Hope in healing

Catherine Hamlin has been changing women’s lives in Ethiopia for 60 years

This article in the news this morning moved me. Not just the difference that one person has made in 60 years, nor the 60,000 women helped in Ethiopia alone, but that other surgeons have also learned these skills and provided hope and dignity for their sisters around the world too.

If you haven’t heard of obstetric fistula, that’s not a bad thing. It’s not nice. You are unlikely to have experienced a five day obstructed labour and the devastating consequences: a tear between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. A woman often loses her baby as a result of the difficult birth and is left incontinent. Consequently, the sufferer is left with a stigmatizing disability, often abandoned by her husband and outcast from the community.

Catherine Hamlin provided hope. And in sharing her skills, INF’s Shirley Heywood has been changing lives in Nepal too. Thanks to her vision, a purpose built fistula centre was completed in western Nepal in 2018 to help women in need. Not only does surgery change these women’s lives, but at the centre these women gain dignity and strength in spirit. Some ladies have even gone on to have a healthy delivery!

Lila

There are so many stories to share, but one common link: hope.

Restoring hope

“My mother gave me a second life, and so now, I just have to dance!”

I was uplifted, and I hope that in reading some of these stories you are too.

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Quiet achievements

A quiet space is often a contemplative one. It’s also an indication of busyness elsewhere! Indeed it’s been busy these last few months and quiet on this page. In a moment of escapism I was recently listening to a podcast on my way to work about an orthopaedic surgeon who in her student days was inspired by Dr Paul Brand’s biography Ten Fingers for God. A pioneer in developing tendon transfers in the hands of people affected by leprosy, Dr Brand contributed extensively to the fields of hand surgery and hand therapy, but even more importantly, worked out that it isn’t the virus itself that causes disfiguration but the loss of pain sensation which causes sufferers susceptible to injury. With this knowledge, leprosy can be now be diagnosed in the early stages at a skin clinic and antibiotics prescribed to prevent advancement and ongoing associated issues that cause stigma and isolation. INF has been diagnosing, treating and serving people with leprosy for over 60 years and continues to do so. And Dr Joan Arakkal went on to specialise in orthopaedics.

But there is so much more…excitingly the GRACE project that eventuated from the proposal I helped with in my first days at INF in Nepal [Back to work] has successfully rebuilt, in cooperation with the local government in Gorkha, five hostels attached to public schools in the earthquake affected district. This means that students with disability from remote areas, unable to otherwise access school, can attend – the definition of rebuilding inclusive and resilient communities, particularly for people with disabilities. (GRACE project)

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I attended the INF Australia planning day last month as the Board and staff strategized for the coming year. It was an encouraging day, as always, looking at INF’s mission and how to achieve that.

To be agents of hope and wholeness, serving Nepal’s poor through Christ-centred health and development.”

Wow! It’s quite an honour really, and I feel humbled as I take time from the busyness of life to serve Nepal’s poor in the best way I can at this moment from the comfort of my kitchen stool, the discipline of hours reading at the dining table, meeting via Skype hook up, or just sharing my passion for the amazing achievements being made to uplift the marginalised in this pocket of the world.

I hope you can be inspired too: Punam’s story

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Where two worlds meet: the gift of a simple basket from a self-help group in a poor area of Kapilvastu and the honour to share their story of uplift and empowerment

Mountains and Valleys – Journeying through Nepal

Yesterday was INF’s 66th birthday. Sixty six year of serving the poorest of Nepali people through health and community development. So it was an apt happenstance that we held our INF event in South Australia to share about some of the amazing work being achieved. It was an opportunity for our friends Julie and Terry, while home in Adelaide for a few weeks, to go into the details of how this is achieved through new development at Green Pastures hospital, the newly opened Fistula Hospital in Surkhet, child and maternal health programs, and of course I was able to again tell the stories of hope and empowerment provided through income generation and for those with a disability [read Khem’s story here: A road well travelled]. Poverty is affiliated with so many detrimental aspects, and yet we were all inspired to believe that with community involvement in development, people can be empowered and poverty is not inevitable [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8PY16Gefr8].

