Analysis

Experience in Nepal sends Idaho Falls nurse on a new path

Jerry Painter

american-woman-in-nepal

Idaho Falls registered nurse and mountaineer Molly Brazier was preparing for her trip to Nepal two years ago when she sought out a Pocatello physician who had experience in the South Asia nation.

After speaking with Dr. Fahim Rahim, her plans and life changed.

Rahim asked if she could make a delivery of medications for him to a medical clinic in a rural village in the Solukhumbu region of Nepal where many of the big mountains begin. The trip would entail riding in a small plane to land in Lukla, often called the “world’s most dangerous airport,” basically a landing strip on the side of a cliff — then a two-day trek with Sherpa porters to the mountain village to deliver the supplies.

“It sounded amazing,” Brazier said. “It happened that they needed a shipment of medication. … I dropped off the medication and got some basic information about how things are going at the clinic and hung out for a couple of days.”

Brazier, who serves as medical supervisor at Behavioral Health Crisis Center of East Idaho, said she was immediately captivated by the Sherpa people in the village of Waku Hill.

“They are extraordinarily kind and generous,” she said. “There’s a lot of cultural emphasis on being a good host so they treat you like royalty. It’s ridiculous. They have this ceremony when you first come into the village where they wrap silk scarves around you to welcome you to the village. … and give you rice wine which they homebrew everywhere.”

Brazier found dirt floors at the clinic, a rudimentary rock building with no plumbing, no electricity and a health worker lacking equipment and supplies. The clinic serves about 170 households in the village and is the only clinic for several walking miles. She wanted to help.

The clinic started in 2008 by a California donor and is now funded in part through the JRM Foundation, founded by Rahim and his brother Dr. Naeem Rahim who also started the Idaho Kidney Institute and several other health care ventures. Part of the clinic’s funding comes from Climbing4Humanity and Hike4Humanity, fundraising projects started by Rahim.

Brazier returned to Nepal this past spring with the Climbing4Humanity group to help out at the clinic and attempt to climb nearby Island Peak at 20,305 feet. One of the Sherpa guides on the trip is also Waku Hill’s political leader, Ongcchu Sherpa. Climbing4Humanity draws attention to the need to attract donors.

Brazier said the clinic faces several obstacles. There’s a language barrier, communications challenges — “There’s one hill in the village that you can get cellphone reception,” she said — transportation issues (two days walk to the road) and funding needs.

The major 2015 earthquake in Nepal destroyed most of the clinic.

“It would really be nice to get them a stronger building,” she said. “After the earthquake when they rebuilt it, it’s structurally kind of scary. It could be falling over any minute. The windows are rotting out and the stones are not stable.”

Brazier said supplies to build a new clinic have to come from Kathmandu hiked in on foot.

“You have to pay salaries for the porters and pay for the supplies and pay for a structural engineer out of Katmandu to coordinate the whole thing,” she said. “There’s more fundraising that needs to be done to pull it off.”

One advantage is that western dollars go a long way in this country ranked the poorest in South Asia and 12th poorest in the world. The JRM Foundation and California donor fund the clinic with $3,000 per year. That pays for the health worker and supplies. The village residents match those funds.

To get supplies to the clinic, health worker Sanju Khaling makes a request to a coordinator in Kathmandu. The supplies are shipped to Lukla and hiked into the village.

Brazier said going in and out of Lukla is an experience.

“The runway ends at a cliff and you’d better be flying at that point or you’re in trouble,” she said. “It’s amazing flying up there through the Himalayas. You see the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. You’re at 9,300 feet when you land. You just came out of this big, smoldering, overly crowded bustling Asian city and all of a sudden there’s fresh mountain air and it’s cold and there’s these legendary Sherpa faces huddling around in Patagonia jackets and mountaineers that you read about in articles that are getting off the plane with their packs. It’s really the launching point for all of the great expeditions that ever happened in the Himalayas. It’s a pretty spiritual place.”

Brazier said she still keeps in touch with the clinic via the internet and hopes to return in the spring. She said the experience combines the three things she loves: global health, mountaineering and travel. She would like to join a new project to increase early detection cancer screening in rural Nepal. In the long term, she is interested in starting her own nonprofit project to support health care in the country. She also is in graduate school to become a nurse practitioner.

“There’s such a need there, it’s very humbling,” she said. “Being involved in support of the clinic is my favorite thing I’ve ever done.”

Originally published on postregister.com on 6 November 2018

Published on Lokantar on 7 November 2018

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