Oh the places you’ll go

It’s been a few days since we’ve completed our project, and reminiscing now, I still can’t put the last month into words.

Let’s start from the beginning: I found the days leading up to Nepal nerve wracking. More so than I’d like to admit. It seemed unbelievable that something we had been working on for so many months was about to be set into motion. I was nervous about whether we were prepared enough, what kind of impact our team could make, and what it would be like meeting all these people we had previously only had online contact with.

(I also made the unfortunate stressful mistake of packing everything the night before we left – not my brightest decision.)

It’s safe to say that my original fears have been assuaged. I’ve been blown away by this experience. There have been such moments of growth as our team has explored, taught, and learnt in a completely different country.  Based on the people we have talked to, I sincerely believe that this project is making a difference in the everyday lives of those most effected – which was a primary concern coming in. It was empowering to listen to community members discuss sickle cell disease and their understanding about how issues could be resolved.

So here’s my long-winded, not nearly extensive enough, thank you to the people who have made this project possible:

To my favourite group of Sickle Cell Individuals. I’m proud of the fact that we were able to accomplish what we did, and that we were open to adaptations depending on the feedback we got. I’m so thankful I got to undergo this will all of you. Cheers to the best group I could have asked for.

(I can’t imagine this trip without Kevin habitually working to ensure the best wifi or Vikas’ excited exclamations as we drove through Nepali traffic. Maya – your cheer and resolve always lifted us up. And I’ll forever remember our card game nights for how Sophia’s normally calm and smiling demeanour could so quickly change to scandalized retorts. Tash – you’re such a babe for putting up with me as a roommate for a month and my inability to have a normal sleep schedule. Last but not least, thank you Mike for your infectious chortle and assuming the position of group dad, and Jesse for the late-night star watching and talks. 

You guys truly are the best.)

To all the locals we have met – you have been an integral part of our trip. To everyone at Creating Possibilities, we adore you. The work you do for your community is amazing and you made us feel so welcome. The hospitality we have been shown, from everyone here in Nepal, has been amazing.


To the people at IWEN: we’ve witnessed first hand how invested you are here in Nepal and I’m so grateful we got to meet some of your team members. Thank you Kevin and Josie for involving us in your plans and for being so kind.

A massive thank you to previous team members for always checking in and answering the questions we’ve had. And finally, thank you to all our sponsors and the people who donated to ensure this project could occur.

Farewell Nepal,


And then things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.


Dal Bhat Power 24 hour

When I arrived in Nepal, I was extremely eager to try all the new foods and immerse myself in the culture. Bought prayer flags? Check. Visit the temples? Check. Try to learn some Nepali words? Maybe. Eat Dal Bhat? Check. Check. Check. This amazing dish has kept us powered during our stay in Dang. For every night, we receive a different variation of Dal Bhat. How good is this Dal Bhat you might ask? Well our group has had it every night for the past few weeks, and every night, the plates are completely empty. For this continual intake of the mighty Dal Bhat, we live and breathe by the motto: Dal Bhat power 24 hour.

My Gecko Roomates

It all started during a very serious team discussion we were having in Maya and I’s room about the goals and direction of the project when a wild gecko appeared. I was instantly out of my seat and halfway out the door. Geckos are one of my worst fears. No matter how many times I am reassured that they are harmless, even the thought of them sends shivers down my spine.

It was a great surprise and a huge blessing that the rooms we are staying in have air conditioning, but lucky for Maya and I, the AC also happens to be the home of our gecko roommates. There is no way of getting them out once they retreat back into their den. A few days after this first encounter, I was in my room minding my own business when the gecko reappears, perching itself right above the door, preventing me from fleeing. If I place myself at a certain angle on my bed, I can avoid eye contact and so I thought calmly to myself that I would just wait for Maya to return from her phone call and rescue me. A few minutes turned into an hour, digging into dinner time, and my stomach began to rumble. I could still hear Maya on the phone and I didn’t want to interrupt. But then out of nowhere another gecko, smaller than the first, but nevertheless still a gecko, started climbing down from the AC towards the beds! Yelps escaped from my throat and Maya came rushing in to see what was happening. As soon as she opened the door I bolted out the room only to find myself almost stepping on an enormous gecko waddling across the hall. I raced down stairs and my heart rate was at a pounding 160, limbs weak and mind feeling faint.

