Reading resident and UNH student Kelly Cusolitois spent two weeks in Nepal with the IVHQ Nepal Medical Elective volunteer program.
IVHQ, an international volunteer organization, works with 18 countries and sends more than 4,000 volunteers abroad each year. Cusolitois raised over $2,000 for the program fees, airfare, travel insurance and vaccinations to volunteer.
Cusolitois left just after Christmas on Dec. 29 and returned Jan. 14. She spent the first week in Kathmandu were she learned about the language and had a cultural lesson, which taught her about Nepali tradition, family rules and how to interact with others. She also went to Chitwan briefly for a jungle safari with the other volunteers.
About an hour away from Kathmandu is Banepa, where she met and stayed with her host family and started her first volunteer job. She spent six days volunteering at the Scheer Memorial Hospital in Banepa.
Cusolitois worked mainly in the Emergency Department, she said, and assisted with wound care. The majority of the injuries she saw were from road traffic accidents, she explained.
On her first day, a woman was hit by an ox and needed stitches. The hospital staff told her that she would first watch, and then try. So she did. She watched the woman get stitches and before she knew it, was stitching someone up herself.
Most of her time at the hospital was spent doing wound care or stitches, however, she was able to watch surgeries in the operating room and saw the tail end of a delivery, she said.
The hospital had a generator and therefore electricity all the time, different than the women's clinic where she spent two additional days volunteering.
She described the women's clinic as a "really small shack." They often did not have electricity as the schedule there is about "four hours on, four hours off," she said.
"The entire city would just lose electricity for hours," Cusolitois said.
The exam room in the clinic had one light bulb, which was helpful when the electricity was on. When it was off, they used a flashlight, according to Cusolitois.
At the clinic she inserted and removed neuro plants, a form of birth control. The neuro plants are basically flimsy rods that are placed beneath arm skin, she explained. That procedure took more practice than stitching, she said.
She also performed prenatal checkups and injections.
This was her first time out of the United States, and her first time traveling alone. She said the experience was "incredible."
"The host family allowed me to really be immersed in the culture. I slept in their home, ate their traditional food, and lived their lifestyle. Though two weeks in Nepal was a short amount of time I learned and saw a lot," Cusolitois said. "Yes, it felt completely backwards from anything I knew in the U.S. The lifestyle was slow and relaxed, people weren't go, go, go all the time, roads were chaotic and absolutely insane, there was trash and spit all over the ground, and dust and dirt all in the air. But, aside from the filth, the temples, statues, ceremonies, and the views of the mountains and farmlands were absolutely beautiful. The people, both the adults and children, were also so, so friendly."
If she could have done anything differently, it would have been to raise money to donate.
"Volunteering and fundraising and donating money goes so much further than you would expect," she said.
Volunteers that she met in Nepal raised 2,000 Australian dollars and bought solar panels for an orphanage and brand new jackets for the children that lived there.
Cusolitois will graduate from the nursing program at UNH in May would like to travel a lot more.
"Now I have a new obsession with wanting to travel and experiencing different parts of the world," she said.