20 minute meeting with the girls in each grade to discuss how to use the kits, and good hygiene practices during menstruation. So far the feedback that we have received has been incredibly positive, and we hope that through continued distribution of these kits communities will begin to see more confident girls and women, and better school attendance.

The Pakha girls with their new kits.

Our team has recently begun to conduct a health survey throughout the district, and a few of the questions that we ask mothers in our interviews pertain to menstruation. While the study has just begun, thus far none of the mothers that we have spoken with use anything to manage blood flow during menstruation. Moreover, almost every mother documented that she does not sleep inside her home during her period. We recognize that we cannot uproot deep-seeded cultural practices and local stigmas overnight – but we hope that our efforts will be a small part of the solution to help girls and women feel more healthy and confident.   

Where we're going we don't need roads...

One of the most defining characteristics of our community in Kalikot, Nepal is the remoteness of our area. With only one seasonal road passing through the district, the only mode of transportation for many people is on their own two feet. The village of Oda is nestled on a hillside located about 2 hours walking from the main road. This means that in order to bring supplies to the village, family members must make this 4-hour round trip journey with regularity (not to mention that about 75% of our community walk EVERYWHERE in flipflops).

Woman and Girls resting on the walk to Oda with necessary household supplies.

Woman and Girls resting on the walk to Oda with necessary household supplies.


The obvious next question is… how do you run a health clinic in a community that faces such accessibility challenges? This is one of the greatest struggles that the Oda Foundation team has to deal with almost daily – and yet is exactly the reason that it is so critical that we are working where we are. The remoteness of our district and immediate community means that many of the aid organizations that work throughout Nepal, are absent in our region. This in conjunction with the reality that the local government faces issues surrounding accountability and an extremely limited budget, means that there are MASSIVE holes in the services and opportunities that all Nepali people need to maintain their health and well-being.

A young woman with a burn wound being carried to Oda.

A young woman with a burn wound being carried to Oda.

With regular medicinal, euipment, and food demands, our team works really hard to ensure that we have everything that we need to care for our team and for every patient who passes through our doors. Needless to say – our team and community members have some pretty insane leg muscles!

John Walking it in to Oda

John Walking it in to Oda

Advisory Board Chair Peter Lawrence Making the Trek to Oda

Advisory Board Chair Peter Lawrence Making the Trek to Oda


*

London Visit

Catching up with Doctor Kate Yarrow of Doctors for Nepal!

Catching up with Doctor Kate Yarrow of Doctors for Nepal!

Hi Everyone. 

I just returned from London where we had an incredibly productive week.  We garnered a tremendous amount of support for initiatives we are planning to kick off in the coming year and made some great new friends.

The week was highlighted by an event hosted by The Funding Network on Monday evening.  The crowd was tremendous, and we received positive support and feedback surrounding an education and outreach program we plan to kick off this month.   The Funding Network is an incredible organization, focused on providing necessary funds to get young Non-Profits like Oda off the ground.  The support we received, in addition to support from the International Foundation puts us in incredible position to more than double our reach in the coming year.  For more information on this program, please see the video below which discusses Oda, where we were, where are are today, and where we are going in the next 12 to 18 months.

In addition to the event, I had the opportunity to meet with some other people and organizations doing amazing work in Nepal including Tobyn Thomas of CAIRN and Kate Yarrow, a good friend and founder of Doctors for Nepal.  We’ve been very fortunate to meet and work with some incredible people along the way, and  are looking forward to future collaboration!

 

First Impressions

Hi Everyone.  Today's post was written by our new community health fellow, Safira.  She will be working with us for the next 7 months, focused predominately on early childhood and maternal health and nutrition programs.  Expect to see updates from her work in the weeks and months to come!

I have been living in Oda for six days now, and I am starting to settle into the pace of life here in the western mountains of Nepal. John’s descriptions and pictures have not done this place justice – not for a lack of trying, but it is truly impossible to accurately capture the many nuances that make this place special. BUT, in spite of this impossibility, I will try my best.

