Health Camp in Koshi Flood Area – Part 2
Theme: Community Service
Route: Kathmandu – Vantabari (Koshi Barrage) – Rajbiraj – Bhardaha
Duration: 3 days
Date: September 19-21, 2008
Team: RajeshP, Dr. Samir Ale, Dr. Savya Nepal, Dr. Umesh Khanal; AshayT, BhaskarB, BhimsenN, BikeshR, DeepakM, DijupT, GaneshT, PallaviS, SabeenS, SushmitaP, UpasanaR, VishnuK
Photos: DijupT, BhaskarB, SabeenS, BikeshR, GaneshT
Creative Support: DijupT, DhilungK, BhaskarB
Post Editor: Pallavi Sharma
Trip Summary: BhaskarB
D2 organized a second Medical Camp in eastern Nepal to provide medical relief to the victims of the Kosi river breach. On August 18, 2008 the Kosi river broke through embankment at Kusaha in Nepal and submerged several districts in Nepal and neighboring India. It went on to change its course (as it has been historically known to do so) to a route not taken in more than hundred years bringing about an unprecedented deluge. This was one of the worst flooding in the region that lead to a catastrophic loss and displacement of human lives.
The write-up of the first Medical Camp organized by D2 provides a good Situation Report (http://www.everestuncensored.org/3126/2008/09/04/health-camp-in-koshi-flood-area/) surrounding the tragedy.
This time around, D2’s team from Kathmandu consisted of eighteen team members. Fourteen of them were non-medical employees; two were employee doctors whereas two of them were guest doctors who had joined the team as volunteers. Volunteer doctors Sabya Nepal and Samir Ale were joining us via their acquaintance to Upasana.
Six health assistants partnered our efforts from Peoples Nursing Home Pvt. Ltd. at Pani Tanki Road in Rajbiraj-5. These local partners were liaisoned through our resident doctor Umesh Khanal. The team from Peoples Nursing Home played a pivotal role in helping us identify and settle on the most effective location. Moreover they provided invaluable voluntary help in diagnosis, patient care and in dispensing medicine to the patients. Two of these volunteers actually carried a portable microphone with them and walked to surrounding spurs informing people of the camp. They did this the whole day!
The journey from Kathmandu commenced on Friday, September 19, 2008. Two micro-vans loaded with medical and logistical supplies left D2 premises at thirty minutes to noon. The team stopped at Naubise for lunch at a road-side Thakali eatery. It was a typical shed-type restaurant, the type one finds littered across Nepalese highways. After fresh lunch, all boarded the vans geared up for a long travel down to the Terai plains.
The vans stopped at the bypass junction for a quick afternoon tea-break circumnavigating Narayanghat bazaar. Short walks, leg stretches, jokes, anecdotes, and witty conversations followed as the team relaxed their cramped muscles and sat by a small joint selling ginger tea. Forty odd minutes later, the journey resumed onwards.
Weary volunteers slowly got out at Chandranigahapur to have dinner at another road-side-shed-restaurant called Hotel Mahalaxmi. The time was around seven thirty at night. Dimly lit hanging light bulbs, mud laden wooden hearth with fires burning, words flying around in various Terai dialects were some of the lively characteristics of this place. By the time people finished dinner, all eyes were sleepy and tired – waiting to get to the final destination for the day – Lahan.
Twelve hours since leaving Kathmandu, two seasoned vehicles of D2 slowly motored in through the drive-way of Hotel Godhuli at Lahan close to mid-night. This marked the end of the first day’s journey. Soon after everybody retired to their rooms to rest for what was expected to be a very grueling second day of the trip.
At morning on Saturday, September 20, 2008, our team of eighteen started making arrangements to leave for the temporary shelters set up for the flood victims. All were awake in early dawn and had gotten themselves prepared for the long day ahead. We had good healthy breakfast at seven and left for the camps thereafter at stroke of eight. Everybody enjoyed the breakfast set of omelet-toast, paratha, banana and a cup of tea with gusto realizing that it would be the only meal for the whole day. Soon after, the vans left Hotel Godhuli and headed towards the Kosi barrage.
