Kathmandu Festival supports children’s health
THE COLORS, SOUNDS AND FLAVORS of the Himalayas come alive at the Kathmandu Festival.
Index-Tribune file photo
While the Kathmandu Festival always brings a cultural feast for the senses with colorful textiles, spiced delicacies and lively musical acts, it’s main purpose is to fund life-saving surgeries and medical services for children more than 7,000 miles away.
“There is one doctor for every 16,000 people in Nepal, and none of those doctors are going to be out in the villages,” said Carol Vernal, founder of the Children’s Medical Aid Foundation. Vernal organizes the annual Kathmandu Festival, set for this weekend, to support the nonprofit, which seeks to bring medical services to the rural villages of Nepal.
After 40 years as a nurse, Vernal founded Children’s Medical Aid in 2005 after a trip to the impoverished country where she saw how simple medical treatments could offer life-changing results. She partnered with Dr. Shankar Rai, a surgeon based in Nepal with a long career in aid work, to organize Mobile Surgical Teams to travel into the remote mountain communities and provide corrective surgeries.
Due to the poor nutrition in many parts of the country, a higher rate of babies are born with congenital defects such as cleft palates; hairy moles that cover the face; or syndactylism, when children are born with webbed fingers. Vernal explained that these children have little chance at finding work or a spouse, and are often cast out of society.
In one instance, parents brought a four-year-old boy to the foundation for a surgical consultation. The boy had a hairy mole that encapsulated most of his face, and the family was fearful to let him out of the house over concerns of how he would be treated by others. A Nepalese photojournalist captured a picture of the boy, with tears in his eyes, which ran with an article about the surgical work Children’s Medical Aid brings to Nepal.
“Because of that article, we got nine more children who had similar hairy moles who would have never been seen, and we were able to help them all,” Vernal said. The foundation now funds around 150 surgeries a year, but has also expanded its medical services offerings.
“It really is work unfolding, the process just keeps growing,” Vernal said.
She began with a vision of opening a hospital, but quickly realized that dream wasn’t practical in the rural mountainsides of Nepal. Instead, using $13,622 and a building donated by a Nepalese physician, Children’s Medical Aid established the Chisang Clinic in Bhawanne.
“Within a little more than a year, we were able to build a clinic that can serve over 30,000 people. It opened on April 13 and has already seen over 2,000 patients,” Vernal beamed.
She remembered one case where a frantic young mother brought her small son into the clinic, who was bleeding heavily from a severe cut on his toe. “This gash would have possibly gotten infected, and it definitely wouldn’t have gotten sewn up. A simple little action saved that boy’s toe,” Vernal said, explaining that basic medical issues can become serious due to the lack of health care available in rural Nepal.
In Bhawanne, before the clinic opened, the closest medical center was 1 1/2 hours away. “And that’s if the roads are open and if they can find transportation,” she said.
The clinic offers everything from basic medical aid to health education classes on family planning, STD protection, chronic illnesses and childbirth.
While Children’s Medical Aid was responsible for remodeling and stocking the clinic, it is now being operated by health professionals and volunteers.
“Basically now, it’s on its own. We want to go and do it somewhere else, in another village, to help more people,” Vernal said.
Proceeds from the Kathmandu Festival will be used to both provide corrective surgeries as well as to establish more clinics in Nepal to aid medically under-served populations.
The festival runs Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15 and 16, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building, 126 First St. W. During the weekend, the building is transformed into an eclectic Himalayan marketplace offering everything from jewelry and decorative items to traditional foods. Cultural music and dance will be performed on stage, for a full schedule check out James Marshall Berry’s column. Tickets are $10 at the door.
For more information, visit childrensmedaid.org; or contact the Children’s Medical Aid Foundation at 938-1807 or email@example.com.