My arrival in Kalikot was greeted by a welcoming party of what seemed to me to be the entire village of Oda. The road to Kalikot is long and winding, and just when you think the journey is over, you arrive in the town of Sarabada where you must then leave the road for a narrow walking path and 2 and half hours of hiking. John and I were met at the road by about 25 people, all ready to make the trek with us and help carry the supplies and medicine that we had brought with us. John and I spent the entirety of the walk surrounded by a group of the sweetest 12-15 year olds, who kept trying out English phrases like “please walk slowly” and “don’t slip!” – phrases that John had clearly taught them after making this same journey countless times.

IMG_4182.jpg

The village of Oda is situated on the top of a steep slope, and one of the first sites that you see as you make it over the hill is the Oda Clinic. The little compound is nestled into the side of the hill, blending in with the green backdrop of the village behind it. One of John and Karan’s priorities during the construction phase of the building was to ensure that the final product did not stand out too much in comparison to the structures that surround it. They succeeded – creating what feels to me like a little sanctuary in the middle of the mountains.

DSCN1664.JPG

 

The village rhythm here in Oda moves slowly, and I feel like after only a few days I have fallen in sync with relative ease. My first week in Oda has been dedicated to getting to know the team and the surrounding community – and internally taking stock of the way that things work in this remote part of the country. The Oda Foundation team has shown me endless levels of warmth and patience, always willing to talk me through things that I do not understand, waiting without complaint as I slowly and ungracefully translate my thoughts into Nepali words. John and Karan have truly done an amazing job in choosing a group of people who not only have been very successful in their specific roles, but also seem to be incredibly supportive of one and other. How lucky I am to be team member number 10.

Working with the medical staff this week has renewed my energy for the work that I will be doing while I am here. In the district of Kalikot a striking 54% of children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth as a result of poor nutrition. A year ago, I was fortunate enough to work with the US based nutrition NGO 1,000 Days, and ever since have been fascinated by the impact that certain seemingly basic behavior changes can have on the life span and quality of life of young children, specifically in the context of developing countries. This has inspired the direction of my work this year, which will be to design a maternal and early childhood nutrition program, with the goal of reaching mothers and babies throughout the surrounding community. This project is still in the very early stages of development, but I think I have successfully accomplished the most important step, which is to surround myself with unbelievably bright and passionate people. More updates to come!

 




Looking Forward

In addition to spending time with family and friends, while I was home I spent a great deal of time working with a number of people and soliciting advice about the future of our work in Oda.  We have a lot of exciting new plans in the works for the organization this coming year. In a couple of weeks we will be kicking off a district-wide outreach and education campaign focused on health education and nutrition for girls and women. We will be monitoring the success of our programs very closely, and hope to see a corresponding reduction in school absenteeism among post-pubescent girls and lower rates of childhood stunting in our community.  Through close partnerships with the local government and our local community of amazing women we hope to reach thousands of girls and women across the district!

We will be expanding on a successful education campaign that took place in Oda last year

We will be expanding on a successful education campaign that took place in Oda last year

Special thank you to Oda’s Board and Advisory Board for their continued support, Safira Amsili who will be running point on the outreach program, Cheryl Strauss Einhorn for her guidance, MIAMICA’S Globally for their incredible in-kind contribution of reusable maxi pad kits, and Dr. Shankhar Lohana of the Kalikot District Health Office for his buy-in and support.  

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful team of supporters - none of this work would be possible without your continued support!
 

