Summer in Nepal offers new lessons in public health and in life for Katherine McCann ’23
Story by Katherine McCann ’23, a biology and Spanish major from Greenville, S.C.
Over six weeks this past summer, I had the privilege to travel to Pokhara, Nepal through Furman’s Freeman Fellowship to volunteer as a public health educator in rural villages in the Himalayas with GVI. I expected to work in clinics with medical professionals teaching good health practices and working on patient intake, but my experience was much more community outreach oriented in a way that showed me what I was missing from my mental picture of good healthcare.
Instead of working in clinics where patients would come to us, we went every day into a rural Himalayan community to work with various age groups and teach about healthcare topics that were relevant and often misunderstood. We taught children about communicable disease and basic first aid; teachers about mental health, developmental disorders and delays in children, and advanced first aid; parents about non-communicable diseases and how the environment affects healthcare as well as advanced first aid for children; and women about the reproductive cycle with a special session on menopause (an often neglected topic in the area), skin health focused on the negative effects of skin bleaching, and physical activity to promote mobility and prevent injury.
Some of the most rewarding days for me were working with women in the local villages. Many of them are never given the space to talk about their own health. They are so focused on a daily basis with meeting the needs of their family that their needs and desires are pushed to the side by cultural expectations. We met local women in one woman’s home with her kids and her chores and everything. We talked to the women via translators and helped with chores, then hosted a lesson that was all about them and invited their questions and concerns that either they had never had the time to talk about and/or they had never had someone tell them it was ok to discuss.
I found a sense of purpose to continue educating women about their bodies and in developing relationships with them that showed them they are valued. I am eager to go into senior year continuing to pursue my dream of medical school with these new experiences to shape how I look at patient education and the empowerment of just a little bit of learning.
I worked with the Internship Office with Diane Iseminger (who is now retired), the study abroad office with Ms. Nancy Georgiev and Ms. Caitlynne Goodlett, and with Dr. Lane Harris, a History professor who specializes in China, in the Asian studies department, to figure out where in Southeast Asia I was interested in going, to find an internship in public health, and then to apply for the Furman Freeman Fellowship, a program that gives students the financial means to complete a summer internship in Southeast Asia with the intention of encouraging students to get to know that part of the world. These individuals continued to support me through the logistics of the program while I was on the ground in Nepal.
Furman did a great job of giving me resources for success. We talked a lot as a group of Freeman Fellows about culture shock and mental health abroad, which ended up playing a big part for me as I was hit pretty hard at the beginning of the trip by how different everything was and how much I take for granted in my life. I also got pretty sick, like was hospitalized twice, in the first week of my trip with a virus. I could not have been more grateful for the support of Ms. Iseminger, Ms. Georgiev, and Ms. Goodlett, who reached out to me several times to check in and sent me exactly what I needed when I needed it. Several peers on other Freeman Fellowship programs in the area reached out and offered their support; one girl even offered to fly to Nepal and escort me home if I felt like I needed to get back to the US!
My experience in Nepal came directly after almost four months in Santiago, Chile. Both trips left me with a fresh appreciation for the world outside of Furman and an understanding of how it feels to be in a new place trying to adjust and get settled. For life at Furman, this will translate into working hard to connect with new students and help them get settled. I plan to continue my work in the community with Spanish-speaking students to bridge the gap between schools and ESL students and promote opportunities for these students. I hope to be able to share more of my experience abroad with other students and to encourage them to live in another place for a month or more to get the valuable experience of seeing another perspective by living it.