St. John's Prep
A Medical Mission to Nepal
As physicians, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, technicians, and other professionals, Prep graduates are well represented among health care clinicians. In this issue of St. John’s Prep Today, we profile David Monahan ’62, a physician and global volunteer who will celebrate his 50th reunion in May.
A Trek of a Different Kind
Bags packed with stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and medicines, Dr. David Monahan ’62 and his wife, Sally, will make the long journey from their home in southern California to the rugged mountains of Nepal in October.
It’s not the first time during his long medical career that Dr. Monahan has worked in remote, underserved parts of the world. He was still in medical school at Northwestern University when he went to Durban, South Africa, to work with Zulu tribespeople in the only hospital there that trained non-white doctors. More recently, he spent several weeks a year in Brazil’s rain forest, where he was part of a medical mission that traveled by boat to small villages along the Amazon.
A Safety Net for Children
The Monahans decided to go to Nepal after a neighbor in Del Mar, California, told them about the children at Chhahari, an orphanage in Kathmandu. This fall will mark the Monahan’s third visit to Kathmandu, where they also volunteer with the Care and Development Organization, a local non-governmental organization that provides education, training and medical care for the poor and displaced, particularly women and children.
Chhahari was founded in 2007 to provide a safety net for some of the thousands of Nepalese children whose families died, disappeared, or are too poor to care for them after a decade of political unrest and Maoist insurgencies that ended in 2006. Following the war, many children became victims of human trafficking or were forced into slavery, according to Dr. Monahan. The orphanage now provides a safe home and schooling for some two dozen of these girls and boys.
Baseline for a Healthy Future
On their initial visit, Dr. Monahan did full medical evaluations of every child at Chhahari. For most, it was their first encounter with clinical medical care.
The baseline data Monahan gathered allows him to follow the children’s health from year to year, and it helps determine the type of medications and supplies that will fill his luggage on future visits. While Dr. Monahan sees patients, his wife is nearby, helping to organize and run the clinics. When he offered to make rounds with a mobile medical clinic run by the Care and Development Organization, it was the first time that a physician had been part of the team.
The Spirit of America
Dr. Monahan often wears his red, white and blue shirt, particularly, when he is working with the children at Chhahari. “I think it is important the children see the Stars and Stripes and associate it with all the goodness that comes from America,” he says.
Here, Dr. Monahan sees eight year-old Keshari for follow-up on a migraine. When her parents died several years ago, Keshari’s family scattered. Her brother found his way to Chhahari and told the people there about his little sister. Against long odds, they were able to find Keshari and bring her to the orphanage. She had been enslaved and was working 14 hours a day in a hotel restaurant.
Workers in the Kathmandu Valley
Operating out of tents, the clinic provides care for carpet weavers and workers in the brick factories that dot the villages and landscape of the Kathmandu Valley. The carpet weavers, most of them children and young women, work 12 hours a day, produce colorful, intricately patterned rugs that are sold in the markets of Khatmandu.
Workers in the brick factories also include many young women and children. Their job is to turn bricks in the hot kilns and carry the finished product in loads that weight as much as 110 pounds. The weavers and brick factory workers earn less than two dollars a day. While men work in the brick factories, many leave the valley to find work and send remittances home to their families.
Treating Third World Misfortunes
Apart from the back, neck, wrist and knee problems that are common among these workers, most of the illnesses Monahan sees stem from what he calls “the usual third world misfortunes of extreme poverty and malnourishment.”
“These people are among the one-third of the world’s population who exist on a $1 a day or less. They often have no shelter, no food and no source of fresh water. Doctors and health care are just not a part of their experience,” he says.
Making Incremental Progress
Dr. Monahan buys medicines in the United States to bring with him because they are not easily available in Nepal. Hospital facilities are ill equipped. The facility where one of Dr. Monahan’s patients underwent an appendectomy for example, looks like “hospitals in Boston 150 years ago,” he says.
At the same time, however, Dr. Monahan sees progress as a result of what he, his wife and other volunteers are doing. After two years with regular medical care, the children at Chhahari are healthier, and the vaccination program Dr. Monahan began two years ago promises to prevent many of the childhood diseases that have all but disappeared in the developed world.
Stoic People, Harsh Environment
The harsh reality of the poverty that defines the lives of many of its people stands in stark contrast to the beauty of Nepal’s dramatic mountains and lush valleys, according to Dr. Monahan.
“The people of Nepal are stoic, but the environment is harsh, particularly if you have no home, no family, and you make only a dollar or two a day. If you don’t work here, you don’t eat,” he says.
And so while he continues to run his busy family medical practice back home in Chula Vista, Dr. Monahan looks forward to returning to Nepal each year to check on his patients there.
Interested in learning more?
Explore these resources to learn more about the need for medical care in Nepal.
- “Little Princes” by Conor Grennan: David Monahan recommends this powerful account of the time Grennan spent volunteering in an orphanage in Nepal and his subsequent efforts to rescue some of the children he met. More can be found on their website.
- Chhahari: For more about this orphanage in Kathmandu, visit their website.
- Care and Development Organization: Explore the CDO website to learn about the economic and social development work being done by this organization.
- International Medical Assistance Program (MAP): This group supplies Dr. Monahan with the medications and paperwork he needs to bring supplies to Nepal. Find details on their website.