Health Care in Civilized Countries

I’m a citizen of both  Canada and the UK, countries where universal health care is taken for granted.

What’s critical for universal health care is the principle that underpins it — all have a right to good health care.  No matter how much or how little you contribute, health services will be provided to you.  If you abuse drugs and alcohol, or eat your way into ill health, if you never pay a penny towards the National Insurance scheme – because your earnings are insufficient, if you have a chronic illness where you will require pricy care your whole life, or a disability that prevents you from working, if you have ten children that you can’t support and they have many health needs, if you develop an illness that has high treatment costs – doesn’t make a bit of difference, you will receive health care.

What is right and holy is how the contract recognizes that each of us is of value, that the physical and mental health of each separate one of us is the concern of all of us.  It’s John Donne’s no man is an island,  put into action.

I’m lucky.  Until last year I rarely saw my doctor.  My kids, growing up, were rarely sick – partly due to the NHS immunization program – free of charge of course.

But during the last nine months here is what I’ve received from our National Health Services :

An early hours ambulance ride to emergency;   assessment and treatment of a blocked bile duct; surgery — removal of the gall bladder; follow up care.

Two GP appointments for symptoms that led to investigations for cancer; blood screens, urine screens, xrays;  assessment and treatment by  a consultant gynaecologist  — minor surgery and  biopsies.  (BTW I got the all clear).

I should add to this list:

routine annual appointment with practice nurse for assessment of blood pressure

routine biannual test for bowel cancer

routine breast cancer assessment

annual invitation to avail myself of the influenza shot

and recently, invitation to come in for a (once in a lifetime) pneumonia shot.

I’m getting old.  The invitations are coming thick and fast.  I understand I can have a shot to prevent shingles.  I will accept the invitation. I should mention too that the health care I received during the last nine months was stellar — compassionate, efficient, effective — and free.

I receive no bills for any of the above.  I am post retirement age therefore any prescription medicine I require is free of charge.  Whilst in gainful employment,   had I needed prescription medicine I would have paid a small fixed cost at the pharmacy. No matter how much the product costs NHS,  the cost to the patient is fixed.

I no longer make NI contributions.  My measly offering to the treasury consists of small income tax deductions.  Long retired, my income, and therefore my contribution, is much reduced.  Luckily, especially at the peak of my career I earned good money, so was privileged to be able to contribute fairly to our social security system.  I hope I’ve paid in more than I’ll ever take out.  I hope I’ve helped those less fortunate than I am.

Thankfully the majority of Canadians and Brits think as I do.  We value our social security and healthcare system. We fight to maintain it.

We think the USA is mad.

Why don’t they be like us?

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I Nearly Died

I’m not dying, imminently.  Excepting if our house blows up tonight because there is a gas leak and bang! The explosion kills us both, instantly. Or a sneaky clot is making its slow way to my heart or brain, to fast-track me to oblivion.  God knows.

Death was imminent a couple of weeks back.  Oh, at first my doctor made soothing noises when I moaned about my chronic neck pain. He’d write me a prescription for anti-inflammatory cream.  Also, I said,  I can’t raise my left arm above my head and there’s a lump on my clavicle.

I know it’s called a clavicle as well as a collar bone because I like fortune cookie sized bits of knowledge from the google machine.

‘Oh,’ he said. He looked suspiciously at the lump, ‘Just to be sure,’ he said.

And innocently, ‘When did we last do a blood screen?’

To rule out cancer, of course, including bone cancer.  Also a special urine test to rule out lymph node cancer.   Also an x-ray.  I specialize in hypochondria but here was an honest to God symptom to worry about.  I was surely dying.  Ian demurred.  He said I was worrying needlessly because look how much energy I had and I didn’t look sick.

I was in a celebratory mood a week later.  Negative findings from the tests!  I was so happy to be not dying that I purchased shoes.  The following day blood leaked from my post menopausal vagina.

I’ve heard of political prisoners subjected to a method of torture called ‘mock execution’. It’s where they take you out to the firing squad or the gallows, but it’s a joke and they bring you back to your cell again. You go through the emotions attendant upon imminent death but you don’t die.  And then, later, when they come for you again you think. ‘Oh another gag!’ but this time they really take you out.

My doctor was on holiday but the triage nurse said I should come in right away anyway.  The triage nurse is the one who decides who can wait until tomorrow or next week to be seen and who needs to be seen immediately, that is, who is close to death. The duty doctor ID’d  a ‘lesion’ on my cervix.  ‘Lesion’ is a death heralding type of word.

How long did I have? Why did I buy those shoes?  More stuff to sort through and dispose off before I jetted off to the netherworld.  Ian said I was not dying.  He said I was too pretty to die.