One of the two vehicles forked towards Rajbiraj to pickup local medical volunteers from Peoples Nursing Home. The second van went straight ahead to Bhardah and waited for the first van to arrive near the bridge. We were instructed by the superintendent of the Sagarmatha Zonal Hospital earlier in the week (via telephone calls) to head to Spur 6 where most help was needed. The local volunteer partners also agreed that Spurs 4-7 would be the best target. Once both the vans met, the team continued the drive towards the Kosi dam. There were camps A through D before we reached the barrage. Essentially they were temporary shelters of blue plastic sheets laid atop bamboo trunks.
Traveling ten minutes past the end of the bridge we veered onto a gravel road on the left of the East-West highway. On this road, camps were called spurs lending its name from the various spikes setup with sand-bags to prevent further river corrosion. This was a very narrow unpaved dirt road leading up to the actual point where the river broke the embankment. To the right side of the road we could see waters of Kosi flowing (from the breach) towards India. To the left side lay the long stretch of open land where multitude of temporary shelters had been setup for the displaced. Even beyond the dusty horizon of camp-sites the sandy shores of Kosi was visible. One of the chief medical assistants from the nursing home at Rajbiraj indicated that we should head up to Spur 7 which would be most effective as it lay near the worst affected region. All agreed and we motored on the dusty road evading hoards of semi-trucks and tractors carrying sand-bags, jeeps with United Nations, Nepalese and Indian number plates, cyclists and thronging onlookers from time to time. At one point we saw a bridge connecting East-West highway fallen down and eaten by the river.
After we drove for about fifteen minutes the enormity of the devastation was clear and right before our very eyes. The whole stretch of land on the right side (while driving north) of the road was filled with water. The flow of water got stronger and stronger as we drove northwards. We were driving almost parallel to the East-West highway now. We could see the paved highway for a while, but then soon after – it slowly turned into a muddy path and then completely disappeared. There was no highway! Trees and lamp posts erect on either sides of the once existing highway was submerged in water. We were told by locals that up to few weeks ago the highway was ten to fifteen feet under water at places. The water did seem to be receding since our last visit. In the middle of the flooded vicinity we could see islands of peoples’ home – dilapidated, roofs fallen, laden with heaps of silt and sand. It was nerve wrecking to imagine what it must have been for the victims who were sleeping unaware of the impending holocaust. Images of helicopter rescue flashed through my mind at times. In the flooded horizon, there were plenty of ferry boats. For the locals, this was the only means of going to the other side across the highway. These boats were overcrowded with humans, animals, merchandise and all sorts of small road transports.
We had travelled approximately ten kilometers on the dirt road when the road was impassable. At this point, it was not sure if we could head up to Spur 7 as originally planned. Moreover from sight and talking with the locals it was evident that Spur 7 had been moved and people located to lower spurs. So we had to turn around and it look us more than thirty minutes to turn the two vans around in that small stretch of road plagued with traffic. Soon after an ideal spot was located – it was one of the lower Spurs setup on a vast plain. The area consists of many temporary shelters setup for the displaced.
A clean and open shed was cordoned off and turned into a registration booth and medical dispensary. A second shed-turned-shelter-home that did not seem to be populated was quickly setup by the volunteers to be the clinic where patients would be checked up. A big wooden chair (the size of a bed – how lucky we were to find something like this!) lay inside the shed. On one side of this bed-chair, a bed-size mattress was placed and a soft pillow on top of it. This would be our infirmary bed. Whereas the other side of the bed was used to put medicines and other medical supplies that the doctors needed while they were taking care of the patients. In no time the eager volunteers carried chairs, foldable tables, boxes of medicines, water and set it all up for the work to begin. Rules were setup to make the proceedings orderly and easy to manage.
