Madeleine Fitzpatrick - Medicine in Nepal
I decided to go on a gap year before starting university and I chose to go to Nepal, as I had never been to Asia before, and wanted to experience a completely different culture. Lots of my friends went to Africa or Australia but I wanted to go somewhere different to volunteer abroad. What persuaded me to go the most was hearing how friendly the people are and how beautiful and mountainous the country is. What’s more, I have always wanted to see Mount Everest so I arranged a trek through the Himalayas to Everest Base Camp.
When I arrived in Nepal there was so much to take in and I could not believe after months of waiting to go I was finally there! I was amazed right from the start how bustling the city was and just how many people and motorbikes there were. One fact I learned from Nepal is that they love to beep their horns! There were cows everywhere including on the road, as they are sacred and not allowed to be killed. Another thing I noticed was the distinct smells of incense sticks and some not so nice smells, but of course it is a developing country so I understood that.
My Host Family in Nepal
I stayed in Banepa with Mr Lok and his family who were the most welcoming and caring people. I definitely felt right at home. We had Dal Bhat the Nepalese main dish every night for dinner, which was great as I wanted to be immersed in the Nepalese culture. We would have daily power cuts even at night, so the other volunteers and I would sit on the roof under the stars, visit the local pub or sit and chat by candlelight. I was lucky to be able to go to festivals where we got to join in the celebrations with the locals.
I was surprised how early people go to bed and just how early they wake up! 5am is never a nice time to wake up for someone my age, but I soon got used to it and we would normally go on morning walks with Lok and eat at a local café for breakfast, or do yoga which is a must as it is completely different and very amusing compared to yoga in the West!
My Medical Placement
I volunteered at Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital where the staff were really friendly and the experience was very beneficial to my medical knowledge. I watched a lot of surgeries where tumours were removed and spent time in other departments with all the doctors who spoke unbelievable English and explained everything that they were doing. However, I was quite shocked at the lack of technology they had and the poor hygiene.
I got the bus to and from work every day which was a bit daunting at first as they were ridiculously overcrowded, ancient and were driven so chaotically but they became a fond memory of my Nepal trip especially the cultural music that they played for the journey.
My advice for weekends is to plan ahead and get the phone numbers of fellow volunteers to arrange things with. I did so many things with volunteers who are now lifelong friends. On my first weekend we stayed with a Nepalese family in the countryside who lived very basically. I slept with cockroaches above me and cows beneath me but it was fascinating to experience how people lived in rural areas of Nepal.
After that I got the chance to stay in a Monastery at Namobuddha where I ate with the monks, sat with them through their prayers and got to know how they lived.
I found Thamel, the main tourist district, a great place to get souvenirs and go out for dinner with the other volunteers.
After a month my mother came to Nepal and we flew from Kathmandu to Lukla in the Himalayas on a ridiculously old plane. We landed on the side of a mountain on a tremendously short runway. It took us 12 days to walk to Everest Base Camp and back and was very challenging and tiring. However, it was definitely the best experience of my life and I can’t express the emotional impact completing a challenge like that has and seeing the tallest mountain in the world!
When we got back to Kathmandu I took my mother to stay at my host family’s house for a night to show her how lovely it was and for her to experience what I ate for a month.
When I returned home I found it amazing how much I took things for granted in the West. Especially things like toilet paper, hot water and being able to eat a large variety of foods. It all feels like a dream now as the culture and everything was so different to England. But you really have to experience it for yourself to understand.
Projects Abroad were really helpful in organising everything and it was great to meet other volunteers from all over the world. I would recommend doing this to anybody and I cannot wait to plan my next trip!