I’m not afraid to die.  It’s just that I’m not quite ready to check out.  I still enjoy singing, dancing, eating, etc.  And I do want to see how the Trump presidency plays out. Also I’d like to sell the flat, pay my debts, and tidy up filing cabinet drawers and my closets.  I think this might have been the ‘bargaining phase’ of dealing with imminent death.

I was placed front of the gynaecology queue. No. It’s not cancer the consultant said, it’s a polyp and she’d wheech it out right away.  Not exactly painlessly. Did I want to see it? The size of a small grape it was, and glistening pink in the jaws of the forceps, and since she was in there just a little sample of my endometrial tissue.  Ouch!  Holy!  I was expecting the little sharp twinge of a pap smear not specimen by melon scoop.

I’m not dying.  I’ve bought some really pretty harem pants, and a Chinese boudoir robe with embroidery to replace the one I’ve had for 40 years, because it was  soiled at the cuff edges and disintegrating with age.

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Six Traumatic Memories of Trump’s Inauguration

I  I was alone

and while it is hard for me to watch horrifying events at any time, being alone renders the experience more horrifying.

It was almost as horrid as Pasolini’s Salò   120 Days of Sodom.  You could have mistakenly thought the inauguration program had been written as an allegory for fascism — as Salò was.    A bit like Trump himself.  He’s hard to caricature or satirize because the real thing, Trump in action, is funnier and more terrible than any parody of him could be.   The inauguration was funny and bizarre, more funny and bizarre than a satirist could have written it. But I wasn’t laughing the whole time. My bowels were in an uproar. It’s what happens to me when I experience fear.

II  Rich American woman have big hair

I can’t say anything else about that other than Michele Obama is beautiful. Melania Trump is a beautifully proportioned hanger for designer clothes and make up. Michele Obama is real.  Melania, and Trump’s immaculately turned out children are strangely robotic.  I wondered if they have a family plastic surgeon in the same way we have a family doctor.

III Now We Belong

The Missouri state university chorale sung this piece.  I forgot to be traumatised during most of it.  It had a beautiful melody and the singing was very fine.   But the irony!

Here is the place of stranger’s welcome

We who once walked in stranger’s shoes

We were welcomed. . .

Now we belong and believe in this land.

Camera pans to Donald’s face — he appears unmoved.

IV  No less than six religious leaders spoke

One of them remarked on the fact that the heavens had opened just as the President Elect rose to swear the oath.  A mark of grace, he said! I suppose he felt called to say something about the rain and didn’t want to bring up about the flood sent by God to drown the  inhospitable people of Sodom and Gomorrah. *

Pastor Paula White spoke.  Paula is a TV evangelist who preaches the prosperity gospel   ie  true believers will be blessed, not just with eternal salvation, but also with great worldly success, including lots of money.  That would be news to Jesus Christ! The prosperity gospel practices a pay forward scheme.  Adherents are extorted, I mean exhorted to give money to the pastor.  I think it’s like the sale of indulgences  — a practice that got the Catholic Church in trouble centuries ago.

In his benediction, the fundamentalist, anti-LGBT minister, Rev. Franklin Graham read a Bible verse supporting the idea that Jesus is the only mediator between God and person.  That’s a bad choice of scripture, I thought.  And the timing was awful, coming as it did, back to back with words from a Jewish Rabbi.  The camera panned to Rabbi Marvin Hier. He is dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.  His expression was hard to read. Luckily no Muslim cleric was waiting to speak – and to have to swallow his bile with the slur.  I’m guessing none was invited.  (It’s only the second largest religion in the world and we all know that Trump’s a little antsy about Islam).

Cardinal Dolan of New York read from The Book of Wisdom. King Solomon’s prayer: Solomon acknowledges that God made humankind, to govern the world in holiness and righteousness and to render judgement in integrity of heart.  It goes on, Give us wisdom, for we are your servants, weak and short-lived, lacking in comprehension of judgement and of laws.   A good message for someone inclined to arrogance and bombast.  And Dolan represents Pope Francis, who tries to represent Jesus to us.  The pope’s not been subtle in his remarks about Trump. He speaks out about the plight of refugees and others impacted by homelessness and poverty and about our duty to act.  The Wisdom may have been lost on Trump who seemed to spend a deal of time slumped on his chair, his lips pushed out in that big Trump pout.

V  Trump’s Inaugural Address

The pugnacious set of the jaw, the narrowed eyes, the repetition of slogans,  a recital of the many   miracles that can be accomplished ‘ right now’.   He is Elmer Gantry and Hitler and that creepy guy in the used car lot who smells of cheap cologne and chewing gum.  And he’s the Commander in Chief! He has the codes that will permit him to launch a nuclear attack. But for now he’s laying out his manifesto, one that’s in effect as of ‘right now’. No debate or discussion.  He’ll eradicate terrorism from the face of earth, along with drugs, and gangs,  and homeland crime, protect the borders,  make roads, airports, railroads, jobs, happiness appear as if by magic.  We are ‘protected by God’ he said!  The camera panned. The audience appeared as stunned as I felt.  Obama looked grave.  It’s hard for me not to think of the Gulag Archipelago and how much labour it will actually take to set up those many miles of wall between the USA and Mexico and how this man will be loathe to hear a dissenting voice or consider a different opinion.  I live in Scotland.  He’s definitely not my president.

