Kirstin Wingler is a nutritionist (PhD) with versatile experience and expertise in biomedical research, drug development and teaching of medical students. Currently, she is employed at Maastricht University, Netherlands. Kirstin volunteered for a period of three weeks in the Medical Internship program in Kathmandu, Nepal with Volunteering Solutions in Nov 2012.
How was the Pre departure support and preparation before the trip?
The support before the trip was excellent. I received very valuable information before my departure, which allowed me to prepare well, e.g. what to take, what not to take, how to get a visa, etc. I also appreciated that it also gave me a first insight into Nepalese culture and habits.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Working in a hospital, I started early in the morning, usually around 7 am. So I left the house early for my 15 min walk to the hospital, when the other volunteers (who were teaching or looking for orphans) and my host mother were often still sleeping. Thus, I made my own breakfast. In the hospital, I worked in different departments. On some days I assisted a (very kind) Doctor with the ambulant patients, including endoscopies. The rest of the morning I also sometimes helped out in the pathology lab. On other days, I helped the nurses on the intensive care unit. For lunch, I walked back to the house, where I stayed, enjoying a nice, traditional Nepalese meal together with the other volunteers, when we exchanged our experiences of the morning. In the afternoon, I usually worked with the doctor again. When I got back, it usually was already becoming dark. So I often spent the time until dinner with reading and writing/reading emails and talking to the eight kids at the orphanage. Dinner was together with the other volunteers again. As I had to get up early, I usually did not stay up long.Saturday was my free day, which I used to explore Kathmandu.
What made this volunteer experience unique and special?
I do not want to miss any experience I made during my stay in Kathmandu. One important thing is that I met so many friendly Nepalese people. It is impressive how nice even very poor people are. Of course, there are a few not so nice people, like everywhere, but the overwhelming majority was very friendly. Staying together with other volunteers in a house with many (equally) nice kids and getting insight into the Nepalese culture was also a valuable experience. This kind of experience you will never have when staying in a hotel! And then of course the work in the hospital was important for me. It is amazing how good doctors and nurses care for every patient even under poor conditions. It was always nice to see patients improving. However, there were also sad moments, which are as least as important for me to have experienced. For example, if relatives take their loved ones out of the hospital back home, although the patient is in a critical condition – the reason being that they cannot afford the treatment. It made me realize again and again how lucky I was to be born in a rich country with health insurance! Again and again I feel the desire to give back for my luck.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally and has it in any way impacted your future?
I learnt a lot, both personally and professionally. Personally, I experienced that I can cope well with difficult situations, can adopt to other cultures and care for others. I learnt more then ever before that you have to act if you want to improve a situation that you feel needs to be improved. I also become aware that you do not need much to be happy and the health and being able to live in peace is the most important thing. Also with respect to medical treatment, I learnt a lot.
Any advice for the volunteers and interns looking to come to Nepal?
Just do it ! Any project that fits to your skills is worthwhile for you – you are needed! I always felt safe in Nepal, felt welcome and made new friends. You should adjust to and respect the Nepalese culture and habits. Then you will make an experience of your life! Don’t expect luxury, but instead of lovely people and places. Nepal is beautiful! If you have time, stay a little longer and go hiking. Unfortunately, I did not have time to do so.