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Women speak of the confidence gained in meeting together and being able to have a voice

After a refreshing afternoon chiya, INF Australia’s Comms Officer Cherry led attendees through a simulation game of surviving, season to season as poor, subsistence Nepali families. I watched on in the role of Community Worker, how each group struggled to make ends meet to feed their family each year, with the challenges of climate destroying crops, disability reducing ability to work, and family members being forced to migrate to “India” to work. Through attendance at our “Self Help Group” meetings [link], members learned of the rights of people with a disability and a disability card entitlement. We also liberated some women from the practice of “Chhaupadi”, the practice of banishment to a cow shed during menstruation for being unclean which renders women unable to participate in everyday activities including working to earn money and cooking. The game is tiresome and thought provoking; feedback in the debrief even suggested “frenetic”, such was the strategy to survive!

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A group considering their options as they look over their fields and crops

 

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Zac is elated to be alive!

The evening culminated with dal bhat for dinner. A perfect way to celebrate a Nepali birthday!

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Life in all it’s fullness

Life in all its fullness picture

“Her eyes lit up…” said Naomi Reed as she shared of the response to meeting a group of women now part of a self-help group in a small village in Jumla, a remote district in western Nepal. “We have found our voice,” the ladies told her. “We have confidence in ourselves and we are able to address our problems.”

Naomi’s words clearly spoke of INF’s mission and the theme for the event that we attended in Sydney on Saturday, “Life in all it’s fullness.” Not only providing physical healing through hospitals, clinics and community development programs, but empowerment for the poorest of people on the margins of society to enable them to live life to the full.

 

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Naomi shared stories of INF’s impact – a confidence bringing life in it’s fullness

The day itself was filled with encouragement as we heard from staff, friends and volunteers about INF’s work amidst the challenges. I met fellow board directors (having attended meetings by Skype so far!), loyal supporters, old friends and made new friends in the amazing INF family.

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Old friends and new!

The Nepali Christian Church cooked up a mountain of fabulous momos and my favourite achar – derai danyabad! And, if that wasn’t enough packed into a day, the boys loved the simulation game facilitated by Ben, INF Australia’s Relationship’s Manager. In the game, family groups were each assigned a surname (which is akin to your place in society, and consequently status and wealth), some land (or very little) and then we struggled through the seasons to survive – planting, harvesting, foraging for wild foods and even sending the boys off “to India” to earn money! Being a matter of doing whatever we could to earn enough money to buy food for each family member, it was a powerful illustration of a subsistence existence and the difference that education and income generation can make through a community development program.

Simulation game

Family groups, above, strategise planting and harvesting through the seasons – we were literally counting our beans!

So, that’s why we were in Sydney for the weekend – spotting the iconic sites was simply a bonus!

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*Thanks Inge for your photos – I was too busy talking 😉

 

 

 

 

Return to Nepal

It’s been (nearly) two weeks since returning from Nepal! Amidst the busy pace that is this time of year though I have had a few moments to reflect on the return trip that I feel very privileged to have been able to undertake (thanks Tom and the boys!). High time then to share a few of the highlights –other than extended transit in travel, there were really no lows at all.

It was with both interest and excitement that I joined a field visit to Gorkha, the district of the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake, to look at some of the post-earthquake re-building underway. Having contributed to the proposal document for the GRACE (Gorkha Rehabilitation and Community Empowerment) project and reading some of the updates, I was particularly enthused to be able to visit. Sharing the journey with some of INF’s living history was a bonus! On board the bus to Gorkha were women who had lived in Nepal for years in the 1970s and 80s, a selfless time before electricity and flushing toilets. One shared with me that the last time she had been to Gorkha there were no roads. “It took four days to walk from Pokhara,” she told me. As we sped around blind, dusty corners I tried to be thankful that we were now able to drive, whatever precarious position that left us in, although each time we met a vehicle on the narrow road I thought perhaps I would rather be on foot. We also had a couple of structural engineers with us who confirmed that the earthquake resilient homes finally being constructed have in fact been constructed to earthquake standards. It has been a frustrating time of delays with the building, including governmental delays agreeing with policies and building guidelines, however having buildings that meet the required standards appears well worth the wait in the long term scheme of it all. I also particularly enjoyed some school visits, where in the reconstruction disability access has been included, such as wheelchair ramps.

Gorkha

Gorkha: A concrete foundation and steel reinforced columns at the beginning of house construction (note the earthquake damaged mud brick home behind); the blind alphabet hung up on the newly painted school wall; wheel chair access at a re-constructed classroom

 

INF day was celebrated as INF day always is – many speeches, some music and dancing, awards (notably for over 25 years of service) and dal bhat. What celebration would be complete without it?