The situation was beginning to get out of hand, there were now two geckos in the room and one wandering the halls. But the next day, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, there were two small geckos perched on the ceiling. Now we were at three. Thank goodness we had Kevin across the hall. He kindly offered to remove the geckos for us. This was not easy feat. They are lightning fast! After an hour or so of trying to trap them in a cup without chopping off their tails, Kevin successfully released the two small geckos outside. Feeling relieved Maya and I opened our books and were having a more relaxed night. But of course that isn’t the end of the story. The large gecko was back. And if possible, it got even bigger. This is really no normal size gecko like the ones you see on those phone commercials. We decided to call Kevin back, but when Maya went to open the door, a second enormous gecko jumped from the top of the door into our room! I am not sure how I didn’t wake the entire hotel that night. But unfortunately for us, Kevin was already asleep and my scream was not enough to wake him. We were told previously that geckos are attracted to light because that is where most flies will be. Out of desperation, Maya and I turned off all our room lights, took our flashlights into the hallway to try and lure out the geckos. This was futile, and it only let mosquitos into our room. There were now two large geckos in our room. If I had to describe the size, I would say it is ‘face size’. The two of them put together would be the size of my face. That night, I slept bundled up in a hoodie zipped up all the way and the hood pulled on tight. It was a restless night.

Just yesterday, the super-sized gecko showed itself again late at night. Maya was already asleep but Kevin came and attempted to catch it in silence. The pursuit brought the gecko too close to Maya’s bed that she woke and moved to my bed. This night we discovered that geckos can jump too! It jumped out of the bucket Kevin caught it in. In the end, we had to sacrifice a focus group questionnaire package to cover the bucket opening. There is no doubt that the AC still houses more geckos, but I beg them to please go into hibernation or to find a new home.
– Sophia

P.S. I would like to personally apologize to the geckos: I’m so sorry if we had stolen away your two babies and broken up your family, but I would really appreciate it if you looked for them outside because that is where we released them. Also, I’d like to give a shout out to Kevin for catching the numerous geckos, and to Maya for putting up with my shrieks every time I see something move on the wall.

Ode to Goat

Oh goat

How you frolic free,

So carelessly

With eyes so wide and heart so bold

You dare to go where none else would know


From atop a pile of boulders

To a motorcycle as a bed,

I know that if given the chance,

You would surely rest upon my head


So hears to the goat,

With eyes so wide

A special place in my heart is where they reside

For they are the true GOAT


– An original piece from Michael Jay

Back to School

Today our team returned to holding education sessions on sickle cell disease in schools in rural Dang. The students in the classrooms we visited were very eager to have us, which motivated us to do the best we could. Having done many sessions to this point, we had become confident in knowing how to tailor our teaching style to fit the unique learning style of the students. Hence, we felt that these lessons where much more refined, smoother and better at getting across the main points of sickle cell disease. Some members of the team also educated students on the importance of proper hand washing technique and general hygiene. The children were very excited to use the ‘special light’ that allowed them to see the ‘germs’ on their hands, before and after hand washing. Seeing how much the students were enjoying themselves really brought a smile to our faces. Collectively we felt that this day was a huge success.


What’s in a name?

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),


Lights, camera, action!

It was time for our second and closing night of our self-made drama! Centered around the fictional Chaudhary family that consists of a husband, wife, and 4 kids (Kevin, Alice, Maya, and Myself), the plot follows the screening and diagnosis process for sickle cell disease – and the proper steps to get treatment. We were informed that dramas are really big in Nepal, and that we could reach a large audience with this medium. So, working late in essentially one evening, our team (big role played by Maya, who took the role as director) put together a script. The main parts were played by Creating Possibilities workers while our sickle cell team members took on more minor roles, since learning the Tharu language in a night wasn’t quite possible.

