Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner Adam Hourigan

Grafton doctor is giving relief to Nepal

IT HAS been close to two months since the earthquake which struck the heart of Nepal, but for survivors the recovery effort is only just beginning.

One of Grafton Base Hospital's newest junior medical officers, Dr Arpana Sharma, knows just how long the road ahead is.

She grew up in Kathmandu and the city is still home to most of her family.

The day the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit, her brother and sister were hiking near the epicentre at Pokhara and her mum and grandmother were alone in their homes.

"The first 12 hours was agony, I couldn't reach anybody," she said.

"My sister got in touch with me to let me know she and my father were okay... but I didn't know where my mum was, and my cousins couldn't get in touch with her.

"I was pacing and not knowing and crying. It was very bad."

Dr Sharma later found out her mother was fine and just happened to be outside when the natural disaster happened.

Her grandmother wasn't so lucky, and slipped and fell while trying to rush out of her house. The fall broke her hip.

"After the disaster it's been very tough," she said.

"I wanted to jump on a plane and just go, but my colleagues at work advised me that because I'm not a trained trauma person I wouldn't be able to help at the beginning of the relief efforts, which made sense later on."

Dr Sharma is now planning to leave for Kathmandu at the end of July, but wants to raise some funds before she goes.

She hopes to be able to pass those funds directly to a not-for-profit organisation started by her younger sister two years ago, called Kalyani.

The NGO was started to empower Nepalese women's' health, but since the earthquake its focus has shifted towards emergency relief.

They are now making and distributing hygiene kits, designed to last a family for four weeks, to areas of devastation. Each kit contains a water purifier, antiseptic soap, toothbrushes, facemasks and sanitary pads.

"I think it's genius because it is the first step in trying to prevent epidemics which are going to happen," Dr Sharma said.

"Hygiene and sanitation is not something that's given importance at these times. It's survival and I get that."

There have been a number of strong aftershocks since April and a 7.3 earthquake last month, and Ms Sharma said the community was still dealing with those ramifications.

"Right now they're still dealing with the aftershocks," she said.

"People are actually getting accustomed to it. But hygiene is so important.

"The disaster was the first wave but the second will be the diseases that come after."

The Grafton medical officer said they had already managed to raise about $10,000 for Kalyani through an online campaign, but the money was redirected by the Nepalese government into the Prime Minister's relief fund, with no guarantee where or when the money will be used.

The country's history of corruption and misuse of aid money doesn't inspire confidence.

"The other problem with transferring a big amount internationally is that you have to pay a lot of money," Dr Sharma said.

"If I travel to Nepal, I can send that money through back channels. We can show where the money is going and how it will be utilised. We can make it absolutely transparent."

While she has some fundraising ideas, Dr Sharma said her lack of fundraising experience meant she was unsure how to go about it.

She hopes someone in the community will help.

"My intention is to raise good money, and from the outpouring of support I have a feeling the Grafton people can help," she said.

"I've never done a fund- raiser before, I really don't know how to and I thought if I got my story out there people might put their hand up."

"Everything we take for granted in the first world is not so back where I come from," she said.

"Yes the capital is, but even if you go 12 kilometres out of Kathmandu city, you will find villages with no toilets.

"I was lucky enough to be born in a family that could send me to boarding school and afford to go to medical school, and I know that's not shared by the majority of people in my country."

"I want to know I contributed in what small way I can."