VI  Jackie Evancho and the Star Spangled Banner

16 years old Jackie was ‘discovered’ in the show America’s Got Talent when she was about ten.  She may have been nervous on the day or put off by the band.  The rendition was painful to listen to: off-key notes, a shaky voice, poor breath control and diction.   I imagine she’d have been mortified.  I was mortified for her.  Yet somehow Jackie got it exactly right: an execrable performance of the national anthem for the inauguration to the highest office in the land of a  vulgar, abusive,  bigoted,  hardly literate, reality show host.  The age of celebrity has sunk to its nadir.  Even the high note Jackie forced out on the word ‘free’  –   sounded  curiously like the sound a  mortar makes before impact.


*I practice my editorial freedom today by correcting my blog.  In actual fact God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, not, as I incorrectly stated,  by flood — he’d tried the flooding earlier, at the time of Noah.  After the waters subsided,  he  promised Noah not to flood the entire earth again and he sealed his promise with a  rainbow.   So he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with earthquake and fire.  Oh.  And then he sent Trump.

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Another Death

2016! What a bloody awful year!  Too many celebrities shocked us by dying.

People are going hungry on this day – some are literally starving to death, some are being tortured, imprisoned, executed, some are in refugee camps.  And the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

Meantime, we in the west, it being after Christmas,  are raking through the sale counters for more tat, more toxic shit, enjoyed for a day or so, and then dumped in the landfill.  Except for those amongst our number who are unemployed, or on zero hours contracts, those who barely manage to put food on the table, and whose function in the economic system is that of scapegoats for  the Alt Right, along with the  refugees and immigrants.  And I hate to sound prejudiced but it occurs to me as I scroll down on the social media pages, that the Alt Right have a high proportion of bad spellers. The Alt Right seem to be falling into an ‘unpresidented’ sinkhole of illiteracy.

To the litany of injustice, brutality, terror,  hatred and ignorance (and bad spelling) add  the recurring Headline News —  (name the celebrity) has died! Then biography, discography, et al, and quotes from other celebrities about the deceased.    An inside page chronicles all antecedent celebrity deaths of 2016.  In case we’d forgotten.   It’s a lot of paper and ink.

Please make it stop.  I don’t mean the deaths.   I mean when a singer/songwriter/actor ceases to breathe, can we please have an announcement and a modest obituary?  How about five to eight hundred words?  On the back pages?

Yes. Even for Leonard Cohen. I was a big fan of Cohen.  But his death is not headline news, nor a cause for international mourning.  Exact same goes for the many other celebrities who died in 2016. God rest their souls.

We don’t need circuses.  We need to get better at sharing our bread.

Many Humans were Born Today.  Many Died.  None Went Hungry.   That’s a headline I’d like to see.

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We Hate Trump in Scotland

We hate Trump in Scotland.  In the 600,000 signatures-strong petition to ban him from visiting the UK, Scots were in the highest percentage of signatories per 1,000 population.

Last night I watched his speech accepting nomination for candidacy . The team that wrote it includes a Dr. Mesmer, as well as the fellow who writes jingles for the best selling soft drink in the world –the drink that rots your teeth.

I’ll restore  Law and Order – to the USA!’  

Thunderous applause and chanting  —   USA USA USA

I’m extremely suggestible.  After several repetitions of ‘I’ll  restore law and order to the USA’  he had me convinced.  I live in sleepy SW Scotland but, by God,  I want Law and Order in the USA.   And tubby, bull-necked, red-faced, megawatt Trump will deliver it to me.  My consciousness intrudes for a second and asks:  How exactly is he planning to do that?  But that chant – USA USA  –has a hypnotic quality. Like the dumb animals in Animal Farm, mindless,  clueless,  I join in:  USA USA USA,  I chant

I’m similarly convinced when he vows to stop murderous mayhem in the USA  by not letting them in. Hang on a mo. Who are they?  I seem to remember a mixed bag when it came to perpetrators of gun violence in the USA.  And were most of them not born there? Send Them Back Send Them Back Send Them Back goes the audience, and I can only feel joy that the major problems are soon to be resolved.  Send Them Back Send Them Back Send Them Back.

And Hillary!–  ‘the criminal’. What to do?  Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad  Lock her up Lock Her Up Lock Her Up    And I’ll knit as her head rolls!  I mean, as they turn the key of her jail cell!  Lock Her Up Lock Her Up  

It’s looking good for Trump.  The USA’s new head of state!  They’ll have to welcome in him at Westminster!

Not necessarily in Scotland though.