- Patients would queue up at the registration booth where the registration staff would take down name, age, sex, address and symptoms. This was the first screening.
- After noting it all down in a registry, the staff at the booth would provide a medical slip to the patient to carry.
- The patient would walk up and queue up at the infirmary booth where she would be medically examined. The doctor would write up the prescribed medicines in the same slip and hand it over to the patient.
- The patient would walk back to the dispensary booth and queue up to receive the medicines.
To enforce these rules and to ensure a smooth flow of operations, volunteers were placed at strategic locations. Further volunteers were rotated from their duties. It was amazing to see volunteers working the whole day in the sweltering heat (of what must have been 34-35 degree Celsius) without a single flinch or complain – always with a smile on their lips! Volunteers also supplied drinking waters to the queued up mass from time to time. The doctors themselves were busy all the time and worked on break neck speed. It took me five requests (and three of them with folded hands) to request one of our esteemed doctors to take a small break in the shade and have an apple! Such high dedication was infectious and made each moment of the camp worthwhile.
The health camp officially started from eleven in the morning. The throngs of patients kept on increasing as the day wore on. Some of us volunteers had to play bad cop (with humility though) to control an easily irritable mass. We had to smile, beg and plead to control minor scuffles that broke down from time to time between the patients themselves. One can only sympathize with what these people have gone through in the last four weeks. Per our doctors, most people were depressed. Why wouldn’t they be? When one losses home, cattle and in some cases family members – things really do not look up.
Most of the people coming in for medical examination were from Haripur and Sripur in Nepal. This time we had setup the camp in the most effective place. We were treating people worst affected by this tragedy. Once it got to 3 PM, our volunteers stopped new people from queuing up so that we could end the camp in an orderly fashion. The last of the patient – a small girl who had a suspect pneumonia was treated at around quarter past five in the afternoon.
At the end of the camp, volunteers were equally eager and helping to pack up the materials. Just before leaving the site, all gathered for a group photo to capture a day filled with selfless service. Each volunteer played a crucial part in making each event of the day successful. Some stood for hours in the open sun in managing the queue – not minding the constant beating from the hot sun. We had the same set of three to four volunteers working in the dispensary. Everybody was always smiling, willing to work where posted and always eager to lend a helping thought or hand unasked. It was an excellent feeling to see the ripe goodness coming out of their hearts and getting translated into action amidst difficult conditions. The doctors were the real hero for the day to put in the level of service that they did. Even our two drivers were working continuously in the sheds to assist the volunteers and the doctors. In all, this was a total team effort where each contributed to the fullest.
Further it was good to see that the relief effort (from the government and NGOs) was getting into much better shape that what it had been few weeks back. There were other organizations with permanent camps, some even focused on specific disease treatment! Even while we were working, a team of Nepal Army and British Rotary came near our location to setup a number of good tents for the displaced. Praying for the welfare of victims and for the displaced the team bid farewell to Spurs 4, 5 and 6 – and drove back through the dust and setting sun to Hotel Godhuli at Lahan for a well deserved supper.
One van drove straight to the hotel whereas the other careened through the lanes of Rajbiraj to drop off our local partners from the Peoples Nursing Home. At around eight thirty at night, D2 team gathered at the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a good buffet dinner in candle light (it was load-shedding at the time). The team took no time to disperse after the dinner into their rooms for a quick shower and to relax their aching muscles with a good night’s sleep.
The following morning, on Sunday, September 21, 2008 – all boarded the vans and left for Kathmandu close to half past six in the morning. The team stopped for a good breakfast at Hotel Gautam in Bardibas. The lunch was taken at around one at the Kitchen Café in Narayanghat. Some of the team members stayed back to enjoy the local sights and sounds of Narayanghat whereas one van sped towards Kathmandu. Both vans met temporarily at Malekhu for a quick afternoon tea before separating again and heading to the Kathmandu at their own pace – thus completing a full circle and culminating a very good weekend.
