One of the many aspects of this clinic project that I really enjoy is working with our team of interpreters. Our team possesses a rare dedication and passion for the work they do and they complete a crucial three way relationship connecting us (the practitioners) to our patients and our patients to us. They are charged with the crucial task of conveying not only our words but also our tone and attitude. They help us to accurately understand our patient's heath conditions but more importantly they communicate the patient's emotional states and concerns. They are trained to be invisible, seamlessly facilitating a conversation between two people but not involving themselves. They do not advocate for the patient nor do they solicit for the practitioners. They are with us from the moment we step into the treatment room and stay with us until we have pulled our last needle of the day. They observe everything we do and without them we cannot function.
Recently I took an afternoon to interview each of our interpreters and what they told me inspired in me a new appreciation for the work we do here. I asked them, "As members of this community, how do you think this project helps?" They unanimously answered that the reason our project is so effective is because each of the practitioners takes the time to listen and treat each person with respect and kindness (evidently a quality not embraced by the medical community here in Nepal). Our interpreters had observed our practitioners patiently offering the same care and compassion regardless of whether the person was a wealthy business man or a poor farmer. To them, this is the part of our service that makes the biggest difference to the community (and here we thought it had something to do with the acupuncture).
I was astounded by this simple revelation and I admit it might not be any virtue on our part because they all look pretty poor to us. But then we started treating in another village called Godavari and this revelation became even more illuminating.
Godavari is a village about one hour by motorbike from Chapagaon and is mostly made up of Tamang people. The Tamang are of Tibetan descent but settled in the Kathmandu Valley about 700 years ago. They maintain their own language and do not intermarry with other ethnic groups in Nepal. The clinic in Godavari is located in a small school building in a very poor part of the village mostly occupied by the Bhandari (untouchable) caste. The caste system no longer officially exists in Nepal and the Bhandari are not disenfranchised by the government. However, the effects of being treated as a subhuman class for centuries is dramatically evident. Granted, it is only a small village of about 1000 people, but the level of poverty amongst the Bandhari made the Newari's in Chapagaon look relatively well off. The people that flocked to our clinic had many severe conditions and had not the means nor availability of any healthcare services. We saw cases of malnutrition, prolapsed organs, untreated wounds and chronic infections. Many young men and women came in with bodies severely damaged by heavy and dangerous work in the city. Our practitioners treated at a furious pace but many people had to be sent away unseen.
After visiting Godavari a few times we began to debate whether or not we had the resources to support this satellite clinic to a level of meaningful effectiveness. It is always a difficult choice as to how to best spend your all-too-limited resources in an arena of overwhelming need but somehow we all agreed that we needed to try. We decided that so long as we had enough volunteers, we would send two practitioners, once per week to Godavari.
In the face of such dramatic poverty, social stigma and ill-heath, I hesitate to speak of the optimism that I feel. I certainly don't speak for all of our practitioners when I say that I speculate that our effectiveness here will be far better than we think. I trust that our interpreters have seen the true power behind our medicine and that even though we may not be able to heal them all, we can certainly listen to them all. While I know that each of us will do our very best to provide effective treatment, in the end I believe it will be the fact that we have treated them with individual dignity and respect that will be of the greatest value.
During this holiday season I hope each of you will take a few moments to think about what it means to care. How easily we get caught up in the day to day drama of our lives and forget to really see the people around us let alone treat them with respect and kindness. If we can help strangers in Nepal by listening and really seeing them... imagine what you can do with your closest friends and family.
Best holiday wishes from Nepal – Andrew