Upon arrival to Nepal, despite my best efforts to not have preconceived notions and expectations of what my time interning with PHASE Nepal, GlobeMed at Tufts’ partner organization, would be like, I had an incomplete idea in my head of what I anticipated the experience being like. Because my originally scheduled internship planned for last summer was unfortunately canceled due to the tragic earthquake that devastated Nepal last April, I had ample time to learn more about Nepal and PHASE’s work, yet also another year to mentally build up expectations. Despite the significant amount of time I had to prepare for my internship with PHASE, no adequate amount of time could have adequately prepared me for every circumstance I encountered during my month there—yet this reality is precisely what allowed me to grow and learn about both myself and my partner organization, and to feel connected to the beautiful culture and people of Nepal.
Due to the fact that I was traveling to Nepal directly from Brazil where I had been studying abroad for four months, I felt prepared for the challenge and capriciousness of traveling abroad. I quickly realized that this experience was entirely unique from that of my time in Brazil and other seemingly comparable circumstances. For instance, working for a large NGO in Nepal is an entirely different than being a full-time student on a highly regimented schedule in Brazil. I knew the significant amount of incredible work that PHASE does, particularly in the last year related to earthquake recovery, yet being on-ground of PHASE helped me realize how large the organization really is, how many how many players are involved, and the extent to which in multiple cases PHASE is virtually single-handedly providing healthcare, education, and livelihood support in communities.
The village my team spent were predominately located in was a small community called Rayale in a valley just an hour drive from Kathmandu. Despite its proximity to the nation’s capital, quality healthcare would not always readily accessible for Rayale’s inhabitants who are spaced out among the valley if not for the work of PHASE. In Rayale there are a total of three clinics: one small health post located just around the corner from the tea house we were residing in, run entirely by PHASE healthcare workers, another clinic an approximate 45-minute walk away also run entirely by PHASE community health workers and a PHASE auxiliary-nurse midwife, and a third a 15 walk away which is a government outreach post staffed by a government doctor and three PHASE health workers. Out of three clinics, only one was government-run, and even then was supported primarily by PHASE through both staff and medicine, as PHASE provided nearly three times the medicine as the government.
The same situation was the case in a far more remote village known as Hagam in the high hills of the Sindhupalchowk region. In this area, not only was PHASE fully running their own clinic as well as supporting a government-run one, but also provided the damaged school in the village a temporary education space, worked with the UNHCR to completely rebuild the school, and ran a teacher-training workshop for 6 schools in the region on education in the post-earthquake setting on how to continue teaching amidst fear and trauma. The fact that PHASE not only provided the infrastructure for education, but also offered training for Nepali teachers which emphasized the importance of mental health and continuing education despite fears, really resonated with me and was a point where PHASE and my experience in Nepal truly exceeded any expectations I may have had.
Another imperative lesson I learned during GROW, which would not have been possible without being in person with our partner organization, is that communication truly is key for a successful and mutually beneficial partnership. To be honest, there were moments throughout the trip of discomfort, guilt, and feeling that the space I was personally occupying was harmful by being a very obvious outsider there for only a very brief of time unaware of the language and the culture to a great extent. One main proponent of this feeling was that our main objective for the internship became essentially unfeasible within the first few days of us being in the village when we realized not only can we not communicate effectively with the schools or the community health workers, but that the community health workers already were going forward with the project themselves (and rightly so). Luckily, with the help of incredibly helpful members of the PHASE staff, as well as having an immensely supportive and brilliant team who were all on the same page, we were able to gear our time in Nepal towards delving into learning about the logistics of PHASE’s efforts and preparing for next year, and ultimately had a very successful trip that has undoubtedly impacted me positively–challenges and all.
After GROW our team feels well equipped to augment our level of communication with our PHASE, and now have personal connections within the organization that will make it not only easy but exciting and fun to do so. This lesson additionally plays in to the importance of understanding Nepal’s culture in a way that could not be learned from a textbook or in lecture. We ate dal bhat with our hands, participated in a rice-planting festival, learned how to make samosas and dance in the traditional Nepali way, and above all made connections that I will carry with me throughout my life. I’m still working to bear in mind that in just spending over a month there it is impossible to know the full scope of Nepal, its people, and their stories, but value that understanding life in Nepal a bit more in a personal way, in all of its nuances, helps me to more deeply understand PHASE and really appreciate the sustainable model they have of being almost entirely Nepali staffed—as no one could possibly understand the needs of the country as the citizens themselves.
Experiencing firsthand PHASE Nepal’s multifaceted model of development in rural communities allowed me and my team to see the way in which the three aspects of PHASE Nepal (education, livelihood, and health) work together to create a sustainable solution in the project areas. Isolated attention on any one of the three programs would not effectively break the cycle of poverty; the best quality education will do little to help a child who is too hungry to concentrate or absent due to illness. Similarly, a child in good health can never reach his maximum potential if the school system is failing him. Realizing the interconnectedness of these three aspects while in the villages allowed me to truly understand the PHASE mission of achieving self-empowerment by engaging communities long term rather than providing a one-time delivery of humanitarian aid. Seeing projects firsthand, meeting the individuals they were positively impacting, and hearing/seeing the breakdown of costs for each project put significant meaning to the fundraising and advocacy work that GlobeMed at Tufts does, and what GlobeMed as a national organization does for grass root NGO’s worldwide. As one of the major donors to PHASE, it really solidified for me the importance and significance to each dollar we raise in a concrete way, which is precisely what I hope to bring back to the chapter.