by Jacinta Lyon, 2nd Year Paramedical Science student
Just before 7am, there was a congregation of children staring down at us from the track above out homestay house. Staring from afar, a group of children stood looking at us with huge grins on their face- eagerly waiting approval to come down. On past adventures to Kerasawara, Nathan Burns and the other volunteers had started a tradition- a daily ‘health education’ class for the children of the village. As we greeted them with the Nepali greeting “Namaste”, they all came running down eager to participate.
Our friendly and ever-so-helpful interpreters were on hand as my colleagues and I chatted and played with the children. It was nice to see a select few turn up with toothbrushes they had been given at past visits, however the state of the toothbrushes themselves left a bit to be desired. Thanks to the kind donations of many people we were able to take many toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste over to give these kids- and that was our first order of the day. It was like Christmas for some of the kids and the smiles that we got as we presented them with a new brush is something that will never escape my mind.
Once everyone was adorned with a sparkly new brush it was our turn to see how good their brushing techniques were. I have never seen a child so keen to clean their teeth as this group of children. They all stood around furiously brushing their teeth eager to please us. As my colleagues and I went around to show them the right ways to brush there was often a little giggle coming out between brushes. If we didn’t remind them to ‘spit’ they wouldn’t and would all be frothing at the mouth with toothpaste bubbles. As it should be, the kids all brushed their teeth for well over 2 minutes. We learnt by the end of the trip to time it otherwise they would never end.
Once the teeth had been brushed it was onto face and hand washing. This was task of it’s own. As water was often hard to come by a bucket was filled and an old water bottle cut in half adoring holes punched at the bottom with a piece of rope fed through the top allowed us to distribute a steady flow of water allowing the kids to wash and clean their hands and face. All the children would line up waiting for a squirt of soap and begin washing their face and hands with vigorous rubs. With a few little hints and tips from us they became expert at scrubbing away the dirt although it was often a fight of hands under the bottle to get the water to rinse it all off. A good cup a vitamin C also came with the daily ritual. Not all were happy with the taste but it was always drunk without complaint, as they knew it was only for their goodness and health and they appreciated that I think.
This became our daily routine and each day more and more children came running down the hill to join in the fun. It was nice to see and get to know each of the children along with their beautiful smiles each day, even better when each one would pull out their toothbrush asking for toothpaste.
Over the days we also clipped, brushed and scrubbed under their nails, brushed hair and moisturized. Once the daily hygiene class was over it was onto the games and boy do these guys know how to play! A few choruses of the Hokey Pokey and the chicken dance were always a winner with everyone. We would then mix the games up and play some that involved counting and saying the alphabet in English which most of the kids knew. Once the fun of the morning session was over the kids dispersed one by one to go home and do their daily chores and get ready for school. This daily routine was more than just ‘fun party’ for all who attended- it gave us a chance to monitor the health and well-being of all the village children, on a daily basis.
The unfortunate reality is that education is minimal in places like Nepal- especially in the more remote places like the Okhaldhunga District, Kerasawara and surrounding villages. These kids thrive on information and just want to learn. I remember Nathan Burns reflecting during one of our quieter moments that his “ultimate goal” for the Moonlight Community Health Centre- when he will feel he has completely accomplished what he has set out to do- is when one of the kids of the village finishes school, trains to be a doctor or medical professional, and then one day return to the center to help pass on their knowledge and education- all of which started in the village. I believe strongly that this will happen. There are some amazingly talented and switched-on kids living in and around the center and it only takes one spark to light the fire of knowledge!
Sadly though, issues that arise in our society also happen in Nepal. We were faced with this when we met a shy, withdrawn little boy. He would often cower and withdraw when we tried to talk to him. Our understanding was that his Mum had left him with his grandmother whilst his Dad had moved to the United Emirates to work. It was so evident that this child was severely impacted by the breakdown of his family, yet there was little option to assist him through the hard times. His grandmother had no money and worked all day to provide for him. It was with great satisfaction that we saw the light in this little boy when his Dad was able to return whilst we were there. It was like seeing another child: a completely different person, the smile from ear to ear and his confidence just went through the roof. Not all stories have a happy ending but this one did.
Once the Moonlight Community Centre officially opened its doors we saw numerous families come through. One by one we would give a general check over of the children. This included a height and weight check, blood sugar levels, heart rate and eyes and ears check. Sadly I have never seen so many dirty, unclean ears in my life! During the check-ups we would often clean some of the ears and then give the families a pack of earbuds to take home whilst giving them a complete lesson on how to clean ears properly.
Along with ears there were quite a few children that were underweight. When talking to their mothers, a common factor became present: they didn’t want to eat or were being fussy. Like here in Australia (and no doubt everywhere else in the world), kids will be kids. It was all about the education to these people. Making sure they knew how important it was for the kids to eat well and to drink plenty of water.
I could see the children that had been around Nathan and his colleagues on past trips- and how much they learnt in such a small amount of time. Their encouragement and enthusiasm was paramount and I feel that further assistance from future volunteers to the Moonlight Community Health Centre and all that are involved with making this dream a reality will create a brilliant, bright future for these children.
I am sure I can speak for all my colleagues who joined me in saying that the influence, enthusiasm, stamina and respect that not only the children but all folk that lived in the village showed, has inspired me to give a lot, learn more and teach often. Only good things will come of this.
This experience was life changing to say the least, if not for the people of Nepal, then for myself. Thank you for letting me be apart of this adventure…you truly have touched my heart Nepal!