We might build that wall.



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From Opera Singer to Busker in One Afternoon

One of my unrealized, (unrealistic) ambitions was to be an opera singer – a prima donna. The soprano gets the starring roles,  stunning arias,   high notes,  best costumes,  cleavage,  diamonds,  adoring audience,  bouquets and  curtain calls.

I have a contralto voice.

I am a street performer.

On Saturday Ian and I busked for two hours in High Street, Dumfries.

I hasten to assure my family and friends that in spite of the exchange rate (Canadian dollar – GB pound) and the impact of plummeting oil prices I am not insolvent nor yet reduced to eating mouldy bread. I don’t need to sing for loot.

Our Saturday late morning shopping crowds recital supported the Trade Unions Council’s efforts to draw attention to the evils of ‘zero hours contracts’, and the impact of a government-sanctioned policy on the living standards, and the social and financial security of low-income, often unskilled and under qualified, often young, citizens of the UK.

One dear soul dropped money into my upturned bodhran. I thanked him and returned his money, along with a yellow leaflet, the text of which castigated the Tories for their heartless disregard of the plight of low-income workers.

We were asked if we had a CD. This surprised me. We’re actually not that good. However, that being said, I noticed very many young children standing as though entranced; captivated and delighted by us and our performance.

So this is our niche audience, people age 3-6 years; people able to appreciate the rich combination of vocal harmony, fine guitar work, our repertoire of heart-felt protest songs; and, our undoubted visual appeal — greying locks glinting in the weak March sun, lined faces, our stage dress — the habitual winter-wear, including the tartan scarf and classic fingerless mitts. All rather the worse for wear at the tail end of a long Scottish winter.




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David Bowie – on his death

I’d never seen him live or listened to his music. But I recognised the name and the made up face.  I couldn’t have missed the news of his death had I wanted to. The coverage was huge – not just on my facebook page with numerous memes and heartfelt RIPs– but on the BBC and in all the newspapers.  How had I missed the musical contribution of this enormously gifted man?   A genius!  Better late than never you tube:   I start with  Space Oddity:  Is this a nod to Space Odyssey and Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra?  OK.  That is unfair.  I’m beginning to sound prejudiced.  But Kurt Masur died December 19, 2015 with a barely heard fond whisper of sadness at his passing and about the same for Pierre Boulez who died just two days ago.


Absolute Beginners, Ziggie Stardust, Starman, Lazurus, ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore: Not a great voice, banal lyrics,  simplistic and repetitive melodies. The back up tracks  lack nothing,  unless you subscribe to the philosophy that  less is more.  To discover if repeated exposure to his style is necessary in order to appreciate him, I listened to Absolute Beginners four times and watched the accompanying film-noire styled video that begins with Bowie in trench coat and fedora, miming disgust  (he has run out of cigarettes). He crushes the empty package, chucks it, leaving it for the street cleaner to pick up next morning.  May he rest in peace.  I have nothing against the man, and to be clear, my own musical efforts are mediocre to risible.  I’m deeply curious though about the outpouring of grief at Bowie’s demise and his sudden elevation to icon for the age.   And how did I live without him?

One survivor tweeted:

If you’re ever sad just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.

Yes.  No doubt that thought will see me through my annual winter depression.

And there are quotes – ideas and thoughts that David Bowie actually expressed!
Don’t you love the Oxford Dictionary?  When I first read it I thought it was a really long poem about everything. 

 I say stupid things too.  About one hundred times a day.  And while we’re on the topic — please don’t quote me after I’m dead.


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Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, Mallorca Cathedral, Palma


Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, Mallorca Cathedral

I find myself drawn to the daily news like a blow fly to a freshly steaming heap of excrement. I’m wearing my  seasonal outfit, a thick blanket of fog. It suggested itself to me at the beginning of October as a substitute for any and all of my happier wardrobe options. While my senses are acutely attuned to the plastic geegaws, shiny baubles and jingle bell muzak designed to draw shoppers to the high street, I’m not at all tempted.  No.  I’m in the mood to pick through reports of atrocities in the Middle East, terrorist plots and attacks, yet another mass shooting in the USA.

Only a week ago we were in Soller, Mallorca — sunshine, trees laden with oranges and lemons, warm weather, walks; fresh vegetables, fruit, and local delicacies to be had cheaply at the market. Sunshine and exercise are antidotes to depression. So is food. I can shop for it, cook it, serve it and eat it.

Mallorca Cathedral’s chapel of the Holy Sacrament celebrates food.

The cathedral as a whole is a splendid French Gothic affair, all but one of its chapels glittering with gilt ormolu tracings, magnificent statuary and paintings — the whole lit from lofty many-coloured rose windows. The subtle play of light is augmented by Gaudi’s electric lanterns.