INF day

Happy 65th birthday to INF!

 

The INF conference provided a time to celebrate achievements with the INF family from around the world and across Nepal, while also looking ahead to the future. It lived up to the theme of “Together for Nepal,” some highlights being client stories of empowerment. One lady who had hidden in the forest for 60 years has now been treated for leprosy and was looking forward to the elections, where finally, “my voice counts”. Another lady of the low caste Dalits shared of the confidence she had gained through a self-help group and is now an elected member of her local ward, gaining recognition not just for herself but a whole segment of the community, particularly speaking up for equal opportunities for education.

At the conference I ran a short session on story writing – with great attendance much to my surprise! And following the conference I spent two days with 25 INF staff from across ten districts doing a hands on story writing workshop. The participants visited INF’s hospital and income generating farm to collect stories that we could work on over the two days. We practiced the ideas of setting the scene, explaining the activities and then tying in the impact with the project goal. I loved the “aha” moments where it fell into place and feedback from the participants as they explained how much more confident they were now they understood how to better tell a story. The real feedback will be in reading the next case studies that come by…

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It was a surreal time, living back in our old neighbourhood but merely passing through. A wonderful time spent catching up with friends and neighbours, former colleagues, various projects we support and consuming lots of food: 12 dal bhats in 13 days, momos, samosas, sel roti with Ranjita. So much the same, so much has changed. The mountains continue to form a magnificent backdrop to Pokhara, which is undergoing rapid development. But that’s an update for another day.

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A new season

It’s been a few weeks since I posted and as the days speed on by the details get lost in the chaos. So it’s a modest announcement that (yes, a few weeks ago) I was offered a position on the board of directors for INF Australia. A new direction, hence a new season for me with INF!

My first foray into this role will be on a return trip to Nepal. Exciting! I’m coinciding my trip with INF day (17 November), an annual celebration of INF’s birthday, INF’s Together for Nepal conference, a couple of board meetings, and some training workshops on my favourite subject: ‘Story Writing’. An over-packed itinerary, with a field trip to Gorkha to see some of the post-earthquake rebuilding (At work) thrown in for good measure, and I look forward to sharing more soon!

In the meantime, what does a director do?

My role with the Board of Directors is to work in conjunction with INF Australia’s Chair and other Board Directors to be responsible for the governance of INF Australia, ensuring and monitoring that the organisation is performing well, is solvent and is complying with all legal, financial and ethical obligations; monitoring and supporting the work of INF Australia; and assisting with setting the strategic direction of the organisation and delivering its objectives.

Hmm, that should ensure I don’t see any television for the next three years!

But it’s all good. I am still excited by the encouraging work INF does, in challenging environments, to uplift the poorest of the poor in Nepal. And even more excited that I’m still part of the INF family, albeit in a different role, and that the decisions we make will continue to positively impact the most marginalised in one of the poorest nations of the world.

For more stories check out my book: http://arkhousepress.com/four-seasons-in-nepal.html

Group meetings

Uplift in Kapilvastu: women in the self-help group indicate who has received a goat; my gift of a basket; the mother’s group

Next steps – Four Seasons available on line

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So it seems writing a book is the easy part. With marketing comes the hard work! Words flow as I tell stories but now I need to expand my networks so that the stories behind this cover are discovered.

Excitingly now Four Seasons in Nepal is available for purchase on line, wherever in the world you are! And, wherever that may be, you can help me by sharing your thoughts as simply as a rating, or writing a few words on a review.

Where can you find me? Here, there and everywhere:

Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Four-Seasons-Nepal-empowerment-developing/dp/0648084515

Amazon UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Four-Seasons-Nepal-empowerment-developing/dp/0648084515/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501238978&sr=8-1&keywords=Nicola+McGunnigle

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/four-seasons-in-nepal-nicola-mcgunnigle/1126859688

Angus and Robertson

https://www.angusrobertson.com.au/books/four-seasons-in-nepal-nicola-mcgunnigle/p/9780648084518

If you’re on Goodreads, then please look me up and follow my posts. If you’re not, then perhaps now is the time to sign up. Feel free to post me queries via Goodreads, and I’d love it if you can write a review on any of the above links or on Goodreads (short and sweet is fine, all efforts are greatly appreciated) . Feedback so far assures me that it is a good read…

If you’re curious about ever wanting more from a travel experience, how to better engage in a radically different culture, or content to just live the extraordinary through our opportunity instead, this book provides that insight and more. I hope you think so too.