For the majority of the morning and afternoon today, we worked on organizing and editing audio files from focus groups. But as the time came closer for our performance, Maya quickly got the team into gear and rehearsals were commenced. The script was tightened up with the knowledge of what worked and what didn’t from the previous performance, and we were off to the forum theatre!

I had no idea what to expect at our second forum theatre, but it turns out that it was an open area outside of a store – just as our first. No stage or fancy lights to make effects, just a microphone and amp brought from our office, which made it all the more fun. Upon arriving, we set up the amplifier and started blasting some local Nepali tunes. With some mandatory Gangnam style mixed in (Kevin’s personal favourite jam). The noise clearly alerted the neighbourhood, and people slowly started showing up with excited looks on their faces (as well as confusion as a group of Canadians danced around). After a few minutes of our absolutely fantastic dancing, we performed our choreographed dance (by Maya of course) to a well known Nepali tune, “Nira”. It involved the odd “shimmy shimmy” and thrust, which actually turned out to fit the song quite well.

As the play began, the “actors” included a lot of ad lib, and got a lot of laughs from the audience which was funny to see because we had no idea what was being said. The audience seemed engaged throughout the play and even answered some of the questions that were directed towards them. I can’t speak for the team, but I personally believe that we had more of an impact with a drama in regards to sickle cell education than we would have if we just tried to lecture. So not only was it fun, but it was also quite effective.

Below are some photos from our drama!!

IMG_1397Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 2.26.09 PMScreen Shot 2017-05-17 at 3.55.07 PM

-Jesse Spooner

Mother’s Groups

Hey everyone!

So the last few days have been jammed packed with qualitative focus groups with members of the community who have been through the screening and diagnostic process here in rural Nepal and with needs based assessments of both the female community heath volunteers and of the community members. One thing that we’ve really focused on throughout these interviews is how the people feel it is best for them to be learning in their communities.

One of the major themes that we started to see in just the first few days of our interviews in the Dang District was the emphasis of more education about Sickle Cell Disease in Mothers’ Groups. The NGO we work with here in Nepal, Creating Possibilities, runs what they call Mother’s Groups with about 30 different groups. One thing that comes up a lot is the difficulty for community members to leave their homes for the day – whether it be because of the far distance needed to travel, the lack of work and farming by taking the day off, or due to the need of caring for their children. By traveling to their communities and holding mother groups within their villages, it’s an opportunity for the women to have the education without the disadvantage of having to leave their own responsibilities for the day.


Based on all this – we decided to design a new educational module to deliver to the women of these groups to help them understand: what is sickle cell disease, what causes sickle cell disease, what is the importance of screening and diagnostics for sickle cell disease, and what is the importance of treatment for sickle cell disease. We made sure to have a particular emphasis to the mothers about the severity of the disease in their children as early as 3-6 months and emphasized the support that can be sought through our fundraising and with Creating Possibilities. We decided to hold pre- and post-questionnaires with the women to determine if the module we were teaching were effective in delivering our educational goals. Our hope is that in analyzing this information we will feel confident in leaving this module with the women who usually teach the mothers groups. Our hope is to create a more sustainable and long-term educational support for these women!


This was a super exciting day and I felt particularly so getting to work with woman’s health! Annnnndd, all the adorable babies were just a little perk.

Hope you’re all having an amazing May and will be in touch with you all soon!! Xxx

It’s Forum Theatre Time!

Where has the time gone? We’ve been powering through the past few days, as we reach the end of our project, and I can’t help but stop and think: Where has the time gone?

While other questions ran throughout my head today, such as whether or not people can be permanently sticky or who was the best back massager of the team, I kept on coming back to what a short amount of time we had left on this trip. The past few weeks have flown by. Our team has been “constantly adapting”. However, I did realize abruptly today that some things just are not meant to be adapted –  such as choosing to ignore the fact that taking antimalarials without a meal is contraindicated. Who knew a pill could cause so much stomach pain?

