Thursday, 17 July 2014

Traveling with Purpose: Learning About Nepal's Medical System First Hand

Image courtesy of Projects Abroad

Claire Bonneau is about to enter the second year of her Biological Sciences Degree at the University of Alberta, and decided to spend a portion of her summer learning about foreign medical systems. Her curiosity lead her to the Chitwan Medical College in Bhartpy, Nepal.

Her story was originally published by Projects Abroad.

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How was your journey getting there?

I have never traveled anywhere on my own, let alone across the entire globe. I had to take three flights – Calgary to Vancouver (1 hour), Vancouver to Guangzhou (13 hours) and Guangzhou to Kathmandu (5 hours). I got incredibly nervous during my flights, resulting in my being sick for the entire flight to Guangzhou. By the time I arrived in Kathmandu, it was 2:30 in the morning, I had no food or water in my stomach, and I was absolutely terrified.  Thankfully, the Projects Abroad staff picked me up from the airport and took me to my hotel without a problem. 


After a day of sleeping and being sick in Kathmandu, I took a six-hour bus to Bhartpur. I will never forget this bus ride. They had a road wide enough for one lane of traffic being used as a two-way highway, weaving through the mountains on dirt roads. My bus had a couple goats on the roof, just along for the ride. I felt very lost and alone, and I remember wanting to call my parents to beg them to let me come home. But am I ever glad I didn’t, because once in Bhartpur I had such an amazing time.

So, where did you stay?

I was fortunate enough to stay in the home of Kamala and family. Kamala (or Ahma, which is mother in Nepali) and Baba (father in Nepali) were very kind to me, always asking about my day despite the slight language barrier. I had three house siblings, Rishma, Rushan, and Rupak, all of which were lovely and excited to hang out with me whenever they had time. For the first week I had no roommate, so I spent a lot of time with the volunteer living in the house next door (the houses were so close I would climb into her room from my rooftop). I ended up getting a roommate a week into my placement, which was an amazing experience. She was from Norway, and the two of us became very good friends. 

How did you learn about the medical system?

Image courtesy of Projects Abroad


[I was placed as a volunteer] in the Chitwan Medical College. Each week [the other volunteers and I] were given the opportunity to change wards. In my four-week time at the hospital, I spent most of my time in the ER, Maternity, and Operation wards. The Nepali hospitals are nothing like the hospitals we have here in Canada. For one, they have frequent power outages, which despite the hospitals best efforts to use back up generators for continuous power, still resulted in many vital machines turning off at any given time. Despite the challenges, the hospital is well run, and I got to see many very interesting things. In ER I saw many RTA (Road Traffic Accident) victims, broken bones, and unfortunately a couple suicide cases. One day, a man came running into the ER with a bandage over his hand, as he had accidentally sliced off all four of his fingers using some farming equipment. Despite how gruesome some of the accidents were, it was amazing being able to see how all of the doctors reacted. In Maternity, I saw a natural birth, and got to hold and play with a four-day-old baby. As maternity is a bit of a slower ward, I got to know the nurses very well, all of which were very nice and social.  Finally, my last week was in Operations. I saw multiple C-section births, multiple gall bladder removals, and various other smaller operations. It was the best week of my time in Nepal. 

Were you able to experience Nepal outside of the hospital?

Though we were very busy during the week, all volunteers were allowed to travel the country over the weekends. This was the best way to make friends with the other volunteers, and an amazing opportunity to learn about Nepal. On my first weekend I went to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. An absolute MUST if you are in Nepal. The Maya Devi Temple was absolutely stunning, and really captures the religion and culture of the Nepali people. On my second weekend I went to the Chitwan National Park, were I went on a safari, visited an elephant breeding center, rode an elephant, bathed with an elephant, and bird watched. Though this area was obviously designed for tourism, riding an elephant is not something I was about to pass up. And it didn’t disappoint. Finally, my last weekend was spent in Pokhara, where I went paragliding. 

Image courtesy of Projects Abroad


Strapped into a harness with my guide, we ran off the edge of a mountain and glided around the valley for about fifteen minutes. The view was absolutely breathtaking. Though my weekend trips make me seem like quite the adrenaline junkie – I honestly am not. But being in such a beautiful country full of wonderful locals and volunteers really brought out the best version of me, and used that energy to capture every moment I could.

How was the trip home? What did you learn from the experience?


I took the same grueling trip home, but I made it safe and sound, ready to share my experience with my friends and family. I am so grateful for my time in Nepal, as it has shown me my passion for medicine, but also my interest in world cultures. Overall, Nepal is an excellent country with much to offer. 



Now that I am home and preparing for my second year of University, I am very grateful for my time spent in Nepal. The time spent in the hospital was a real eye opener, and has created a stronger push inside of me to get into medicine school. I also plan on taking a course in anatomy, as I fell in love with the physiology of human beings while witnessing operations first hand.  I would recommend travelling with an educational purpose to anyone, especially those who don’t quite know what he or she wants to go into. It’s a great way to learn first hand what you are passionate about, and all of the local people are incredibly encouraging and kind. My trip to Nepal has changed my life, and I am incredibly grateful for my experience. 



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1 comment

  1. Way to go Claire! Fantastic! What an outstanding way to learn about the world's medical systems, cultures and languages. So glad you chose Nepal: a country filled with warm people and incredible geography. I lived and worked in Nepal for nearly three years as a French teacher (of all things), and had the opportunity to meet a variety of medical practitioners, some of whom were working on HIV/AIDS related projects (education and prevention). Did you get the chance to visit the Patan Hospital in Kathmandu? I wish you the best of luck in your studies and hope you get the chance to visit again someday!

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