A Healing Process – Dr. Samir Ale
I would like to congratulate everyone on the team for a successful, well organized medical camp. Being a newcomer I did have my reservations and doubts which were soon put aside as everyone was so welcoming and friendly. The travel arrangements including the food and lodging were excellent. I really enjoyed the smooth driving of Ram Dai, listening to the interesting political and philosophical discussions in our van, punctuated occasionally by the songs playing on the mobile phones. The image of two vans traveling under a yellow gibbous moon along a dark highway is trapped in my memory forever.
I would like to thank the organizers for the wonderful opportunity to give my services to the people who had lost so much in terms of their property and also their loved ones. The medical problem affecting the people is just the tip of the iceberg. We cannot really imagine or quantify the loss that they have suffered but our simple act of reaching out may help them towards overcoming the grief and moving on with life. I know that our efforts may have relieved just a tiny part of their problem but it is very satisfying to know that we were a part of their healing process.
Thank you D2 – Dr. Umesh Khanal
This Medical Camp was well organized and it achieved its aims, objectives and goal to full extent. Congratulations to everyone for its grand success. In future, humanitarian work like this should be continued.
Fresh out of medical school, doubts vanished – Dr. Sabya Nepal
When Upasana asked us to join the team going for a health camp in the Koshi flood hit area I readily agreed, but I didn’t know what I was getting into. I had seen news reports in the media, I had felt bad about the whole situation, I had donated for the relief fund but I still did not know what to expect. Fresh out of medical school I had doubts whether I was experienced enough to help the people.
Our journey started from the D2 offices. The drive was endless. But between the lively conversations, catnaps, food breaks, my occasional upchucks (ooof!), Rajesh dai’s jokes (he, he), Ram dai’s limited collection of Hindi songs, and lots of junk food we finally, finally arrived at Lahan. We were all tired. I was very thankful for the shower and the clean bed.
The next day after breakfast we headed out to the Camp area. The mini scale “chakkajam” on the way which resolved on its own was amusing. We finally saw the Kosi barrage. Slowly smatterings of camps appeared. Blue tents and green tents. Some lucky (?) few had their livestock still with them. It was midday. I could see women cooking, children playing, men looking busy. Then we saw the former lands turned into marshland and still further up we could see the land under water. Where the water had dried up I could see pieces of clothes, lots of them. I wondered how many of their owners were still alive. We saw a funeral too, probably someone who had survived the flood but had succumbed to some disease. If one forgot about the devastation it was almost beautiful… the boats on the water, the marshes, the sun-burnt, laughing children swimming.
We finally set Camp. It was hot. It was dusty. And there were lots of expectant faces. Despite language barriers, the heat, the sweat pouring down all our faces we saw around 300 patients: men, women and children. They were mostly malnourished. Some appeared depressed. And some had come to get the multivitamins. We worked throughout the day except for a short ‘apple break’. Thanks Bhaskar dai! By evening we wrapped up and left for Lahan.
We were hungry, we were dirty and we were exhausted. And then there was no electricity at the hotel and the generator was out of work! We grew cranky, we grew restless. And it was hot! Tempers flew. Opinions floated on what to do… stay there and try to sleep despite the heat should there be another power outage; or eat and continue onwards. Thank god we stopped there for the night and what was better, there was no power outage!
The next morning Upasana and I overslept (he, he). We left for Kathmandu early (despite us). We slowly left the heat behind. (And we saw two camels on the highway!!!) We finally entered Kathmandu. I was back to the familiar.
Lastly I want to thank D2 HE for giving us this opportunity. The whole team was very friendly and the experience was one I’ll never forget.
Kailali calling – Rajesh Pyakurel
Humanity has no boundary. There are hapless and helpless people all over the world. Saw the real impact caused by the Koshi breach this time as Koshimata decided to return to her old habit and swayed southeast to her natural unnatural course. Old habits die hard. Perhaps this could have been avoided if habitation was forbidden in the Koshi delta, hindsight.