Miquel Barcelo’s Holy Sacrament chapel is in the apse to the right of the high altar. At first glance it’s a startlingly crude piece of work. A large terracotta cave. But under water. Seaweeds deck the windows and walls. It is a painting where clay sculpture erupts from the canvas. A huge clay diorama baked too fast in an enormous kiln so that the clay has developed a pattern of deep cracks. It’s a model of a brain wherein thoughts, fears and desires, take physical form and burst out from the tissue. It’s an atrium of a beating heart or a womb to experience rebirth. You may read its meanings through your own experience, your own prejudices, longings, fears.

The chapel was created for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In its design Barcelo employed two main motifs, two parables: Jesus feeds the multitude; Jesus turns water to wine at Cana. Loaves and fishes, cabbages, crabs and watermelon, clay vessels for cooking, eating and drinking, are suspended in the walls.  Memento mori cry the tumbled skulls. The portrayal of the risen Christ is central – yet it is neither here nor there; it is a human form, but rendered in blurry incorporeal light tones; emerging from the clay rather than superimposed on it. I did not see it for some minutes. Then a sudden shock as I see the five wounds and recognize them for what they are – slits with proud edges of swollen bloody flesh. Time and place disappear. The host lives here.

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The Humla Project — for the poorest of the poor in Nepal

The Humla Project

The mustard seed… though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. 

Matthew 13:31-32

… make the world a better place, even if it is in one small part of the world — Humla

Lokshara:  (a Shining Stars teenager)

It was during my two months in Kathmandu, Nepal, I was there under the auspices of Global Volunteer Network, that  I got to know the children of Shining Stars Children’s Home.  The home has been in existence for more than ten years providing care to a cohort of children who are now aged 11 years to 18 years.  The majority of these children call Humla, Nepal their home and, as they complete their studies and leave Shining Stars (which is slated for closure), they expect to return to Humla and their families of origin.

Brief Overview of Humla

Population 51,000

78.2% of Humla residents are Hindu and 20.2% Buddhist

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and within Nepal’s 75 districts Humla lies 73rd  in the poverty rankings.

The literacy rate in Humla is estimated at 63% (43% for women).  But in a survey of 31 villages in South Humla the literacy rate was found to be 30%

73% of households can make a (subsistence) living for only three months of the year.

Source:  Mission East – Values in Action.

During my close daily contacts with the children it became clear to me that issues connected with their imminent return to Humla were a source of anxiety for them. They talked emotionally about Humla and the problems which they saw as insurmountable.  They wondered how they would fit in, how they could help their families.

Thus was born ‘the Humla Project’.

The children and I talked about how if you give a set of actions a name, a title, a description,  it becomes real, it becomes actionable.

It also becomes something you need to feed with cash.  Global Volunteer network have donated the amount that was my program fee to the project, also the program fee of Nicola, a medical student who I overlapped with.  I’m asking you, reader,  to also consider donating money to the project.  Please read what follows and then consider  donating what you can afford.  If you can afford only a little that’s OK.  If you can afford a lot.  That’s also OK.   This link will take you to the donation site which is deemed safe, secure, and simple.  I’ve made a donation just to test it out.  It didn’t like my UK phone number but eventually accepted my donation sans my phone number.  Here is the link:

Here is Humla in the children’s own words: 

Luna:  It is in the western part of Nepal…the remote part of Nepal… no adequate food, no clothes, no medicine, not enough water to drink.  However, it is very special to me because it is my birthplace.  It is a place of natural beauty – fast-flowing falls, rocky Himalayas, deep blue rivers with freezing water.

Mahesh:  The region still exists as it did in ancient periods.  Infertile land makes the production of crops difficult, so people have to go south to India or north to China for their earnings. 

Hari:  Humla is a backward and remote place….no health facilities or proper education, no transportation or clean drinking water.  It is a very beautiful place. 

Lokshara:  I came to Shining Stars Children’s Home ten years ago.  Conditions (in Humla) were bad. No clothes, no food, no books, no notebooks, or pens.  In Humla there are lots of apples but there is no place to sell them at a good price. There is no transportation. It takes one month to come (to Kathmandu) on foot.  Air travel is too expensive for the people of Humla.  They are too poor.  There is no way of earning money.  The few crops are used for their food.  Some people who have sheep go to Tibet to sell the wool.  They earn very little money.  When they buy new clothes they used them for 10 years or more.  People from poor families don’t wear clothes until they reach the age of five to six years.  Many people die from diarrhoea because there are no doctors and nurses. 

Moon:  A place completely blind and strange; a most shaded and backwards region of Nepal; a primitive lifestyle; indeed a dark, hidden and most poor place where people die of hunger.  A child is born, unknowingly, in frozen mid winter.  His mother dies giving birth to him due to improper health care.  In childhood he learns how to take care of goats and cows instead of learning ABCD.  He learns to hunt birds instead of knowledge.  He is given a spade instead of a pen.  He sees dark instead of light.  He wants to rise up but society pulls him down, down and down.  What can he do then?  The only thing he can do is cry. 

