My experiences in Nepal as Pre Med Student

Admittedly, I was pretty terrified to come to Nepal, but I now believe it was one of the best decisions I ever made.  The warnings put out by the US Consulate and other governments are a little worrisome right now, but in 5 weeks here, I didn't encounter a single Maoist or really scary situation, and I did a lot of Travelling.  As a pre-med student and EMT in America, INFO Nepal gave me the opportunity to learn and observe in a rural developing world environment, in conditions unlike any I had ever witnessed.  The people who run INFO Nepal are some of the friendliest, most caring and understanding people I have ever encountered - they take care of you when you get ill (Nepalese food is fantastic, but expect a little, umm, adjustment period for your stomach), they listen to you when you're homesick, and they truly make you a part of their family.   I finally made it to Ganganagar, a small village in Chitwan, where I stayed with a really amazing family who taught me everything they knew about cooking Dal/Bhat, making exceptional tea, doing laundry in the well, churning butter, making straw mats, and being extremely generous and welcoming.  At first, I was a little uncomfortable with the lack of privacy in the village (everywhere you go, Nepali people will stare at white people, expect it and get used to it), but then the fascination wears off and you can really immerse yourself in the culture.  I worked for an hour a day with ten hard-working senior students in the Ganganagar library, where we worked on making their English sound fluent, but my real purpose in Chitwan was volunteering at the doctor's office in Patihani.  The importance of rural health posts became clear to me immediately - even though there was a lack of diagnostic equipment and sterility in the office, the doctor did an incredible job with what he had.  Hundreds of patients would go untreated if not for him, as the next closest medical treatment is 16 km away in Narayanghat, and the only method of transport many people have is tying their child up in a shawl and riding their bicycle to the doctor's office.  I don't think you can come to a country to volunteer expecting to make huge changes in a short period of time - and I don't think you should.  The Nepali culture is amazing, and I wouldn't change it for the world.  But if you can teach all the kids one new word per day in English, if you can make sure that all your patients get fresh needles, your contribution will be invaluable.  As a side note, if you're going to be working in a health post with INFO, some useful things to bring are your own stethoscope, latex (or non-latex) gloves, antibacterial soap/sterilization fluid or equipment, and any posters/references you can find on Nepali words for anatomical terms.  Sometimes, the language barrier can make you a little lonely, and sometimes you'll long for the luxury of a hot shower - but if you open your heart, and make the effort to understand the circumstances of Nepali life, you'll find no better country to fall in love with.  Though I leave Nepal in two days and I'm so excited to go home to my boyfriend and family in America, I will DEFINITELY be back to Nepal - I'm very sad to leave.  The relationships I've formed here, even in a short time, I will remember forever, and my time here has strengthened my resolve to do more volunteer work abroad. 

Geri Ottaviano
06glo@williams.edu
2458 Baxter Hall
Williamstown, MA 01267 USA
413.597.2777


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