Written to “higher love” by James Vincent McMorrow.
Have you ever tried to listen to the radio and count the number of times you heard the word ‘love’ in songs? Think of all the current top 40s – the word love comes up in almost every single song, and when it comes up it’s so often repeated in the chorus.
In Nepali, my name – Maya – means love. The first time I heard a Nepali song was in a taxi in Kathmandu. Although I had been told the meaning of my name in Nepali, I was surprised and excited to hear my name repeat endlessly through the radio. I was so thrilled I felt the need to document that cab ride and make it my Snapchat story…
At our first school visit in Kathmandu, during their lunch break, a group of girls sang to me a song called Maya. It was adorable and humbling and a truly special way to connect with these young, talented girls through music. I felt honoured to have a name that meant so much to Nepali people, especially in the context of music.
Soon enough, I realized that essentially every. single. Nepali. song. had the word ‘Maya’ repeated continuously. It quickly became almost usual for my name to blare through the dingy yet beloved sound system of our little bus here in Dang. However, it hasn’t seized to fill me with joy each time we dance and sing with our incredible local hosts and CP workers and my name comes up – Junu or Riya look at me with a smile while drawing a heart with their fingers in the air. These are amongst the very moments that will remain engrained in my memory from this invaluable experience – those moments when I feel so much love, joy, and appreciation coming from the inspiring local people we have met along the way.
Through the past few weeks here in Dang, I have noticed just how much love Nepali people possess, harbour, and share. We have received so much love and gratitude from our partners and community members here, and I’ve realized that this is partly because they realize that we have come a long way to do our best to help them, and our immediate goal through our needs assessment is to learn from them how we can best help them.
Although we truly have received more love than we could have ever asked for, we have at times found ourselves discouraged through the needs assessment process. With each focus group that passes, we are individually realizing just how much need there is in the Tharu community here in Dang. From the inadequate government-funded education and low literacy rates, especially amongst women, to the shear distances people must travel by foot to the nearest health post which often lacks basic health resources and experienced medical personnel, the need of this community is enormous. How do we even begin to address these issues and where does Sickle Cell disease fit in amongst the other serious health challenges that the community faces? These are questions we’ve repeatedly asked ourselves throughout the process and are hoping to find answers to through the focus groups we are carrying out, in which we ask community members about their experiences with the Sickle Cell process and the health system in general.
Throughout this experience, I have realized that no matter how hard we try, as outsiders, we could never truly grasp all of the health challenges that this community faces. Each day of work on the needs assessment, new health issues have arose. We have found that especially in predominantly female groups, a large number of women’s health issues have come up. From what seems like high frequency of uterine prolapse to the low numbers of female doctors in the region resulting in women feeling too shy to come in for pelvic exams when they have pain, it seems like women’s health issues are amongst those problems that get put on the back burner as there is so much other need in the community. Between the low access to medical care due to distant travel to the nearest clinic and the few available treatments or medications (there isn’t even a fridge at the health post to keep medications below the scorching 37 degrees outside), as well as the low level of hygiene leading to frequent infections, especially amongst young children, issues like maternal health, women’s health, and mental health seem to get left behind. Too many children die young from things as treatable as diarrhea and pneumonia; too many mothers are at risk of death on their way to the hospital when giving birth due to the lack of local resources and shear distance to the nearest large medical centre; suicide is one of the leading causes of death amongst women of reproductive age across Nepal; and young children with undiagnosed Sickle Cell disease in the Tharu community are at risk of premature childhood mortality and morbidity. With basic health and hygiene education being one of the community’s dire needs, and with communicable diseases being at the forefront of local health care workers’ minds, these other issues get neglected and awareness about them is poor.
So how can we, as first year medical students from Canada, make a real difference in a community that has so much love to give yet so much need? This is a question we are collectively trying to learn from and continuously address throughout the project.
As other members of the team have talked about in previous posts, we have been doing our best to address the needs we see as they arise in our needs assessment. While screening for SCD is ongoing in the local health post with the help of the funds we raised and many of your generous donations, we have been focusing on raising awareness of Sickle cell disease in the community to encourage screening, specifically amongst young children. We have done this via the medium that the community had articulated to us would be most effective – theatre! (a pleasant and exciting surprise for me!). As well, we have been raising awareness amongst mothers through approaching CP’s mother groups and training their facilitators to teach about SCD.
Although the amount of need we are continuously discovering here is overwhelming at times, we feel happy with the goals we are working to achieve, and most importantly, the local community seems pleased with and grateful for our work. In the past few weeks, we have learned how important it is to recognize our limitations, and while realizing the immense amount of need in the community, to try and not let it discourage us, as it takes one step at a time to make a difference. We can’t expect ourselves to tackle all of the health issues of the community at once, but we can only hope that the love we are receiving from the Nepali community will continue to fuel us and future groups to continue and make a difference for the incredible people of this region.
With Maya (love),