Ajaya:  I am not from Humla but I support all my brothers and sisters whom I grew up with in children’s homes.  In Humla there are no proper facilities for transportation, communication, electricity, education, etc.

Sunita:  Humla is a remote part of my country Nepal.  All the people are uneducated.  There is lack of health facilities, lack of food, clothes, etc.  Some people of Humla eat food only once a day. 

Mandir:  Humla is my birthplace.  It is located on the Himalayan side of western Nepal.  It is one of the most remote districts in Nepal.  It is a naturally beautiful place – snow covered mountains, and rocky hills.  The environment is clean and fresh.  Humla makes me proud of myself.  But my home town consists of barren, rocky land about 4,000 metres above sea level.  Nothing grows there except some potatoes and millet.  The government of Nepal provides food but it is not sufficient for the whole year.  People are hungry all the time.  In the winter frozen snow covers the ground five feet deep.  In winter people just stay at home.  Some people have no clothes.  People need to walk days to reach health care.  Minor diseases cause untimely death. Sheep and yak are the only means of transportation and they are not reliable for carrying people.

Hira:  Humla is my birthplace.  It lies in the mid-western part of Nepal.   There are no proper health facilities.  Sick people have to be carried to hospital.  Sometimes eight days.  If they do not get there on time they may die

Ashok:  I am from Lumjung (not Humla). The main problems of Humla district are poverty and illiteracy.  Due to this there are health problems and some people don’t eat twice a day. 

Shanta:  Humla is a remote and underdeveloped part of the world.  If someone becomes sick there they have to walk three to four days to reach a health post.  To get water from a tank they have to walk three to four hours. 

Rajendra.  When I remember my (early) childhood in Humla I remember frozen hands.  My work was to graze the yaks and sheep.  The white snow-covered mountains always share their calm and innocent smile and at the foot of the Humla Kamali River there are winds of sorrow.  At the altitude of 3000-4000 metres families are struggling day and night for their life.  My family barely manage two meals a day.  They are poor shepherds.  The weather is cold and they don’t have food and shelter.  It is difficult to imagine and my eyes can’t control the tears. 

Khem:  Humla is a rural place.  The lifestyle in each district is very very poor and people live in miserable conditions. 

They talk about their families

Luna: I have four younger sisters.  They are studying these days.  My parents just do the household activities.  Other than that there are no jobs for income generating among Humla people.  For my family I must make their lives better and then help the world, as they are my first and foremost responsibility. 

Hari:  My parents are too old and they cannot work.  They have a big dream about me to become a good citizen and big person one day. 

Moon:  After a year this children’s home will not support me any more.  My family can’t either.  They have nothing at all. 

Sunita:  I have two big brothers, two younger brothers, three older sisters and my dad and mom.  My older brothers and sisters are married.  My father just stays at home because he is too old and can’t work.  My mother works in the field.  My family is very poor.  When I was five years old, my parents sent me to work in my sister’s house as a servant.  You wouldn’t believe that a five-year-old child could work, but I really could do any type of work.  I cooked the food and I cared for my sister’s children.  I didn’t go to school.  I would go sometimes but only for four to five days a month.  So I was really weak in my studies.  When I was six years old, my father brought me to Kathmandu to take care of my older sister’s children.  When we reached Kathmandu my older sister had already gone home, but we didn’t know that.  So my father decided to place me in a children’s home.  At that time, I was really sad and cursed my parents.  But now I understand why they did it. 

Mandir:  I have in my family six members: two brothers, two sisters, and mother and father.  My family is too poor.  My father is a farmer.  My mother is too old.  She can’t walk. 

Hira:  I grew up in a poor family.  I don’t like this world.  It is very greedy and nobody helps Humla. 

Shanta:  I have six members in my family, father, mother, two sisters and two brothers.  In a remote area like Humla, people are married at the age of 14 or 15 – before their menstruation.  My father is a farmer.  My mother is a housewife.  My two brothers have already married at the age of 15.  Now, one of my brothers has two children and the other has three children.  They are uneducated and they don’t have enough money to study because my family cannot afford it.  They have no money to send their children to school so they have to marry their children early.  I’m the youngest of my family.  I am a very lucky person because if I was there (in Humla) my parents would have already married me off, but now I’m here so I have to work hard and do my best for the future.  My wish is to make my parents happy and show them the amazing talents I have.  I will never give up my studies to make my future bright.  It has been a very long time since I came from Humla.  I miss my birthplace very much and I love my parents so much.  One would understand now much I love them. 

Rajendra:  I left my homelands due to poverty and political conditions.  I have old parents and a sister.  My parents live a life or death existence, always struggling to survive, also my sister.  They don’t know what the world is and what the world’s people do due to illiteracy.  They barely manage two meals a day.  They are poor shepherds.  They take the sheep into the high Himalayas to carry the herbs.  They spend most of their lives in the jungle. 