Satisfaction guaranteed. Did much more this time and delivered to the real affected, very near the spur breach. Saw other humanitarians trying to pacify the hunger and wounds, too. Mainly hunger and lack of healthcare. Could do much more time permitting. People expecting us to stay for another day. Disappointment prevails. Self-less humanitarian service does have its rewards, Bhaskar Ji, as you pointed out. Enlightened. No marketing gimmicks.
May we meet again in Kailali!
Excerpts from my diary – Pallavi Sharma
Timro naam k ho?
He said “Rosan Mukhiya”
Rosan timi kati barsa bhayeu??
He smiled at me.
I talked to Ganesh who was also present at the registration desk and said “Age sodheko nabhujheko ho jasto cha”
I tried to ease it a bit and asked Rosan timi kati saal bhayeu??
The kid said “eight”
I was surprised and happy at the same time because like most of us I had gone there with a preconceived notion that we were there to serve the hapless illiterate population. The kid even told me that he went to school and told me the name of his school which I do not recollect now.
Towards the end of the event when we were about to pack our bags and head back to Lahan, there were a lot of people gathering around the small hut where we were distributing medicines. A lot of them were women and children who were eagerly waiting for us to give them whatever surplus we had. We decided to distribute ORS (jeevanjal) packs that we had in surplus. The girls, as I saw, were those unassuming shy and reticent beings who were happy to receive whatever they got . Some of the guys however asked for more when they received a single pack of the ORS. Around the corner I saw Rosan playing with his friends. Rosan and his friends suddenly gathered around the hut when they learnt that jeevanjal was being distributed.
When I handed him a pack of the ORS, Rosan said “didi Sarvottam dinuna jeevan jal khayera ta k huncha??”
For obvious reasons, I thought the eight year old was smarter than a fifth grader in Kathmandu.
One thing that I noticed during the camp was that most of the males were literate, went to school and were comfortable in talking to us in Nepali whereas almost all of the females could only understand the local language and some of them could not even tell us their age.
It’s difficult to capture the event, the euphoria and the realization thereafter in words. It was more of an enriching experience-revisiting your own soul. At the end of the trip I was thinking to myself weekends can sometimes be much more than family, drinks and dates…………..I’m glad I opted to be part of the trip.
The biggest ship – Vishnu Kshettri
We ventured on the Medical Camp 2 for the Koshi flood victims with the generous contributions from all our colleagues and conducted the camp for about five and half hours. It could not have been possible without a shared spirit. HATS OFF to all who came in to make it possible.
There are big ships and there are small ships – the biggest of all is FRIENDSHIP!
A selfless offering of cheura – Deepak Maharjan
It was the first time that I had been part of any such camp when I decided to join the D2Medical Camp II. It was very satisfying for me to devote some of my time to assist in such a noble effort. The suffering, agony, and helplessness of flood victims cannot be exaggerated. They need to be supplied with food first if anything should work.
It was a very good learning experience for me. For instance, one of the flood affected women offered me beaten rice which she said had saved for her for evening meal. It was an overwhelming incident and I felt there was lot more to learn from. On another occasion, a middle aged man asked me to arrange two different rows, separating men and women, because he thought women had only 50% of brain in comparison to male!
All in all, a gratifying event which we all of us should be proud of.
Painful to say no more – Sushmita Pote
They say, “Change is the only thing that’s uniform”. From tiny to large, change has various forms. Sometimes Change is massive; for some it comes as a fortune while for some it comes as devastation. Kosi incident was one of its forms that dislodged a lot of people causing death of thousands more.
It wasn’t an easy job managing the queue standing for the basic treatment especially with the communication problem. Well, trying speaking Hindi, that also with mixed emotion was funny in its own way. But the bitterest moment I lived that day was when I had interrupt the queue and tell people that we won’t be able to serve more of them. I couldn’t do that, but I had to and then I did.
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