Written by Dan Broadbent, Nurses in Action Team Leader
In March, eleven beautiful and compassionate nurses from across both Australia and New Zealand landed together in Kathmandu ahead of their Nepal Nurses in Action program. Filled with both excitement and anticipation, the team came together to laugh, eat daal bhat, and reflect upon the hopes, dreams, intentions and fears that were floating around their head and heart spaces before setting off on the 7-12 hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara to get the program underway!
After a slight road bump involving the entire team falling simultaneously ill to food poisoning (although it turns out nothing brings a group of humans together faster or more effectively than collective gastro!), we began our placement at the Western Regional Hospital, spread across the Paediatric, Emergency, Surgical and Medical wards. During our time in the placement, the team worked closely with local staff, as well as our amazing Assistant Team Leaders Kanchan and Jaya, to not only provide direct medical care to people in need, but also to share knowledge with the nurses there in order to help improve patient-focussed care. Many of these conversations were hugely impactful, like encouraging staff to support patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease to be elevated rather than lying flat to assist with their breathing. And whilst this might not sound like a huge deal, the result of conversations like these meant we were able to witness small shifts in practice at the hospital, which left the staff feeling more empowered and the patients receiving better levels of care.
Alongside our placement at the hospital, our time in Pokhara was filled with education sessions (to women’s groups, children’s homes, sex workers, school students, and more!) covering topics ranging from mental health, drugs and alcohol, uterine prolapse, menstrual health, UTIs, hand and dental hygiene, domestic violence, fire safety, burn prevention and management, and so many more. It is amazing to see how impactful knowledge that we take for granted back in Australia can be when shared with people who can benefit from it. For example, conversations around menstrual health are largely unheard of in Nepal, and the topic still carries a lot of traditional and historic taboo. The result of this, particularly in young women, is shame, isolation and the adoption of unhygienic practices during their cycles. Having a team of strong and inspiring nurses stand in front of a group of women and talk openly about menstrual health awareness and education, was a real game changer. Further to that, the team was able to connect with an inspirational young woman in Nepal who makes reusable menstrual pads for her community, and through her, organise to provide all of the women in these sessions with their own reusable pads! It was such a lovely outcome and speaks volumes for the above and beyond attitude the team adopted on program.
Finally, the team spent two weeks in villages several hours out of Kathmandu, where they not only continued the incredible education work that they started in Pokhara (including receiving several requests to repeat sessions for those that had missed out!), but the team organised and delivered two huge medical camps in areas where access to direct healthcare is extremely limited. During these days, the nurses would stand out under the shade of the trees, with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, and help assess and treat literally hundreds of people in need for hours on end. Their tireless efforts and generous smiles were an inspiration to witness. Additionally, due to their amazing fundraising efforts, we were able to supplement our final medical camp with a dentist and dental nurse, capable of conducting on the spot extractions and an eye camp which was able to provide glasses to those who required it. It was such a lovely addition to the camp and a beautiful way to finish our time in the villages.
All in all, our March Nurses in Action program in Nepal was a massive success! Not only did we climb mountains for sunrises and take boats on the lake at sunset, but the nurses delivered education sessions to over 250 Nepali people, and provided direct healthcare to over 450 more! The legacy of the work they conducted will live on long after the program has finished in the healthcare practices and education that continues in the hearts and minds of the people we met there. It was a profound joy to bear witness to the team’s kindness and support, not only of the communities we operated in, but also of each other. I hope we can do it all over again together one day. March NIA team, you are amazing.