The idea of creating a service trip to Nepal is credited to our founder, Shrishti Kharel, a native Nepali, after her visit to Far Western Nepal. Her exposure to the sheer poverty and dire need for help was a powerful motivator to begin some sort of organization that would relieve those Nepalese in suffering. The nebulous idea solidified when a group of students, predominantly pre-med students and now members of the team, enthusiastically offered to take part in this intensive project. We plan to do work through fundraising and raising awareness while in the United States, then supplementing and reinforcing this work with an annual trip to Nepal.
Swastha Nepal is a recognized service group at the College of William and Mary. It is a student organization founded in 2010 in order to promote healthcare in Nepal. Our professor mentors are essential in providing us with a reliable and diverse background of the issues necessary for our project. Dr. Kevin Vose of the Religious Studies Department specializes in the religious practices of Tibet, and has in fact conducted research in Mustang, in northwestern Nepal, with a traditional Tibetan doctor and ritual specialist. He assumes the responsibility of preparing the team for the delicate task of cultural immersion. Dr. Ken Kambis, a member of the Kinesiology department, is an expert in altitude physiology and nutrition, and will prepare the team for the shock of altitude change. The professors also host a weekly research seminar, guiding us in preparing our research plan.
Our group has attempted to gain a deeper understanding of the country, and the pattern that we have observed is that limited access to health care acts as a significant contributor to the health problem. Illnesses that could be easily treated instead escalate to acute and/or fatal diseases in Nepal merely because of the lack of treatment.
We seek to distinguish this service trip from an average “run-of-the-mill” student trip by engaging in a two-pronged methodology: assisting in delivering health care with a trained medical team and carrying out research for the ultimate goal of a sustainable health system. In thinking of a sustainable approach, we hope to promote programs that are “owned” and operated by the local community. In support of this founding philosophy, we partner with Scheer Memorial Hospital to set up a health clinic with local doctors.
For the research aspect of our trip, we would like to investigate a range of issues that may constitute impediments to long-term health. Areas we will explore that constitute likely needs include nutrition, sanitation, and drinking water quality.
In addition to collecting basic objective information, such as the number of children in a household, we wish to conduct interviews in the community regarding somewhat subjective information, such as what they believe they need, what they wish to see, and how they understand the roles of traditional and modern healthcare practices. As religious belief can play a major role in medicinal practices, we will keep in mind that while we may understand some cultural practices as deleterious to modern medicine, they may understand it as beneficial for the body and spirit. Rather than rejecting “traditional” in favor of “modern,” we will empathetically analyze the community’s worldviews to identify traditional practices that can be better utilized to promote health, in so doing bridging scientific and religious perspectives on health, well-being, life, illness, and death. Therefore, we cautiously approach the interviewing method with an ethnographic and anthropological perspective.
Health is shaped by how and where we live our lives. It is passed across generations. Simply stated, poor health and poor health care are found throughout the world. Therefore, by trying to understand the issues and pursuing solutions for Nepal, we hope we are advancing and testing a model that can be used in helping solve the global health crisis and achieving health equity. As a group, we seek to go beyond the traditional definitions of health to identify promising and important policies and programs that can help each individual live a healthier life, and strengthen the ties of academic interests to community engagement.