Posted on Jul 26, 2012 / Author: Vince Ng / Tags: Human Rights and Development, Education, Culture and Communities, development, healthcare, hospital, Nepal, NGO
After two days of traveling on treacherous, dusty mountain roads, we pulled into Tansen from Rukum and Napalgunj. The transition from the bustling Indian-style bazaars and Maoist rallies to gently sloping mountains was a much-anticipated relief for weary travelers. The old charm of the Rhana dynasty architecture still graced the facade of the city. Ethnic Magar men sporting distinctive, brightly colored toppi (Nepali hats), hand in hand, leisurely walked the steep roads while exchanging ‘Namaste’s’ to passing acquaintances. Women carrying baskets of fresh vegetables made their way to and from the bazaar. From the center of the city we walked about 20 minutes to the United Mission Tansen Hospital.
Flashback - November 2010
Koko Kondo (the famed atomic bomb survivor of Hiroshima and yet another story) led me into the church office and switched on the kerosene space heater. Over hot green tea and Kyoto rice cakes we talked like old friends. Like a mother, she had been with me since the first time I arrived in Japan and throughout my first two years. A moment later, an old lady in her 80’s stepped into the office. “Vince, this is the person whom I want you to meet, Mrs. Iwamura,” said Koko. Mrs. Iwamura was the wife of the late Dr. Iwamura. One of the first Japanese doctors to work in Nepal, he and his wife spent over a decade working in Tansen Hospital since the 1960’s. Dr. Iwamura was a legend in Tansen, and was the first doctor to conduct mobile X-ray scans on horseback in remote villages to treat TB in an age when cars barely drove and roads were almost non-existent. Upon his death a few years ago, some of his ashes were sent to Tansen hospital and buried under a new tree near the staff quarters.
Through this route I was able to get in contact with a disciple of Dr. Iwamura now in Kathmandu. He was in charge of all Nepalese operations and personnel at a medical NGO in Japan, and he arranged for me to work in Nepalese hospitals. Coming to Tansen, I felt as if things had come full circle after a long and arduous journey. As soon as I arrived at Tansen Hospital, I was introduced to the Community Development Department that conducted various education campaigns and mobile clinics in regions with little access to basic health care. Made up of paramedics, nurses and community health specialists, their work had a profound and positive change on the local population.
Working closely with this tight knit team, we visited various villages by jeep. The team organized the village’s women at local schools and taught them basic information on HIV and AIDS prevention. Although cases of HIV were quite low in this region due to the distances between villages, things may be changing. Nepal and India have become increasingly linked as transportation networks have improved between the two countries. It was common for men to leave their villages in search of work in India across the border. According to hospital reports and common knowledge, cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in that demographic have begun to increase.
Tansen hospital was blessed with the immense experience of generations of foreign doctors and interns. The treatment and service at Tansen hospital was on par with many Western hospitals and rivaled even the best hospitals in Kathmandu. Unlike remote hospitals, Tansen Hospital was clean, efficient, large, well equipped and beautiful. Staff lived comfortably in their quarters. A nursing college was just a few hundred meters away, supplying a constant pool of eager students. I befriended young and talented English-speaking staff who showed me around the villages on motorbike and introduced me to local food every day. I could understand how Dr. Iwamura and his wife fell in love with ‘The Hospital on the Mountain’ (the title of their first book in Japanese).
From Tansen I slowly made my way back to Kathmandu. Along the way, an irregular general strike slowed me down. Cars were packed up for miles as Maoist party youth blockaded the main arteries into the capital in another act of protest. Eventually, I arrived back at the dormitory that housed NGO staff in the ancient city of Patan, now a suburb of Kathmandu. My next destination was a one-hour commute from Kathmandu to Anandaban - a leprosy hospital.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.