First Hand Account of CHAI’s Relief work in Nepal
On 29th April morning, I was travelling in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh in India when I received a call from my office if I could travel to Nepal to coordinate medical camps for victims of the earthquake that rocked Nepal on 25th April. The Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) is a not-for-profit Faith-Based Organisation with reaching out with Humanitarian assistance in Disasters as one of its core areas of work. CHAI has proven track record of responding immediately after any major disaster struck the country by carrying out relief works, providing medical care, and reaching out with psycho-social rehabilitation services.
Therefore, as soon as I got the call, I responded in the affirmative considering myself fortunate to be able to be part of CHAI’s disaster response team. Back home, my family packed my baggage that was necessary to travel to Nepal and sent it across with my colleague, whom I met in New Delhi the next day and continued my journey to Nepal.
What we saw in Nepal was devastating! The destruction, the collapsed buildings, the debris, the loss of homes and livelihoods, the tales of loss and survival, the experiences of after-shocks, the emotion-filled expressions on peoples’ faces, all just made me more determined to work harder and let people know that restoration of their health and healing was possible.
CHAI established contact with few local partners in Nepal (such as the Health Department of Nepal; Karuna Foundation; the Department of Social Work in Tribhuvan University and St. Xavier‟s College in Kathmandu) before venturing into the medical relief services. Based on the assessment of damage and the UN estimates that over 900 medical facilities had been severely or totally damaged in most affected areas, making the need for mobile medical teams, and supplies more acute, CHAI had chalked out a plan to send out teams of medical professionals and para-professionals along with medical supplies to Nepal. The areas where to work was also determined in consultation with the local partners.
We set up one of the camps at Lisanku, one of the hard-hit areas of Sindhpalchowk district. Our team of two medical doctors, two Nurses and student volunteers travelled with adequate supplies of medicines, wound dressing materials and IV Fluids. As soon as we set up this camp, around 8.30 AM in the morning, a young girl limped towards the camp. Her legs were trembling and she was unable to balance her body on her feet. She appeared to be in great pain because she was sobbing continuously. The doctor immediately attended to her and after some time, she felt relieved. Gradually, few other earthquake survivors started walking in. People of all age groups, young and old, started pouring in the next few hours. Many persons were in need of medical treatment for cuts, lacerations, fractured bones, fevers, respiratory infections, cold, ear infections, diarrhea and other injuries. Most of them also reported of headaches due to sleeplessness, exposure to changing weather conditions, stress and fear of aftershocks. The CHAI Medical team treated around 200 patients in that camp. We could get to witness some great stories of selflessness and personal sacrifices. There was one particular instance when a young man carried his elderly father on his back and walked at least two kilometres to reach the campsite. He was himself bruised and a wound on his feet was bleeding. Yet, he insisted that his father is treated first and only then he let the doctors examine himself. The pure love and compassion of this young man towards his father moved my heart. The counselling and healing touch provided to the patients was very much appreciated. The gratitude-filled expressions said it all!
There have been many emotional moments for me, but it was heart-warming to see the brave Nepalese survivors availing treatments in our camps and recovering by tapping into their resiliency. The student volunteers from St.Xavier’s college also demonstrated great acts of self-less services. Their own houses were shattered and their family members affected due to the earthquake, yet, they left everything aside and joined the camps to be able to serve their brotherhood.
I could also witness some miracles and God’s divine interventions during my work at the medical camps. On 12th May, when the second major earthquake shook Nepal, two Sister Nurses were part of a medical camp which was set up in a local building. They had just walked out of the building and they suddenly saw the entire building collapse in a matter of seconds right in front of their eyes. Their lives were saved and it was a miraculous escape for them.
The camps continue to be held by CHAI in various places in Nepal and hundreds of patients are being treated everyday at these camps. The fourth batch of doctors and Nurses have already reached Nepal to meet the needs of medical care. Twelve Social workers who have been trained in Trauma Counselling by Rev.Dr.Arputham and Sr.Dr.Agnes have also reached to provide psycho-social support to the victims of the disaster.
I feel proud to be part of this process and I thank CHAI for all its services to the disaster-struck people.