I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted at the Kathmandu airport by Parami Dhakhwa, Seva Nepal Program Coordinator, who whisked me away to the Seva office to meet Shravan Kumar Chaudhari, Finance Manager. Due to some logistical constraints, Shravan had arranged for me to travel south by Lumbini Eye Institute (LEI) vehicle from Kathmandu in order to meet up with Ram Prasad Kandel, Seva’s Program Manager.
Kandel has proved to be a consummate host, and I am greeted warmly wherever we go. En route to meeting Kandel, I briefly toured Bharatpur Eye Hospital the evening I arrived in Chitwan District. The next day proved to be rather interesting. Due to a bandh (strike) because of student elections, the LEI vehicle could not take me to Butwal. Instead, I took a rather crowded public bus (I was lucky to have a seat!) to Butwal.
From there, Kandel and I went to Tansen, where the Palpa Lions Lacoul Eye Hospital was conducting a three-day surgical and screening camp. With the exception of a minimal registration fee, all services were provided free of cost to the blind and visually impaired patients who filled the rooms and lined the hallways.
I met Dr. Salma KC, the eye hospital’s resident ophthalmologist, in the operating room, where she was performing one of many cataract surgeries that she would do that day. Dr. Salma will be going to Vancouver soon for a pediatric ophthalmology fellowship. Her specialized skills are much needed in a country of 29 million, where there are currently only three pediatric opthalmologists.
The following day, we took a rather bumpy and hair-raising ride northwest to Gulmi District to observe a school screening. All students with anything less than normal vision will be fitted and provided with eyeglasses. Refractive error is especially prevalent in Asian countries such as Nepal, and by identifying children in schools, the Primary Eye Care Centre (PECC) in Gulmi is reaching children who may not otherwise come to the center for glasses. They are also detecting eye conditions that can be prevented or treated before the affected children go blind. At the same time, this outreach will result in increased awareness among the community about the eye care services available. The children will go home and tell their families about the eye screening at school and the whole community will benefit.
The Primary Eye Care Centre itself is very well run under the capable and inspired leadership of Chairman Bharat Bahadur Chand, who proved to be an incredibly generous host: he invited us to his home for dinner and provided me with a very comfortable room to sleep for the night. We also managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the Hindu temple of Yagyashala at the top of Resunga Peak.
On our return ride to Bhairawa, home of Lumbini Eye Institute (LEI), I got to hear one of Seva’s radio messages advertising free cataract surgery for children at LEI. Although I do not understand Nepali, my ears perked up with I heard mention of Seva. We also stopped by Butwal Lions Eye Care Hospital, which is quite an impressive facility with much space to expand.
I look forward to seeing the services at LEI today and tomorrow. I have already met Sanjeeb Adhikari, Seva’s Child Blindness Coordinator, and hope to meet Dr. Karthikeyan, one of LEI’s two resident pediatric opthalmologists, soon.
I am both inspired and humbled by the dedicated staff and partners I have met. Seva really is carrying out its mission of serving those most in need with high quality, affordable, and accessible eye care and truly embodies compassion in action.