It's nice to make a small difference......
Our journey through Nepal led, last week, to a small settlement village near Pokhara. We met a family there who lived in a small breeze block and corrugated iron house with no windows, no electricity and a toilet that drained near the river which provides their only water source. The building was about 3 metres wide and 8 metres long and housed 7 people. The family had built the house, as had all the village, on public land. This meant they had no rights and could, if the land got developed or officials wanted, be simply turfed off.
The family welcomed us and, after talking to them for a few minutes through our trekking agent, one of the team noticed that one of the small boys from the family had a large swelling on the upper part of his mouth. The agent asked the mother about it and she said it had been getting steadily larger over the last 4 months. They had sought advice from a doctor and been told it was caused because an adult tooth had been pushing through at an unusual angle and the tissue around was now swollen and infected. By this point the swelling had spread from his gum up to his nose and looked extremely painful. Without treatment it was sure to get worse.
In Nepal, despite vast natural resources and a huge tourism industry, many of the population live in poverty. I read somewhere that the average annual income is actually equivalent to about $260 and I would have thought this family was living on substantially less than that. There is no social security system and no free health care. The family had been told that an operation to solve the problem would cost the equivalent of $350.
We left the family but several members of the team were troubled by seeing the boy. Between the group we could easily pay for the operation by chipping in only $30 each but it would still equate to maybe around 2 year's salary for the family. However, paying for one child when there were so many in the village who would benefit from help is a tricky call. If money was going to be spent anywhere maybe it would be better to pay for something that benefitted the whole communities health like some form of safe drinking water system. It was also difficult to know whether, if we gave the family money, it would be used for the operation. We had no doubt the mother cared deeply about her son but perhaps there were lots of things she needed the money for and, despite her best intentions, it would inevitably end up getting used for other essentials?
In the end we couldn't decide what to do and soon the team were back in Pokhara with other distractions. However, the image of the boy lingered in people's minds and the team really wanted to help. Fortuitously, the families plight came up again in conversation one evening while our agent was with us. He instantly gave an easy solution by suggesting that the boys school could be trusted to monitor the boy's progress and they could even write a letter seeking a discount from the hospital to add an official element to the plan.
We had a viable way to help and hands went in pockets without hesitation. Within a minute we had more than the money we needed and a taxi was arranged to bring the Mum and her son to collect it. The agent even managed to arrange the operation for the following Friday so we knew everything was on track.
The Mum came to our hotel and openly wept as we explained our plan. It's nice to make a small difference.