Stomach issues aside, we were quickly thrown into our work for the day after arriving at Unako house, our home base in Dang. Splitting up into our Mothers Group Module and Forum Theatre teams, we spent the day finalizing the modules and running rehearsals.

Mike’s starring role: Sign Holder

We worked until mid afternoon – with quick breaks for interview audio editing and dance practice – and then it was time. Our Sickle Cell Drama was about to debut.

After 25 people piled into our bus (which usually only holds 10 of us a day), we drove around the nearby village blasting music and yelling out the windows for people to come watch our play. Following the norm around these parts, we were told there was only one way to gather a crowd – dance party. After busting a move for 45 minutes in nearly 40 degree weather, we were told it was finally time to begin.

Dinesh and Barsa teaching us how to draw in the crowds.

Despite some bumps along the way in rehearsal, the Forum Theatre was a success. The audience of just under 100 community members seemed engaged, and there were many laughs as they followed along as the Chaudhary family went through the Sickle Cell process. Most importantly, I do believe the audience received valuable information along the way. With the low literacy rate in the region, it makes sense that many of the people we have interviewed have said Live Dramas would be their preferred way to learn material.

The Chaudhary children family portrait:
Maya being maternal, Kevin being pensive, Jesse and and I with not a clue in the world

We arrived back to our hotel around 7pm sweaty and dust-covered, but wholly satisfied with how things had went. Seeing everyone’s receptive faces was a great end to a long day:)

Shubha raatri (Good Night)
– Alice

Expect the unexpected

Due to my stare-down encounter with our room gecko last night (a story for another day), I bolted awake at the sound of my alarm this morning, eyes wide, ready to escape if the gecko was in site. But from my observations so far, they seem to retreat behind the AC by morning and do not come out until the evening, around dinner time. And yes, not just ‘it’, but ‘they’! We are at 3 room geckos and counting.

But back to life beyond my gecko troubles. Over the past two days, we have sunk into the rhythm of facilitating focus groups and began to accept the inevitable wet stickiness of our bums soaked in sweat after each session in 38 degree weather. The thoughts and ideas the community has shared with us are invaluable! Just from a cursory review of the information we have gathered, it is clear that there are large gaps in knowledge that we had not anticipated. After a night-long meeting, we decided it is time to accept that our trip will not be unveiling as planned (just as last year’s team had warned us of, although we were keen to over-prepare and prove them wrong), and to face the unexpected and make new plans. Originally, we only planned to teach schools and general community members in the villages about sickle cell disease. But because it is young children in their first few years of life who are most effected by the symptoms of sickle cell disease, we feel the need to put a focus on educating mothers about screening not only themselves but their children too. Partnering with Creating Possibilities (CP) Nepal could not have been a more perfect fit to take on this challenge of reaching out to the mothers of this community!

CP does amazing work to empower the women of Dang, and they have graciously agreed to help us tackle this sudden change of plans. Among the various programs CP runs, they hold Mother Groups which are a gathering of 40-60 mothers, during which we were granted a chuck of time to introduce sickle cell disease. Until late last night (and by late I mean 10pm, for in Nepali time, my bedtime is 9pm), we huddled around in bed and pumped out a new education module specifically for women in the Tharu community with little or no education background. It is our hope that these sickle cell education session will continue to be run by the CP staff leading Mother Groups 4-6 times a year.

The amount of help we have received from the CP staff and others in the community is beyond incredible! Many of the staff came around to help as we sprawled our dust covered bodies across the floors of the dinning hall to make posters in Nepali for the Mothers Groups. This was no fancy poster designed on PowerPoint and printed on glossy paper; we did it old-school style with newsprint paper, markers, colour pencils, and laminated them with masking tape! It took us all back to our arts and craft days, or at least some of us. Vikas was quick to recruit Spandan to his aid and Mike wasn’t far behind searching for Barsha to be his artistic counterpart.
As we dotted our I’s, crossed our T’s, and packed up for the day, we experienced the coolest air we have had in days! The wind was howling, bringing with it endless dust but also thick clouds that blocked the blistering sun. We are in for a night of rain with our geckos.

– Sophia