April 29 & 30, 2013
Seven people have travelled from Toronto and Vancouver to witness and report on an eye camp and the inauguration of a primary eye care center in Bajura, Nepal. Travelling are Doug O’Neill, Executive Editor of Canadian Living Magazine, Shannon Melnyk, freelance journalist, Matt Marek, filmmaker, Keith Thomson, Seva donor, author and philanthropy expert, Penny Lyons, Ken Bassett and Deanne Berman from Seva Canada. All have one goal in mind: to celebrate Seva’s 30 years of restoring sight and preventing blindness by bringing eye care to one of Nepal’s poorest and most remote regions and the last area of Nepal with no access to eye care and to bring the stories home to Canadians.
We met in Kathmandu and were joined by Olivier Bertin, our translator. A French national, married to Nepali woman and living in Nepal, he will help us collect stories from the eye camp. We eight flew from Kathmandu to Dhangadi in the south west corner of Nepal where we collected Seva Canada’s Program Director, Ram Prasad Kandel, and Dr. Pant, one of the two surgeons who will be operating at the eye camp. The next leg of the journey to Bajura involved an 8 hour drive to Safebagar in Accham district. Ten people in 2 smallish jeeps – 3 of whom suffer from crippling motion sickness – on roads that twist, turn, rise and fall. 8 hours turn to 10 - enough said. We camp that night on the grounds of an old airport and are up early the next day to continue the journey. Two hours more driving and we meet up with the rest of the surgical team who had been conducting an eye camp in the area. We all pile into the Geta bus (funded by Seva Canada donors) with the surgical team and drive a further 3 hours over a rough and narrow dirt road with a sheer wall on one side and a 100 meter drop on the other. At every corner we all collectively lean in as if by that action alone we will prevent the bus from tipping into the abyss. We arrive at the point where the bus can go no further. Surgical equipment and supplies, camping equipment and our bags are loaded onto tractors to be carried the rest of the way. Most of the surgical team is transferred to a 4x4 but the rest of us must walk.
We walk for 5 hours in the mountains of remote Nepal passing tiny hamlets filled mostly with women. The area is so poor that many of the men work in India for a good part of the year, bringing home income and, more often than not, HIV to their families. This is not an area that trekkers go. There is virtually no tourism and certainly no industry. It is untouched, pristine and desperately poor. A final push on switchbacks straight up a mountain and we are in Bajura. We are led through the streets of an ancient village, open sewers, cobbled streets; a mix of Nepali and Tibetan cultures and facial features. We arrive at the hospital, the site of the eye camp and our home for the next 3 days.