Group meetings

In the chapter titled ‘Courting Kapilvastu’ read about how women in the self-help group share how their lives are changing for the better; my treasured gift; and the newly formed mother’s group come out dressed in their best

Breaking new ground

It was exciting to launch Four Seasons in Nepal last month. I’ve been a bit tardy with my follow up, but that’s because I have been waiting to share the next step…on line ordering! Four Seasons in Nepal is now available to purchase online in Australia and the UK:

In Australia: https://www.koorong.com/search/product/four-seasons-in-nepal-nicola-mcgunnicle/9780648084518.jhtml

In the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Four-Seasons-Nepal-empowerment-developing/dp/0648084515/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501238978&sr=8-1&keywords=Nicola+McGunnigle

And with that, as I explained at the launch, here’s a bit more background to the book.

I had originally named this blog based on our plans to live in Nepal for a year, that is, four seasons on the calendar. As I drafted the book however, these seasons were themed otherwise as our circumstances and our experiences changed in the climates around us. I presented a reflection of this prior to the official launch, with contributions to each season from the family. This is summarized below:

SINGING IN THE RAIN

We arrived in monsoon, however the excitement and adventure of everything around us was novel and we embraced it all in a season of learning:

  • Language dominated our early days, as beyond English spoken at school and, mostly, at work we had to learn at least the basics just to do the daily shopping. Tom and I did intensive language lessons, the boys learned piecemeal.
  • Zac soon learned to fix the chain on his bike. His small bike didn’t quite cope with the speed and unsealed roads it was being exposed to and on each bike ride beyond a few hundred metres he would stop periodically, turn his bike upside down, re-attach the chain, and then return to peddling on our merry way.
  • Tom was delighted by the Nepali hospitality. As he became a familiar face in our local shopping street, the proprietors welcomed Tom with local discounts and, often, an invitation to sit and drink tea. Some conversations were in English, others in the jigsaw of new words and sentence structures.
  • I was surprised however, living in the foothills of the Himalayas with views of snow covered mountain peaks in range, how much one could sweat! It was hot, it was humid, and that was for much of the year. The climate was unanticipated and a surprise.
  • singin in the rain

FEASTS, FESTIVALS AND FAMINE

With the signing of the constitution in September 2015 came celebrations. Some ethnic minorities however were not celebrating, and instead took to protesting. One of the biggest impacts on the landlocked nation, including us, was an impeding blockade on the border with India which resulted in shortages of fuel, cooking gas and general supplies (including food and building materials). The true impact hit us hardest at the beginning of winter, so this season was one of other challenges:

  • Transport was a notable challenge as we journeyed by cycle and foot. The roads took some getting used to, weaving between buses, trucks and motorbikes while dodging cows, buffaloes and pedestrians. We navigated the back roads where we could, avoiding the fast and chaotic flow along the major roads.
  • While 3 out of 4 if us enjoyed dal bhat and Nepali snacks, Zac struggled at times with the local food. If the answer to ‘what’s for dinner?’ was met with dal bhat, he would roll his eyes and declare: ‘not again!’.
  • Tom’s daily chores revolved around the load shedding, a timetable of our electricity which dominated whether we could have hot tea and toast for breakfast or cold cereal.
  • Language also became a challenge. While it was fun to learn, relationships could only develop as much as vocabulary and grammar, which was limiting and frustrating.

Challenges

UNDER THE HAZE

The reality of hardship began to impact us in the midst of the fuel crisis:

  • Periodic power cuts, including one a week-long, tested our resilience. It was the inspiration of our neighbours, who had no choice but to keep on going, that buoyed us up.
  • I saw the poverty on my way to and from work through different eyes as, with time, I realised the conditions my neighbours were living in. Small, single-roomed concrete block houses with a shared water tap; the bare feet of babes in the chilly winter months; a tramp lighting the roadside garbage to warm himself in the foggy morning.
  • The winter haze blocked our view of the mountains as the population, now mostly without cooking gas and with uncertain electricity supplies, had turned to wood stoves for their daily meals of dal bhat. The haze shrouded the valley.
  • Evidence of the earthquake still showed through, particularly in Kathmandu and the historic towns nearby. One house we had noted on arrival three months after the quake still stood, one wall collapsed, on a main road in Kathmandu when we left nine months later. By then it was over a year since the earthquake.

