Some 20 years ago I worked as medical officer for the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers. Later I became involved with the Pahar Trust, a charity set up by ex-QGE personnel to builds school in Nepal.
When my good friend Narendra — who works in Nepal — asked me to look at a project to build a health post in a remote village, I knew I could rely on support from the team, but not financial assistance. The first step was to visit the village, Suketar — near Taplejung at the start of the trekking route to Kanchenjunga.
I set off in April, little knowing that my time would coincide with the peak of political unrest. I headed west to Pokhara first to meet up with Narendra and visit a school I had been involved with.
Unfortunately, the King had decided to leave Kathmandu for his palace on the lake at Pokhara so the unrest moved with him. After a couple of days of sitting on a roof terrace looking out over the Annapurna range through a haze of smoke from burning tyre barricades, we decided to fly back east to Suketar. We had a trouble-free flight with amazing views of Mount Everest, landed on the grass airstrip and I was soon inspecting the proposed site.
When the trust builds a school the local community must contribute between 15 and 20 per cent of the total ‘cost’ in some way. For the health post, the community agreed to provide the land, level it, break rocks for aggregate and source the timber. After several successful meetings over locally brewed millet beers, I had a handwritten agreement on locally produced paper.
We had planned to leave but increasing tension led to more rigid curfews. A general strike called by the opposition was enforced by the Maoists, so the daily flights out of Suketar were cancelled. I ended up spending nine days in this very small village where everyone knew I was a doctor and made the most of it.
The medical ‘highlights’ were several cases of dysentery and a Tibetan with liver cancer for whom I have now managed to fund a laparoscopy. I could have done without the lady who had provided my bed and meals asking me, the night I left, if she could eat and drink normally now she had finished her typhoid treatment.
There is certainly a local need for the health post — staff and ongoing costs will be met locally. All I need now is £10,000 to build it. I have already raised £3,000 from friends, colleagues and staff and patients at the health centre. Our display in the waiting room generates plenty of interest. We hope to finish the centre next summer and I will go out late 2007 for an official opening.
Dr Mitchell is a GP in Bristol