Trip Notes: Meredith on Navigating Nepal

By: Meredith Baker, Program Manager

Mark and I at the top of the summit! Just kidding... Monkey Temple.

Mark and me at the top of the summit! Just kidding… Monkey Temple.

 

The beautiful Summit Hotel in Kathmandu overlooks the bustling city below, nestled between sloping hills which sit comfortably in the shadow of regal snow-capped mountains. It is also full of International aid workers, because naturally, everyone wants to work in Nepal.  The government estimates in fact that there are over 15,000 individual organizations working in the country throughout all sectors. As you can imagine, I was a little hesitant to dive in and start navigating the waters of partnership building in such a highly saturated ecosystem, but my fears were quickly assuaged as we jumped right in and got to work (shout out to Joon and Ravi at UNICEF Nepal for being such wonderful guides during our first hazy 48 hours!).

Mark and I spent several days in Kathmandu meeting with various stakeholders from our partners (UNICEF and WHO/CDC), to key people from the national ministry of health, and various consultants and experts from the immunization, technology, and health system strengthening space. It was an exciting, informative, and exhausting first week to say the least!

If we thought we might get a nice relaxing weekend, we were mistaken. Instead, we worked with WHO to organize a site visit to Nawalparasi in the terai region, one of two districts in which we will be implementing in early 2015. As someone so aptly explained to us, Nepal is laid out like a sidewise strip of bacon: the top golden brown layer is the mountains, the stripy red/yellow middle part is the hills, and the deep red piece that runs along the bottom is the terai. As it turns out, we will be working along the delicious bottom strip of the country that shares a border with India.  Much like fresh bacon, Nawalparasi is sizzling hot.

Busy streets in Nawalparasi.

Busy streets in Nawalparasi.

Despite the steamy temps, we had an incredible couple of days with our colleagues from WHO, CDC, and the US Fund for UNICEF (have to insert another shout out here to Susanna, Keiko, and Michelle for being such great travel partners!). Not only were we all graciously welcomed by the District Health Office staff, we were able to gather almost all of the information necessary for our initial project planning after visiting several different types of health facilities and speaking directly with facility managers and community health workers. We saw that Nawalparasi has a very well structured vaccine delivery system and can even boast that it is a fully immunized district! Like any project, this one will not be without its challenges, but it’s always a huge advantage to have such support from a local level and we certainly found that in Nawalparasi. As a small cherry on top, we were able to find a few hours in our busy schedule to visit Lumbini, the sacred birthplace of Buddha. Even in the rain, there’s no denying that this is a beautiful place that compels one to pause, and self-reflect. It was a wonderful way to mark the midway point in our busy trip.

With health managers in Nawalparasi.

With health managers in Nawalparasi.

Our second week found us back in the smoky hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, meeting with some inspiring and impressive NGOs and attending an eHealth strategy workshop organized by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, showcasing both local eHealth projects and organizations as well as those from around the world. It was so cool to see so much capacity around using technology to improve health outcomes. We left the workshop feeling more motivated than ever to get to work and find our place in this rapidly developing and innovative health system.

All in all, the trip was a huge success. It’s near impossible to sum up all of the things we did and saw and what a different experience it was for me to see this part of the world. We owe a great deal to our amazing friends and colleagues both in Nepal and in the US for making it all happen. There’s certainly another trip in our near future to visit our second district (Dadeldhura in the Far West) and I’m excited to share this beautiful country with the rest of our team. For now, I’ll leave you with some Buzzfeed worthy trip highlights. Namaste!!

At our wonderful Newari cooking class.

At our wonderful Newari cooking class.

 5 Things to Never Do Around Monkeys

  • Eat. Seriously, they will steal everything and you will be hungry.
  • Ride bicycles past them quickly. Apparently, you will invoke a terrifying hissing sound.
  • Take their picture. They will smell your weakness for dumb tourist souvenirs and exploit it.
  • Give them your “empty” bottles. Unless you want that last half an ounce sprayed all over your shirt as they proceed to turn the bottle into their new favorite chew toy game.
  • Hiss at them to go away. I’m looking at you, army guy at the airport. Not helping, they’re just getting angry.

 8 Things to Buy in Nepal

  • Tiny Buddhas. Statues for all your friends and family so they know how worldly you are!
  • Prayer flags. To decorate your neighbors cubicle.
  • Tiny Buddhas.
  • Yak wool shawls. Mostly because they’re all on sale during the summer (bargain!).
  • Tiny Buddhas.
  • Anything Kama Sutra related. Seriously, you can get anything.
  • Tiny Buddhas. (You can really never have too many.)
  • Singing Bowls. For the healing powers, and to distract people in meetings.