HARDSHIP

SOWING AND REAPING

We saw rewards through so many inspiring stories that motivated each and every day. This was one of the major inspirations to write the book as positive feedback returned from this blog:

  • The group action process that INF uses to work with the poor in community development was living proof of communities helping themselves, being lifted from poverty. I saw income-generation projects earning money, a confidence in the groups we met, and a growing understanding and support for people living with disabilities.
  • While my work dominated my experience and the stories in the book, the boys had a wonderful, positive experience at school. They made friends from around the world in a supportive and fun learning environment, growing in person as much as their lessons.
  • We developed deep and nourishing friendships with Nepalis and our bideshi (foreigner) compatriots, relishing the invitations into home life and Nepali traditions as family.

sowing and reaping

These experiences wove into our very being. We all grew in ways never anticipated and hope that you too can experience this Nepal through the pages of Four Seasons in Nepal.

 

In Australia: https://www.koorong.com/search/product/four-seasons-in-nepal-nicola-mcgunnicle/9780648084518.jhtml

In the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Four-Seasons-Nepal-empowerment-developing/dp/0648084515/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501238978&sr=8-1&keywords=Nicola+McGunnigle

 

 

From blog to book!

It’s the eve of my book launch. Yes!

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The past few weeks have flown by in the madness that evokes the saying “It never rains but pours”.

Four Seasons in Nepal is a first-hand account of our preparation and experience with INF – from blog to book! It blends the everyday routines of living life with restricted electricity and unclean water while introducing Nepali culture and traditions, warmth and generosity. Through more detailed tales of work, travel and everyday encounters uplifting stories are shared of our life and the achievements we witnessed of hardworking Nepali’s who never, ever give up!

Tomorrow is the next step in this journey and a chance for you return with us to Nepal through each season of learning, challenges, hardship and reward. If you’re in Adelaide, chances are you might be coming along? If you’re in Sydney, you can get a copy from the INF Australia office in Chatswood.

Soon to be available to order on line, but I’ll keep you posted….off to get ready!

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Reflections, festivals and feasting

As we paused today to remember the ANZACs, it’s easy in our part of the world to have forgotten that April 25th is also the second anniversary since the devastating earthquake shook much of Nepal to it’s foundations.

I’ve had correspondence this month updating me on the GRACE project (Back to work). Rebuilding in the Gorkha District, the epicentre of the earthquake, is well underway. A   number of homes have been completed and construction is underway for another half of the 108 planned in the project. Building has also started on three of five schools for children with disabilities to replace some that were damaged or destroyed during the earthquake. Self help groups are now established and meet regularly to support victims, not just rebuilding physical structures but rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.

While we can’t be there to see progress ourselves, last month’s Nepalese festival in Adelaide was the closest you could get to being in Nepal, demonstrating the unity that connects a country of such diversity.  Hundreds of Nepalese  converged in Hindmarsh Square, central Adelaide, to celebrate Nepali culture, music and food with curious onlookers and intrepid explorers in their midst. The Nepali’s were out in style, lots of it, in varying ethnic costumes, flowing saris and beautiful dresses. I left exhausted after a day of extraordinary meetings, fantastic music and dance demonstrations, sated with good food and company.

Nepali fest 4

It was a privilege to represent INF and our work in Nepal, helping the poorest and most marginalized realise life in all its fullness. During the course of the day we sold craft items made by people with disabilities, many of them former leprosy patients, who through learning skills are empowered to find employment and therefore earn money to life them beyond a day to day existence. Tom did a great job educating passers by on our Smokeless Stove campaign (Nepal is coming to town!) and we also had the opportunity to advertise an upcoming concert by Karna Das in June. Who? you might ask. Karna Das is not only one of Nepal’s most well known contemporary singers (Karna Das songs collection – think Elton John) but is also an ambassador for INF’s Green Pastures in Nepal, helping to promote it’s services to the people of Nepal. See you there?!

With school holidays in full swing the boys and I decided to roll out some dough and create some momos for an evening meal (see Making Momos for the recipe). We are definitely in more need of practice, with somewhat rustic creations before us, but they were warming all the same, just like the Nepali culture. And there’s always time for that…

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