Spotlight on INF

In this blog post we will introduce you to some of the fantastic work that International Nepal Fellowship (INF), the national Christian NGO we are seconded to, is doing in the country.

Since arriving in Nepal we have been spending our time learning the local language (Nepali) 4 days a week, giving us time on the 5th day to spend time learning about some of the projects INF are doing in the country, as well as learning about Nepali customs and culture.  Most of that has been in Pokhara (Kaski), but over Easter all the family went on a big trip for 8 days to the Midwest of Nepal, visiting projects in and around Banke, and Pippa also spent a couple of days visiting an area called Surkhet to see a few medical projects there too.  In this blog update we would love to share a bit with you all about the amazing work that is happening here through INF with some of the poorest of the poor.  We have included links to YouTube videos of some of the work for those interested in finding out more.

1. Leprosy work

INF’s work had it’s beginnings in leprosy work here in Pokhara, and still treats a significant amount of Nepal’s leprosy patients through its medical facilities in Pokhara, Nepalgunj and Surkhet.  We live close to the site of INF’s Green Pastures hospital, which was established on the site of a former leper colony, far outside the city limits of the time.

Leprosy has of course throughout history been a highly stigmatised disease, and that stigma is still evident here despite the condition now being medically cured simply and cheaply in it’s early stages through multi-drug therapy.  A diagnosis of leprosy not only affects a person’s physical wellbeing, but also their social, psychological and economic position. Physically, the untreated leprosy bacterium causes sensory nerve damage, with the resultant lack of pain information causing damage to the body that would normally be avoided.  The ulceration and loss of body parts that ensues, combined with nerve paralysis and visual problems, leads to a lifetime of deformity and disfigurement.

Not only does the patient have the stigma of their disability, but a leprosy diagnosis can have a devastating impact on social standing for a Nepali.  In traditional Hindu culture there is are deep spiritual connotations for perceptions of impurity or being unclean – to be unclean is to be impure, a punishment for past misdeeds, and such a person and their family members should be shunned and avoided.  The impact of this in a society where community and family are paramount is devastating, affecting marriage prospects, social interaction and economic opportunities.  To be excluded from family or community in Hindu society is an ostracism from any meaningful role in life. Leprosy is often seen as a disease of poverty, but can also very easily tip a person and their family into extreme poverty.

INF’s work therefore aims to take all this complexity into account.  Dispensing drugs is relatively straightforward: medical treatment of ulcers and therapeutic interventions for disability are offered.  But addressing the underlying stigma is a different matter.  INF funds pastoral and social workers to support patients in holistic ways, research into issues such as why people delay presenting with leprosy symptoms, and health education opportunities to try to help people access treatment before the onset of disability and reduce the stigma surrounding the condition.  This video (7.44 minutes) shows some of the leprosy work in Surkhet district:

2. Rehabilitation

As a physio, Pippa has been particularly interested in the rehabilitation services offered by INF, in a country where it is physically, socially and economically challenging to have a disability (Imagine living up a mountain if you are a wheelchair user….or avoiding snakes in your rice paddy if you are blind…).  Green Pastures hospital here in Pokhara has rehabilitation facilities, complemented by prosthetics (artificial limb) and wheelchair/equipment departments.  The newly opened spinal cord injury unit includes a peer counsellor (himself a former patient and ongoing wheelchair user), and even has it’s own wheelchair basketball team! Surkhet also has a small rehabilitation department, with a small team of one physio and 3 rehab assistants catering for the therapy needs of the inpatients in the rehab unit, leprosy patients and out patient clients for an entire district. The following video is about the Green Pastures hospital (2:52 minutes long).

A highlight for us as a family on our Midwest trip was spending a day touring rural projects there, which included visiting clients of one of the INF Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) projects.  The picture below is us with a 29 year old gentleman who contracted polio aged 1, and has spent his life crawling everywhere, including an hour each way to primary school as a child! After assessment by an INF CBR worker he was referred to a local charity who could supply him with a wheelchair appropriate for use in his village, and funds were made available to install an accessible toilet and ramp next to his house, finally affording him some dignity and independence.

The next step for our family that day was sitting cross legged on the floor of the mud hut of INF’s volunteer health worker in the village, eating the traditional dhaatbhaat meal, whilst our celebrity kids valiantly smiled for countless selfies – not sure that they’d ever had 3 blond kids in the village before.

