In October, 26 surgeons and operating room nurses traveled from Hawaii to Dhankuta in eastern Nepal. They went there planning to do as much surgery on the townspeople as they possibly could, in a word, to "reach the unreached."
ThinkTech was fortunate to interview Honolulu surgeon Brad Wong, leader of the Aloha Medical Mission, which arranged the trip. He shared his footage, and we made a movie for OC16. The story is powerful, and putting it together was a powerful experience. See OC16.tv and AlohaMedicalMission.org.
In the First World we’re used to surgery by skilled surgeons who use high-tech operating rooms and equipment. Not so in Dhankuta and the developing world where this kind of surgery is unknown, unavailable and akin to cargo cult.
Namaste is a Hindu greeting. You put your hands together, tilt your head and greet someone in peace. When the mission arrived, that’s what everyone in Dhankuta did, filling the town’s one street for hours. It spoke volumes.
Nepalese are a graceful people with a notable purity of spirit. They were responsive and openly appreciative to people with the mission who came so far to help them. It was a coming together of cultures and participants; no further words required. The benefits were personal and fully reciprocal.
Members of the mission made good on their plan. They improved the lives of hundreds of people in Dhankuta. As patients were wheeled from the makeshift operating room (three tables), they whispered, "Thank you, thank you." Touching and healing by surgical hands has a lasting effect, inside and out.
The doctors and nurses who come overcome their fears. The mission is not a vacation, but a plunge into hard work that requires the courage to deal with deprivation and the respiratory and intestinal challenges of remote areas. They rediscover their medicine, unconstrained by big-city politics and risks that might have dampened their enthusiasm at home. Their testimonials are tearful and touching.
It’s not every day we stumble into a transformation of the human spirit. They worked so hard, but the gift of it was enormous and transcendent. They are lucky to have found this experience, and we are lucky to have found them.
My hat’s off to the mission. Hippocrates lives and so does our special aloha. The Aloha Medical Mission is proof again of the sometimes elusive but always essential human need to help others. It’s a fine example of what we aspire to in Hawaii—education, health, tech, building a bridge to Asia and helping people.
Dhankuta won’t be unreached forever—it’s not unlike the areas in Zimbabwe and Afghanistan written up recently in The New York Times. By fits and starts, modern medicine is reaching these people, even if they have to pay for it with chickens. Once they’ve had it, can they ever again be satisfied with less?
The global flow of tech and medicine is to reach everywhere and be accessible to everyone. Modern medicine inevitably will come to Dhankuta, not only from organizations like Aloha Medical Mission, but also from its own locally trained health care workers. Cuba is known for practicing and teaching medicine in the developing world. Nepal and any country can have its own medical schools.
Dhankuta teaches us that among our health professionals there are people who are truly dedicated to reaching the unreached. They beckon us to go with them. If you accept, go soon and stay longer. If not, there’s no reason why you can’t join Aloha Medical Mission to help people right here in Hawaii.
After all, namaste, like aloha, means more than just saying hello.