dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

From the Ground Up
By Evelyn - 7 Feb, 2000

Page 3 of 3

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But the most people the Gurungs have had to feed and shelter at once is well beyond the number of seasonal trekkers on vacation. Two years ago a doctor friend of Nila's working in Siliguri—a city 90 kilometers away—solicited Nila's help to organize a one-time free health clinic for the mountian villagers of the Darjeeling Hills. Her doctor-friend went door-to-door collecting extra samples of medicine and asked his colleagues to volunteer for one day for the event (they baited doctors with views of Everest and Kanchenjunga). On her end, Nila put up flyers about the clinic in nearby Jaubari, the active commercial village we walked to, and people from neighboring villages spread the word to further outlying areas. On the day of the clinic, Nila's brother in Maneybhajhang paid the jeep service to transport the doctors up the mountain. They took walks, and satisfied with the views, sat down to treat the 200+ villagers that showed up over the course of the day. The Gurung family provided tea to all who had come; at night, they fed and housed the doctors and those villagers who had journeyed an entire day to reach Tumling. The Gurung's accepted no money for their troubles.

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After the first clinic in June '99, another was held in December '99 in which over 400 people came. Given the need for rudimentary medical care and the lack of it, Nila and the doctors would like to it to be a bi-annual event. Not all patients who turn up desperate for help can be diagnosed, let alone be treated or prescribed the proper medication. Mostly, doctors are only able to give consultations and distribute samples that they have managed to procure. One girl from a nearby village showed up with advanced tuberculosis—there was nothing anyone could do for her. Another child had a chronic eye condition which required the expertise of opthmalogists; the best doctors could do was make a recommendation for her to see a doctor in the closest eye hospital many miles away in Nepal. Some traditional herbal rememdies are also practiced by the villagers themselves to treat minor illnesses. For the more serious preventable diseases, UNICEF runs some immunization programs that extend to the villages. But for the basic medical care that lies well beyond the means of the poorer families in these remote villages, the grassroots clinic is perhaps their only chance to get outside medical help.

Nila is not a nurse nor an administrator, but a teacher in the school her children attend. The fact that she is educated, knows English and Hindi, and has come back to Tumling makes her a link between the village communities and the cities with greater resources. It is evident that Nila recognizes her skills to be an asset and is comfortable assuming the leadership and responsibility to help improve the conditions of her community. The day we left, she had a meeting to attend in another village. "Something about the environment—probably about reducing the use of firewood, which is hard for us this time of year," she told us.

Well fed from home-cooked Nepali food, refreshed by the cool mountain air and tranquility, AND satisfied with our own momentary glimpse of Everest and Kanchenjunga, we headed back down the mountain on the third day. We never made it to Sandakphu, in fact, we barely made it past Tumling. But three days with the Gurungs convinced me of the reason why it is rewarding to trek. It's the mountains and the people, even moreso than the views. There is something incredibly grounding to be in the presence of people as simple, genuine, and resourceful as the villagers commonly encountered in the Himalayan foothills, living at one with their environment and graced by the power of the great mountains. A glimpse of life for the Gurungs got me wondering why our urban centers continue to grow, blistering, festering with too many people, too much everything. Certainly, it is not an easy life in these villages—the lack of medical care, schools, opportunities, and unending physical labour are visible manifestations of their hardships—but it shouldn't have to be this way. Things can be done to improve the quality of life of villagers, to reduce the pressures on them to abandon their villages for 'better' opportunities and lives in the cities. The draw of the mountains and the connection to her family is enough to bring Nila back.

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With a wish to do our bit to help sustain life in the villages, we left with the promise that we would help collect usable medicines for their upcoming clinic. We would be grateful to anyone knowledgeable about the legal ramifications of sending OTC (over-the-counter) and prescribed medicines both domestically within the U.S., and internationally. We will be getting in touch with Nila's doctor friend to better assess what is needed. In the meantime, if anyone is plugged into the medical profession and is able to legally obtain samples, please get in touch with us. We hope to collect together a box to send towards October 2000.




From the Ground Up

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"Pilgrims are persons in motion - passing through territories not their own - seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit's compass points the way."
-- Richard R. Niebuhr
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