Ashok:  I wish for my Humla brothers’ and sisters’ progress.  Their happiness is my happiness and their sorrow is my sorrow which has been shared since six years ago.  I would like to see their villages develop and prosper.  Although I am alone because I have no family, I never feel alone because of them.  I will never part from them.  I would like to give my hand to make their villages paradise.

Khem:  It has always been a dream of my mother and father for me to become a great, successful person in my life and serve my family, village and the districts of Humla. 

They talk about culture and customs

Mahesh:  Humla is rich in natural beauty, and religious culture.

Hari: The people of Humla live in harmony. They are kind-hearted and they respect each other and they always respect the soul. 

Moon:  Early marriage – at the age of 11 to 15 years – is common.  This happens because of poverty, lack of knowledge, and lack of awareness. 

Sunita:  The main occupation is agriculture.  Most people don’t work.  There is a child marriage system.  Children get married at age 14 or 15. 

Mandir:  People are still in traditional belief, norms, culture.   In terms of studying, people look at sheep, cows and goats. 

Hira:  In Humla people get married early.  They get married at an early age because they don’t have education. 

Shanta:  The government provides all kinds of facilities in developed places but does not provide facilities in remote areas.  Remote is always remote and developed places are always developing.  That is how our country is running.  The people are not educated.  They uphold traditional beliefs and ideas.  The people think everyone should marry early.  If they marry early then God will be happy.  This unbearable way of thinking makes their life poor.  They give opportunities to sons but not to their daughters because they believe that one day daughters must leave home and be looked after by a man.  Girls get married very young and die around the age of 35 to 45. 

Rajendra:  The people are still practising the culture and lifestyle from centuries ago such as early marriage, witch doctors, and girls having menstruation must stay in a cowshed for up to seven days etc. 

I, and another volunteer, Malia, met with the children as a group.  They shared their stories with us.  They spoke about their hopes and fears and anxieties attendant upon their imminent discharge from Shining Stars.  They also spoke about their ambitions and the ways in which they hoped they might help their families. 

Mahesh:  I am now studying mass communication.  I have made two short movies.  Although I haven’t had many opportunities my heart always pushes me to act in front of cameras.  I want higher education in this field.  After the completion of my studies I hope to work with the Humla Project (in the side) related to media and film.  I could broadcast the problems of Humla from media, radio, film, drama, etc.

Luna:  I’m in grade 10.  This is my last year and then I will be going to college this coming August.  I plan to study sociology.  I want to be a social worker.  I want to travel to different parts of Humla and make people aware about their health so it would extend longevity of the lives in Humla. 

Hari:  I am 15 years old and in grade nine.  I want to be a health assistant (HA).  I want to study HA in college.  I will join the Humla Project, go to my birthplace and help poor people, disabled people, children, with health matters.  I want to build some public toilets in the community, to give health awareness and discourage child marriage, also to give health awareness about hand-washing before eating and after toilet. 

Lokshara:  Once I leave this home (Shining Stars) I am unsure what I should do.  I don’t have money to be a good nurse.  I have a BIG dream to become a nurse and establish a hospital in Humla to look after my villagers and my family.  In my heart, I want to help others and make their body healthy.  Also, I want to provide education about health and how good health can make a person happy.  The purpose of my life is to make the world a better place, even if it is in one small part of the world, Humla. 

Moon:  We are planning to start the Humla Project whose motive is to make each individual of Humla happy.  We would make them self-reliant.  We would like volunteers such as doctors, engineers, nurses, health administrators and agricultural specialists to help in their specialist areas.  Basic needs should be met, children should enjoy their rights, women be empowered.

I know life is precious.  I respect life not because it provides entertainment but because it provides us a chance to be heroes.  I think we are born to do great things like Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa or Mahatma Ghandi, and not to burn ourselves like a rubbish heap.  I know that even water is born to give life to other living things and to provide a habitat for us. 

I am a 17-year-old boy studying science, especially physics, because I want to be a mechanical engineer.  I am talented, a good student and uphold a high position in college with excellent marks.  My friends and teachers feel proud of me.  I have a deep interest in physics and maths.  I want to be an engineer because I could help the development of Humla. 

Sunita:  I want to be a staff nurse.  This is the dream of my parents, villagers and mine.  When I become a staff nurse, I would go to my own village in Humla and I spread knowledge about health and health care.  I want to see people wearing warm clothes in winter and good clothes in other seasons.  I want to see food in their mouths.  They should be educated and healthy.  I love to dance also.  I want to open dance classes in my village. 

