Looking back 25 years.
Twenty five years ago healthcare in the remote areas of the Nepal Himalayas was very limited or non-existent. To reach a functioning health post or hospital may have involved a walk of many days and, with a debilitating illness or a family member to carry, this was impossible for many. Humla, the district the Nepal Trust chose to work in, is officially Nepal’s remotest and is referred to as the ‘Hidden Himalayas’. Access is only by light aircraft at great cost or a 10 day trek from the nearest road-head. It is little wonder that Humla has the worst child and maternal health records in Nepal.
In 1993 a young women from Humla – the first female from her community to achieve her School Leaving Certificate – approached two young British doctors and persuaded them to set up a health clinic in her village. The only suitable premises were in a small room in the local school. The doctors quickly realised this was not a suitable arrangement and approached the Nepal Trust to build a stand- alone clinic. This was agreed and a year later the Torpa clinic was operating and attracting patients from all over the district, sometimes from many days walk a way. In those days government clinics simply did not work and the local hospital in Simikot was little more than a glorified cattle shed. Our first health project was immensely successful and our first Trek2Build was born!
Since then the Trust has gone on to build 6 health posts and 3 birthing centres and we have contributed to improving the local hospital. One of our early nursing volunteers is remembered throughout the district with great affection by village people and some children have been named after her.
In 1996 a civil war erupted in Nepal and lasted for 10 years. The remoter western districts became hotbeds of Maoist resistance and central government had little influence or support outside the district centres. All government departments were removed for safety and most aid agencies had to leave. Those that remained were vetted by the Maoists and only allowed to continue working if considered to be genuinely supportive and produced what they had promised. The Nepal Trust was allowed to remain without too many problems and we continued our health post construction programme and expanded our health education training. Our very first health post at Torpa was trashed during this time but we went back later and rebuilt it.
We ran a number of health camps in Simikot during this period supported by Nepali and foreign professionals. These camps highlighted the desperate need for reliable medical healthcare in these remote regions. Hari Bahadur Shaji with his wife and young son trekked for 7 days to reach the health camp. Sadly his son died before they reached help, delayed by Maoist insurgents who controlled the entire district of Humla outside Simikot. Three of Hari’s four children had now died.
Six year old Rhita was carried in severe pain and discomfort on her father’s back from the village of Mailla a good six day walk to the health camp. She was diagnosed with a bladder problem that required an operation. Rhita was flown to Nepalganj and was successfully treated. It was her first sight of a motor car and her first flight in a plane! These are just a couple of examples of the need for a reliable healthcare service in the Hidden Himalayas. Although health and medical facilities have improved immensely since those days the difficulties of trying to operate in such a remote area with hardly any of the infrastructures we are accustomed to makes it difficult to reach help quickly. However, there is now clear evidence that general health is improving mainly through our health education programmes like Little Doctors and maternal health. Stomach and respiratory diseases have decreased significantly as basic personal health knowledge increases.
Our future 5 year plan, now going through final agreement with the government, includes the construction of 3 new health clinics/birthing centres in south Humla as per government approved design. We will continue to support our existing health/birthing centres and support our child health education programme (80 students per year) and maternal health education programme (150 women per year). All will be delivered through our local partner, Self Help Promotion Centre-Nepal (SHIP) in full collaboration with the Humla District Health Officer.
We continue to provide new opportunities through education and providing services. Our renewable energy programme expands and helps to provide new economic opportunities and cleaner and healthier homes and workplaces. Agricultural opportunities are developing rapidly as we demonstrate new methods and ideas. Tourism is expanding rapidly as the ‘Gateway to Mount Kailash’ attracts more and more tourists. Our tourism training and development support has produced dividends. We will continue to support school development and expansion where needed in the district.
This is a very brief summary of where we are today. Much has been achieved over 25 years but there is so much more to do. There is a light at the end of the tunnel as self- sufficiency draws closer but that is still some way off. We thank you for all your past and continued support. Please continue to help if you can and do tell your friends about us. I know the world seems to be full of disasters asking for your help and we all feel we must do something, but the remote corners like the Hidden Himalayas tend to get forgotten. There is a real need to save these beautiful but fragile parts of the world.
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