Monday, September 2, 2013

Himalayan Exchanges

The team, Rupin Valley 2013
New reading glasses!
This summer I had the privilege and pleasure to volunteer with the Himalayan Health Exchange on a medical/dental trek to the Inner Himalayas. Our team consisted of four medical doctors, 15 medical students and two anthropology professors from all parts of the US and Britain. As an anthropology professor, I gave lectures on health and inequality, medical anthropology and shamanism. Other lectures included Ayurvedic healing and the history of India, parts one through three!

Our trip took us over the Chansal Pass to the remote villages of Dodra and Kwar in Himachal Pradesh, on the border of Uttarakhand, in India. The worst rains in 50 years cut short our clinic days as we evacuated our riverside campsite and moved to higher ground, gaining refuge at the home of a local teacher. Thanks to this wonderful family who welcomed our midnight visit as the river raged.

The doctors treated headaches, body aches, infections, cuts, and venereal disease. They gave referrals for more serious conditions and handed out reading glasses, antibiotics, vitamins, toothbrushes and tooth paste. In all, about 800 patients were seen over a dozen clinic days.
On the road, before the rains.
Ravi Singh, founder of HHE, is very wise in calling this an 'exchange.' As a seasoned humanitarian volunteer on international trips, medical and otherwise, I believe that in many ways we always take-away much more than we give. Sure, we bring medical expertise, supplies, technical knowledge, money and man power to under served peoples, but we bring back cultural, political and social knowledge of another society whose language, customs, world view may be very different from our own. In this globalized environment, knowledge is power and these kinds of trips provide an understanding of community and of service that can only make all of us better citizens of our own country and of the world.

The Rupin River rages!

We also learn about ourselves: accomplishing a task with a team of people you've just met under circumstances where things like electricity, running water, proper toilets, and clean water may not exist can be challenging. So, the word 'exchange' perfectly describes, to me, an international humanitarian volunteer experience.

Treating grandfather and his grandchild.
 Pictured here are some of the people  we met and the places we set up clinic. For more information, you can contact Himalayan Health Exchange directly.

Clinic in Dodra.

Medical camp in Kwar, just before the rains.

Clinic days.
Tea shop owner, Kwar.

Lunch break at camp. Before the evacuation!

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