3. Obstetric fistula hospital

Pippa also got the opportunity to meet INF staff in Surkhet, where a new Fistula Hospital is about to open it’s doors. She reports:

Imagine the devastation of spending 3 days in obstructed labour until your tissues are so damaged that you tear open, leaving you with a dead baby and a lifetime of incontinence.  Imagine as a result being shunned by your community due to social and religious reasons, maybe divorced by your husband, excluded from community life.  Imagine not knowing that there was surgical intervention available that could correct it, or not having the hope of finding the funds even if you were aware it could be treated.

This is the reality for many, many women in Nepal who have not had access to adequate maternity services.  Imagine then hearing the news that an INF obstetrician is opening a new fistula hospital this year, which will fully fund all treatment plus associated costs that would still exclude the poorest from accessing treatment (such as travel expenses).  One operation with appropriate aftercare can completely transform the physical, social, psychological and economic prospects of these women.  INF has already been helping women with fistulas through targeted fistula camps, but once the hospital is open later this year there will be a permanent location in which affected women can receive high quality care and follow up at any time, from highly trained and specialised staff.  One operation with the potential to completely transform someone’s whole life.
INF have produced an information video to educate Nepali women and their communities about this condition and the available treatment (32:38 minutes long, in Nepali with English subtitles) called Mayako naya sari (Maya’s new sari):

4.  Self help groups

Who are the best people to identify the causes of poverty and problems in a community, and work towards solutions to those problems? The members of that community of course! Recognising this, INF has trained facilitators who have established nearly 1000 self-help groups in Nepal. These have been so successful in addressing some of the root causes of poverty in their communities that the Government has asked INF to extend this into many more areas.  Other than paying for the facilitator, INF don’t give these communities anything, the power and resources for change comes from within the community, who are helped to identify their own issues and come up with solutions to them.  The result is an empowered community that has learned how to identify and counter the things that empoverish them, with the potential to lift the whole community out of poverty.

We visited a couple of self helps groups while we were in Nepalgunj.  The photo shows a women’s self-help group who invited us along to one of the fortnightly meetings they hold in their village.  Identity as a group felt important to them, so the first thing they did when they established their group was to buy matching saris! They identified that domestic violence was a big problem in their community.  So the group leaders approached their village elders, and worked with them to educate and where necessary sanction husbands who were violent towards their wives.  As the self esteem of these women rose, they started to explore other ways they could benefit their families, and among them started sending their kids to school and starting small businesses to boost the family income.  Without receiving any monetary gifts they were empowered to identify themselves the things that were keeping them in poverty and make positive changes.

In another village, we met a man whose self-help group had decided to start a micro-finance initiative, in which every member paid a few rupees a month into a central fund.  This acted as a kind of ‘rainy day fund’ which could be drawn on in time of need, with the agreement of the members.  This had proved a real life saver for the man we met, whose house and farm had been washed away by last years massive monsoon induced flooding .  The ability to draw on finances from the initiative meant that he has now been able to rebuild his buildings. It has enabled him to be financially self-sustaining, in a situation that would tip many families into poverty with no chance of getting back on their feet.  Again, the finances and power for this lay with the community themselves, releasing people from a mindset of dependence on external aid. This week INF released a video about the power of self-help groups, entitled ‘Poverty is not inevitable’ (5.00 minutes):

5. Disaster Response and Resilience Department (DDRD)

Our primary purpose in coming out to Nepal is to support the DDR department, which is involved in earthquake reconstruction and resilience building in a country which is very prone to natural disasters, with many communities still recovering from the 2015 earthquakes. Toby is currently familiarising himself with the work, whilst we are awaiting the necessary work visa, which is currently progressing through the various government departments, so watch this space …
  • Interested in finding out more about the work of INF?        
  • Would you consider contributing financially to our work to help keep us here supporting the life changing work that INF is doing here with some of the world’s poorest people? Find our giving page here:       


2 thoughts on “Spotlight on INF

  • Sarah Townsend

    Sounds like there is a lot of work to be done and I’m sure you’re helping and learning along the way.
    I loved the tale about Pippa’s shopping trip to purchase carrots!

    Take care

    • admin

      Thanks Sarah. Good to hear from you. I think we are ok on the carrot front now, but plenty more scope for misunderstanding remains. In general people are very kind though, since you are making an effort to learn their language.

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