 

New Oda Rockstar

I am getting settled into Kathmandu, but I wanted to pass along a quick personnel update.  2 weeks ago we hired Jagat Thapa, and so far he has been a superstar.   Jagat is an HA (Health Assistant), which required 3 years of medical training and is the highest certification short of a full doctor in Nepal.  Not only does he speak incredible English, but he really takes the mission to heart and is already making a huge difference.  Just the other day, a young girl came in with meningitis, and Jagat monitored her vigorously, making sure that we were doing everything we could to help her.  That included visits to her home and phone calls to her parents to make sure she was progressing as expected.  In addition to strong report with the people, Jagat has also been invaluable to me.  He has taken the lead on data collection and monitoring, and recently accompanied me to the district health office, where he met with Government Officials on Oda’s behalf.   In the future we expect Jagat to run point on a community health outreach and education campaign which we are planning in coordination with the district government, I will update more on that soon!

We are thrilled to welcome Jagat to our team, and feel extremely fortunate to have added another piece to an incredible puzzle.  I’d also like to thank all of you, without your continued support we would not be able to make hires like this…which are imperative to our work in Nepal.  Thank you!

Usha's Story

I’ve been meaning to type up more about the people that we work with on a daily basis.  To date, I’ve spent so much time looking at per patient costs, the number of avoidable deaths reduced, and the sheer number of patients our little project has been able to take care of… that I have glossed over the stories that make this place so special, it is the people of this place that are so inspiring and it is these people that continually inspire me…much more than any data point could!  In light of this, one of my major goals is to better chronicle the people of Oda and their stories. 

My first winter with Usha, her daughter Ramita, Bandana and Taju.

My first winter with Usha, her daughter Ramita, Bandana and Taju.

A great place to start is with a family, and specifically a 20 year old mother, next door that continually inspire me.  Usha Malla, is a beautiful, intelligent, and kind hearted neighbor of ours in Oda.  When I first arrived in Oda, Usha and her brothers Yaga, Hansa, and Hikmat were 3 of the first people I met.  Their warmth, smiles, and dance moves created an instant connection and Hansa, the middle brother is a major reason behind why the project turned towards health.  When I first met him, he was a delight despite the scabbies all over his body…And at that time there was next to nothing he could do beyond smile and bear the pain.  It was after this first interaction, that I knew we had to focus on health.

Hikmat, Hansa, and Yaga below:

During my first trip I also learned that just a couple months earlier, Usha’s mother had died from an unexpected aneurysm.  It wasn’t until a few months later that I learned that their father was dying of COPD, and had just a few more months to live.  Despite caring for her brothers, her father, and her young daughter, Usha always took time to come over say hello and help out in our early months.

Usha's father's last photo was taken with her daughter Ramita.  This photo proudly hangs in their house.

Usha's father's last photo was taken with her daughter Ramita.  This photo proudly hangs in their house.

Following the death of her Father, Usha became the head of the household watching over her daughter Ramita, and her brothers.   In the months following the death of her father, she facilitated Hikmat’s move to Kathmandu and Hansa’s move to Kohlpur where they are currently studying.  In the face of these challenges, Usha doubled down on her desire to contribute to her community and support our mission.

When we first decided to move to our new facility, Usha was the first person to come forward and immediately offered a portion of her families land for the project.  In a community of subsistence farmers, land is an enormous gift.   While they did not have much, she wanted to contribute to what was going on in Oda, and gave a significant chuck of land left behind by her father.  In response to this act of generosity, we told Usha that she could use some of this land to move her small shop near the hospital.  This would allow her take advantage of the people travelling long distances to reach Oda.  On a daily basis, when she’s not working the fields or taking care of her daughter Ramita, Usha is cooking chow chow, making tea, and running her small shop to support her family.

Usha's shop where she serves upwards of 50 people a day coming to visit the hospital.

Usha's shop where she serves upwards of 50 people a day coming to visit the hospital.

Her entrepreneurial spirit, positive attitude, and willingness to help not just her family but the project are just a few of the reasons I admire and respect her and her family so much.  Despite such enormous personal loss, Usha continues to be a source of optimism and perseverance and whenever I’m feeling discouraged I can look to her. 

Usha taking a break from work for a quick photo!

Usha taking a break from work for a quick photo!