Mandir:  I got the chance to become educated.  But I miss my poor family too much.  I am getting knowledge.  I am in grade ten now.  My family hopes for big things from me.  So I have to do something now for them.  I am studying hard now.  I know that I have to provide something for my village.   If I am successful I would be able to make my parents happy.  With that said, I have a big dream.  I want to be a doctor in the future.  In order to be a doctor in the context of our country, Nepal, financial support should be strong.  I know my family can’t support me.  I need financial support from other people.

Hira:  I am thinking that I can open one small hotel in Humla, but don’t have any money to establish it.  I am poor and grew up in a poor family.  I’d like to establish a hotel near my home. 

Ashok:  Nowadays I am studying science subjects.  After the completion of my studies I hope to work in Humla in agriculture.  I’m not from Humla but I understand that there are lots of orchard farms which are not being utilized.  I would look after other agricultural sectors too.  

Shanta:  I am in grade nine at school.  I am 14 years of age.  When I have finished my school levels, my purpose is to be a nurse.  The main purpose of being a nurse will be to help the people and give knowledge to all people.   If I became a nurse I would want to develop my birthplace by making people educated, giving awareness programs to people, helping them in their difficulties and treating them well. 

Rajendra:  Although Humla is backward, there are lots of possibilities to create self-reliance.  There are possibilities of apple-farming, collection of herbs and group rearing of yak and sheep, development of tourism.  With the fundamental philosophy to provide self-reliance and self-sufficiency, we are thinking about the Humla Project.  We know that, with educating oneself one cannot educate others.  If a candle wants to see itself it has to glow to provide light to the other.  Humla is socio-economically disadvantaged.  There are lots of things to do in health and sanitation education, as well as community maintenance and meeting basic needs.  We are planning to learn from groups in different fields of development.  We are aiming to provide ourselves with skills, human resources, agricultural specialists, nurses, doctors, engineers, social workers, teachers, health administrators to help us think of solutions and find the particular solution and always pay attention to sustainable development in each field. We want to take the knowledge and skills back to Humla and create a haven of peace and prosperity. 

Khem:  I am 15 years old.  I would actively involve the native people in our projects so local people can be involved.  We can help the people of Humla to uplift their living conditions.  I would like to develop tourism in Humla.  I hope to study tourism in college. 

Please empower these young people to go home and effect change in their communities.  Any donation – however small — a mustard seed –  when matched with the energy, commitment and loving intention of these youngsters, will grow a thousand fold.  Please help.  Please donate. 

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Volunteering in Nepal – To every thing there is a season

I first wrote about my volunteer experience in March 2014, three months after returning from a two-month long placement at the Shining Stars Children’s Home.  The home, located in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, is operated administratively by Volunteer Services Nepal (VSN).  My placement there was brokered by Global Volunteer Network (GVN), a New Zealand based charitable organization,

To place this post in context, I have to tell you that when I wrote the initial post, I was feeling rather like a casualty of a war.

On returning home, I was invited, as are all volunteers, to provide feedback to GVN.  I did so, honestly and in good faith.  The ensuing correspondence stretched out over three frustrating months. My feedback was not welcomed — I received the whistle blower’s reward.  My concerns, about deficits in the children’s nutrition, health care and discharge planning, were met with stony silence, counter-arguments or disingenuous assurances that the ‘serious allegations’ I had made would be dealt with at some time in an indeterminate future.   Questions and criticisms regarding lack of transparency around financial arrangements were met with defensiveness, denial and obfuscation.  I picked up my pen.

This month (February 2015), after a total of 15 months of frustration and anger, I was contacted by Colin Salisbury of Global Volunteer Network with an offer to start a new dialogue.   He wanted me to modify my March 2014 blog.  The content — and this I will tell those of you who missed reading it (it’s now gone) — was excoriating.  If I had been Colin or any of the staff mentioned I would have wanted the blog to disappear.  Colin explained to me that the blog had, in fact, impacted on the reputation of GVN and affected volunteer recruitment and donations.

I and another volunteer, who had also been treated high-handedly when she voiced concerns and criticisms similar to mine, were offered an apology by Colin and an acknowledgement that our concerns and criticisms had been valid.  By way of expiation he agreed to donate a substantial sum of money directly to the children at the home.  This money, identified principally for their further education, will go directly to the educational institutions.  In addition, Colin has also agreed to make funding arrangements – particularly the use to which the Volunteer Program Fee is put – transparent and easy for GVN site visitors to understand.

War is always bad but it is sometimes necessary.  The experience of having my words fall on stony ground was frustrating.  But worse was being a witness to a social wrong and feeling powerless to do anything about it.  I used my pen like a weapon.  It’s all I could do.   I feel sad that I needed to be heavy handed.  War is not fun.  I feel bad for the hurt feelings of GVN staff, and the hurt feelings of staff at their partner organization in Nepal.  I wish it could have been different but war is sometimes necessary.  Colin Salisbury has said that he wants to move forward.  I also want to move forward.  The war between us is ended and the issues, more or less, resolved.


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