Stories from Surkhet – Part 1

With Toby as the visa-holder for our stay here, more of the
focus of our blogs has rightly been on the construction work that he is has
come to do. However, never one to let Toby have all the fun, I (Pippa) have
been making sure that there are ways that I can get involved too while we are
here in Nepal.  In this series of 2 blog
posts I would like to share about my role supporting the INF therapy services
in Surkhet in Midwestern Nepal, a beautiful but crazy 12-14 hour jeep ride from
Pokhara, serving some of the most marginalised people here in the country.

I am a Physiotherapist by background, with experience in
London, Oxford and Uganda. As this included being instrumental in setting up Uganda’s
first rehabilitation centre at Kisiizi Hospital in the southwest of the country,
I have been keen to be able to find some way of using my skills and experience
of therapy in a developing country setting to serve in Nepal, where the
majority of the population have no access to any kind of quality health care at
all. As our work visa for being in Nepal is based on Toby’s role, I am on a
Spouse visa and do not have a formal work visa which allows me to work in an official
role as a Physio.  It is, however,
permissible to act informally as a volunteer advisor / consultant, which allows
me a hands-off route to use some of my experience to support the therapy work
here.  So when Megan, an Occupational
Therapist on the INF team in Pokhara, asked if I could be available to support
the therapy work at the INF hospital in Surkhet, I jumped at the chance.

Shining Hospital in Surkhet currently has 25 beds, last year
treating 162 leprosy patients and 38 in-patients with a disability.  Many have had a spinal cord injury or a
stroke. Some stay for months to complete their rehabilitation.  Many are years down the line after their
injury, having had no or very inadequate medical and rehabilitation support
since then, so many come in with completely preventable complications such as
pressure sores and contractures (permanently tight joints). 

Megan and Gegan treat patients

For more about the history and work of the Shining Hospitals
in Surkhet, Banke and Pokhara (including how they got the name!) see here:

The therapy department is small, but very busy.  Gegan and Prem, the 2 Therapy Assistants,
have been in post for many years, both having had some basic formal training in
therapy in addition to a wealth of experience. 
In the past there have been both Nepali and international Occupational
Therapists and Physiotherapists working in the department, most recently Puran,
who I met when I visited in April 2018.  After
Puran left last summer, Princy was appointed, a Nepali who has recently
completed her BSc in Physiotherapy in India. 
In the UK, a newly qualified Physio would join a team of experienced
Physiotherapists, with a structured post-qualification program of further
training and exposure to a variety of different disciplines within
Physiotherapy to consolidate experience. 
For Princy, taking on the job meant immediately heading up the
department as the only qualified Therapist! So Megan, who formerly worked in
the Surkhet Hospital as an Occupational Therapist for 9 years, asked me to
support Princy both clinically and managerially as she started out in her new
role.  My second blog will introduce you
to some of her work and patients!

Princy treats a patient with a spinal cord injury

When I was visiting in November, it happened to be INF Day,
an annual celebration held at the various INF locations to celebrate INF’s
anniversary of working in Nepal (66th this year).  This involved everyone dressing up smartly –
Nepali women rarely miss an opportunity to wear their beautiful saris, and I
was duly wrapped up in mine by willing helpers. 
A program of singing, dancing and speeches was followed by a huge feast
of curry and rice, with patients, staff and families all joining together to
celebrate the amazing work that is being run by dedicated staff, often in
difficult situations.  

Patients, carers and therapy staff at INF day.  The wheelchair user in the middle with the hat is an ex-patient, who is now employed as the hospital’s highly-skilled wheelchair technician

Let me introduce you to one of the in-patients, the lady on the right in this photo.  In the photo below, Sunita is singing a song that she had written about INF to sing on INF day.  Sunita’s story is a tragic one – as a teenager she sustained a spinal cord injury in a landslide in her village.  With no treatment available, as is typical in most places in Nepal, she spent the next 20 years unable to walk – meaning that now, at the age of 37, she is unmarried (not easy in Nepali society) and has not worked.  Her song tells the beautiful story of the hope she now has in her life – she arrived in a wheelchair, but now she can walk – I watched as she climbed the steps on to the stage using just one crutch.  Her interaction with INF has changed her life around, and given her hope for the future.  She is intelligent and charming, and would be very able to hold down a job – she is currently working with therapists to see what job opportunities can be found for her.  This is what the work here is all about – giving hope to the hopeless, those most marginalised because of their disability, disease or poverty, and giving them dignity, a future, and a place in society.  In my next blog, I will introduce you to some more of these patients.

Sunita on stage

Patient names have been changed; photos used with
permission.