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  • Elsie James

An Open Letter from Nepal

Introducing Our Oldest Project in Nepal

It is almost 25 years since I first walked through the doors of Kanti Children's Hospital in Nepal's capital City, Kathmandu. It was August, 1996, my third time in Nepal in just 10 months and my very first "official" visit as the Country Representative of a Canadian charitable organization. I was short on experience but filled with excitement & determination as I launched myself on a new career path. The position offered no pay cheque at the end of each month but I had a feeling, even then, the coming years would produce compensation of a more fulfilling kind. I was right!

My mission, that day, was to advise the Director a shipment of medical equipment had arrived from Canada, including an OR Table and Ultra Sound machine, gifts from several Alberta rural hospitals recently closed.

Our Partnership continues today. It has evolved over the years through three different charitable groups and from a project based on medical commodities, to programs directly benefiting Patient Care.

A Peek At the Kanti Shelter House

Tucked in the corner of the Hospital compound, behind a wing of the main hospital, stands a very ordinary two storey, white building. No signs direct you to it. It is one of Kanti Hospital's best kept secrets. But this simple Shelter House becomes a basic home away from home, valuable, essential and appreciated by thousands of Nepali family Caregivers from tiny rural villages.

Since 1996, medical care has improved; however, social programs to increase accessibility to healthcare are still a dream for many Nepalese families. For rural farming families and the urban poor, little has changed, Private hospital care is not affordable. They bring their sick children to Kanti Children's Hospital to take advantage of free medical care, free Ward beds and basic medicines. Often, the trip to Kathmandu has taken most, if not all, of their money. That gives voice to a favorite Nepali expression, "Ke garne?" "What to do?" They have tried local alternatives without success. As a result, Kanti receives the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. No one is turned away.

  • Can the Caregiver sleep in a hospital corridor or camp in the hospital grounds? Only if the Dormitory is full!

  • Can he or she go without food to buy special medicines for their child? Yes, if SAV can't help.

  • How will they pay for blood supplies when their child needs a transfusion? Only with help from SAV-Nepal

  • How will they pay for any diagnostic tests required, if they cannot be done at Kanti Hospital? Only with SAV's help! 365 Days of every Year

  • These are only some of the tough Questions that Staff of a Nepali non-profit, Social Action Volunteers — Nepal, have been answering every day since the early 1990's. SAV-Nepal is the volunteer, social-work arm of Kanti Children's Hospital, Managers of the Shelter House.

Social Action Volunteers Nepal - Beginnings, Leadership and their Work

SAV's Managing Director, Bacchu Basyal, has been at the helm of the organization since its inception. Their Founder and original sponsor was Father Waterin, a Jesuit Priest at St. Xavier's College in Kathmandu. Father Waterin passed away in 2007, setting the organization adrift without Funding, but still vitally needed. SAV was struggling to survive when our Partnership began in 2008. The struggle hasn't ended but the work has gone on. There is always more that needs doing than can be done. In Mr Basyal's mind that is not a reason to quit, it's a reason to work harder.

Partnerships are essential in our work. I learned along time ago, we can't do it alone. Two years ago, we extended an invitation to an American Foundation, The Chelsea Fund, through the Founder of the Nepal Orphans Home, to join us in supporting the vital work of Social Action Volunteers - Nepal and their work at the Kanti Shelter House. Thankfully, they have assumed support of the Emergency Fund covering special medications not provided by the government, blood products, some diagnostic services and nutritional supplements. That leaves us with the major task to support the Daily Operation and Maintenance of the Shelter House and to be ready to help occasionally, if unexpected Patient emergencies suddenly balloon.

Then the COVID 19 Pandemic hit and has not missed Nepal. After a slow start, The India and Chinese Borders and the Tribhuvan International Airport, in Kathmandu, were closed in late March, along with Schools and many non-essential services. The timing could not have been worse. It was the start of the major Spring Tourist Season, in fact some Tourists were trapped in Nepal for many weeks, with no way out. Requests for the 20 Dormitory beds at the Shelter House increased dramatically at the same time, numbers of beds had to be reduced for social distancing! It's an overwhelming challenge in any environment but in Kathmandu it was devastating for daily wage earners like street vendors. Hospital Ward and Staff infections rose. Staff burnout and infections have been a constant worry. Despite all, the work has gone on.

In the past, SAV-Nepal had a volunteer list of Social Work students, who come to SAV for a College Practicum experience. To be honest, I'm not sure how our Staff has survived. But they have! They have more than proved themselves equal to the task. Like health care workers around the World they have soldiered on,

Here are the Priority Needs at the Shelter House in 2021 and Beyond...

  1. In the beginning of a patient stay, it's common for more than one family member to stay the night in the Dormitory. Nursing Mothers with infants in the NICU are also frequent guests. Privacy Screens are used. There is need for further development in the building for separate Men's & Women's dormitories.

  2. Much has been done. Much needs to be done and refurbished... Pain and cleaning materials are badly needed. The above photos illustrate some major work done at the Shelter House in 2012 and 2013 to improve the physical environment of the Shelter House, inside and out. $2,000 of major scrubbing and painting would make a huge difference.

  3. On April 25 and May 12, 2015, 2 devastating Earthquakes (7.9 and 7.3 on the Richter scale) hit more than 14 Districts in Central Nepal, killing 9,000 people and injuring more than 22,000. Recovery took precedence over other needs. A dream of developing a second Dormitory on the Rooftop of the Shelter House was put aside... This is a big dream with a $20,000 - 25,000 price.

I Hope you Feel Inspired rather than Relieved!

If you would like to support the work of Social Action Volunteers - Nepal at the Kanti Children's Hospital Shelter House, there are several convenient ways to do so. Please refer to our website!

For more information, please contact Elsie James, Nepal Project Manager, or call me at 403-498-8800

Tax Receipts are available for all donations of $20 or more by donating through One Child's Village and designating your support to SAV-Nepal Shelter House. If you are using Canada Helps to donate, select the "Medical Mercy Nepal" fund.


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