From Dr. Kiran Nakarmi, plastic surgeon and director of Interplast’s Surgical Outreach Center in Nepal:
Our team was on an outreach trip in Lumbini Nursing Home in Butwal, Nepal. Toward the end of our stay, we were informed by one of the parents about a child living with a cleft lip in his village. The child belonged to a fishing community which represents the poorest society in Nepal. The fishing community is referred to as Bote. They subsist solely on fishing, owning no land to farm or property.
In the Bote community, men have the reputation of spending their leftover money on alcohol and not caring well for their children. The women typically don’t travel outside the village, making it virtually impossible for the child to reach us for surgery.
We were able to get the phone number for the only phone available in the entire village. With some persistence, we were able to convince the phone owner to call the child along with his father. We then kept the father on the phone for a few hours while we could arrive to see the child.
We left Butwal at 6 pm and arrived at the village at 9 pm. The monsoon rain had begun to fall, and the narrow road was full of bends, making our drive an unpleasant experience. We finally reached the Kaligandaki River and found it was swollen due to the monsoon rain. Since the road ended there, we had to cross the river using a suspension bridge and walk through the middle of a jungle to reach the village.
When we finally arrived, we found to our dismay that after waiting a few hours the father had already left with the child. Disheartened we drove back to a nearby hydroelectricity station where a phone was available. We called the village again and arranged the child be brought there. Finally, around 10 pm we were able to see the child. We drove him back to Butwal with us and he was kept in the hospital overnight.
The next morning we went to the hospital expecting to see him and operate, but when we arrived, the father had taken the child without any notice-thinking the surgery would cost them money. Despite our many attempts to explain the surgery and accommodations were free, they were not convinced.
It was a very sad moment for all of us. We did our best to communicate with them but failed. From my experience, many of the poor people we work with have numerous questions on their minds but are reluctant to ask them. We learned a valuable lesson from this incident. I hope next time we can help this child after helping the parents to understand our humanitarian intentions and that their child will receive surgery without any cost to them.