Providing health care and hope in a remote community

Published: 22 July 2015 22:47 CET

By Niki Clark, IFRC

There are 27 tiny and remote villages scattered among the mountainsides surrounding Singati, Dolakha, a once-bustling market place left devastated because of its location near the epicenter of the 12 May earthquake. Village, of course, is a relative term. Many have only five-ten homes, now makeshift shelters of tarpaulins fortified with rubble. Surrounding is relative too. Residents from these tiny hamlets walk up to five hours to reach the Red Cross clinic, which provides basic health care. The chance to see a doctor and receive medicines considered a luxury – sometimes as basic as aspirin – is worth the trek.

Dr. Johnnes Schad, a German doctor who has worked for the Red Cross in Haiti, Iraq, Gaza, Kenya, Philippines and Liberia runs the clinic. Jointly supported by the German, Finnish and French Red Cross societies, the clinic sees up to 70 patients a day.

“The day before I arrived, a woman who had suffered a miscarriage was brought into the clinic,” Schad said, shaking his head in disbelief. “A rotation of family members carried her in a basket on their backs for 11 hours to get here. And situations like this are common. It is unreal. Just completely unreal.”

While the clinic is temporary – a typical emergency health care unit runs for five months or so, depending on the situation – the supplies brought in, including X-Ray machines, medicines and medical equipment, will stay. The Red Cross is training local staff so when the permanent clinic, damaged from the earthquake and now serving as a base camp for the clinic staff, opens its doors once again, the residents of Singati will have better access to health care.

In addition to treating patients, the clinic offers life-saving transport. For the more severe cases, like the woman with the miscarriage, a Land Rover is available to take patients to the hospital at Charikot, almost 50 kilometers away. Because of the monsoon, landslides and floods often block access completely. When it is possible to drive, the conditions of the roads means a three hour trip.

The clinic has benefits beyond health care. The facility uses 2,500 liters of clean water a day to function; but the team produces nearly 10,000 liters, offering the difference to residents. And following clinic hours, 8am-4pm, the grounds remain open for children, allowing them a space to come together and play, something hard to do in this shattered community.

Sudar Khadka is 10 years old. On Schad’s second day, his father brings him from Lamidanda, a three-hour trek to Singati. Sudar has trouble walking and doesn’t speak. Before the clinic opened, there were no safe places for him to play. But here, for two hours, he laughs and smiles, the perfect innocence of childhood, watching Nepali cartoons on the French nurse’s laptop and playing badminton with a Red Cross volunteer. At 6pm, his father will carry him back up the mountain.

Bikram Shrestha, 22, is also grateful for the Red Cross presence in Singati. Before the earthquake, his family had two homes, a rental home close to the marketplace where his father worked, and another more remote home where his family lived. One earthquake took one, the second, the other. When the Red Cross delivered food to his family – now living in a tent – Bikram learned about the health clinic. Having lost his family’s livelihood, he inquired about possible opportunities and got a job registering patients at the clinic as they arrive. He is one of many local staff – translators, guards, midwives and cleaners – that the clinic is now employing. He hopes the money will help his family rebuild after the monsoon season ends.

Shrestha sees his work as a way of paying it forward to an organization that helped his community in their time of need. “I am thankful to the Red Cross,” he said. “I am proud to be part of this clinic and in my way, help out my people.”