Kara Budha remembers how difficult life used to be. Kara and his mother were outcasts, deformed by leprosy. Four decades ago, when he was just seven years old, they came to the small clinic at Dadeldhura in the remote, far-western region of Nepal.
Times were hard. Kara and his mother had to live in a cave near the clinic. There were times they would go hungry and survive on wild fruits. They worked tending cattle in the jungle, but it was a six-day walk to Pithoragarh, the closest town in India where supplies could be bought.
Other leprosy patients at the clinic faced similar difficulties. A teenage boy named Raghabir Budha was unwanted by his own village, and the clinic was his only hope. A teenage girl named Parbhati tried to kill herself by jumping into a river after her prayers for healing went unanswered by the local god and idols. She survived when a large wave washed her back onto land, and her brother brought her to clinic for treatment.
As more leprosy patients arrived in Dadeldhura, complaints from the villagers led to the district leader confining them to an area around the clinic, essentially establishing a prison. The clinic was the only place the patients were loved and shown compassion by the hospital doctors who treated their wounds and deformities.
Raghabir and Parbhati later married and had children. Their son, Kaleb Budha, said, “Both my parents were very much wounded, dirty and very poor, underprivileged people. The missionary doctors, they were the people who washed their wounds, cleaned their wounds, treated them, and fed them.”
Kara, Parbhati, and Raghabir were especially affected by the kindness of the Christian doctors. They grew in their faith and formed the first group Nepali believers in the region.
TEAM entered Nepal in 1968 as an extension of the North India field, and for many years the work consisted solely of the Dadeldhura clinic and the church that eventually developed under Raghabir’s leadership – the only church in far-western Nepal.
The clinic, now a hospital, is as busy as ever. It has expanded into full service care and treats a variety of diseases. Many healthcare issues they treat are due to the poverty and difficult living conditions in the area. The TEAM hospital serves more than one million people from Dadeldhura and seven other districts. Hospital doctor Doug Lindberg estimates that the outpatient department sees a couple hundred people each day, in addition to an average of 30 pediatric and adult patients in the hospital.
“From a medical standpoint, there’s never a dull moment,” Doug said. “There’s yet to be a day where I haven’t seen or done something that I’ve either never seen or never done before, and there’s not another doctor or specialist down the road to send a patient to.”
Healthcare services in western Nepal are rare. In 1992, TEAM began an outpatient department called Living River Health Services in the remote mid-western district of Rukum. Now called Chaurajhari Hospital, it serves more than 700,000 people from seven nearby districts. The hospital has 40 staff and two Nepali doctors who treat around 20,000 people a year in the outpatient department in addition to those treated in the hospital. Raghabir and Parbhati’s son Kaleb Budha serves as a doctor at the hospital in Rukum. He is frustrated by the lack of healthcare in rural parts of Nepal.
“In Nepal, we have many general doctors and even specialized doctors, but they are only staying in the city area,” Kaleb said. “In Katmandu, the doctor population this year is one to 700. But there are places where there is no doctor in two or three hundred thousand population. And people are dying in remote areas from simple problems like diarrhea caused by cholera. That is avoidable.”
A new generation of Nepali doctors, nurses, and administrators is taking over the TEAM hospitals. Mission hospitals throughout Nepal were forced to hand over management to local organizations before 2007. A Nepali Christian organization called Human Development and Community Service (HDCS) now runs the Dadeldhura and Rukum hospitals.
Though healthcare is difficult to access in western Nepal, its affect on the Nepali people is profound.
“The Lord has really used healthcare to touch people’s hearts,” said Doug. “Something like half the people who have come to Christ here – first-generation Christians – have come to Christ through either a miraculous healing or contact with their Christian healthcare provider or institution.”
-Written by Megan Darreth
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2011]