A Travellerspoint blog


After a long journey, we have finally returned home. Our first visit to Nepal has been unbelievable and rewarding - I have no doubts we will return in the future.
First, I would like to send my prayers out to the people of Nepal during this period of hardship and conflict, as political strife continues to sweep the country. We hope for a safe and swift resolution for the entire nation.

I would also like to thank all of the great people at SEVA, LEI, Bausch & Lombe, Alcon, and the University Eye Foundation, who made this happen. Without them, the trip would not have been possible.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank you, the donors and supporters. Each and every one of you who has donated, no matter big or small, has changed lives. This may seem like an overstatement, but I can assure you it is not. I would like to give you an idea as to the significance of your contribution. The average Canadian income (according to Stats Canada) is approximately $30,000 per year. In Nepal, a senior ophthalmologist who has finished medical school, residency, and specialty training, can earn up to $1500 a month; This equates to $18,000 per year (assuming they take no vacations) and is less than working a minimum wage job for nine hours a day, five days a week.

If you followed our blog, or promoted our message, thank you.
If you supported our cause to make change, thank you.
If you donated, you have made a difference.

Thank you.


From all of us at Nepal Vision, we want to congratulate you for the difference you have made. Without you, this would have not been possible.

In total, we raised and donated $216,000 worth of school supplies, surgical supplies, and other needed resources to Nepal.

Stephen, Katie, and Peter

Posted by stephenhuang1 16:34 Comments (1)

Guest Star: Dr. Peter

Peter Huang's Trip Summary

Finally Stephen and Katie are allowing me access to the laptop to write a few words on our trip. This whole adventure was Stephen and Katie's brainchild. We started over six months ago and after a lot of work and advice, guidance and support from many people and groups. We are grateful to the outpouring generosity and kind support from various groups, especially from SEVA Canada and SEVA Nepal (international vision care charity organization), the University Eye Foundation, Lumbini Eye Institute (LEI), Bausch and Lomb Canada and Alcon. We would also like to thank the staff at the Holy Cross Center. Minister Diane Ablonczy (Minister of State of Foreign Affairs) and her staff, the Morphew brothers and their peers from their schools, Burt Church High and Ralph McCall, my brothers Ian and John and son Paul.

We landed in Bhairahawa in a wind storm followed by a monsoon-like rain storm. Fitting beginning. The reception at the LEI next morning was very warm and welcoming. We met the administrators and Dr.Byanju, the medical director a retina specialist. After being introduced to the staf,f we took a tour of the facility. Lines of patients wait in cues in the outside heat to registered and be triaged. From there they are quickly assessed by technicians and residents and channeled to various specialties. The facility is basic but the system is very efficient. It needs to be as this center sees 1300 patients a day during the high season and does 350 cataract surgeries a day amongst many other surgeries. The numbers are staggering and they do it all with 11 ophthalmologists and 8 residents.

We are quickly put to work. The kids are sent off to help with the pediatric optometrist Dr. Hari and I am taken to the cornea clinic with Dr. Kobita and her junior, Dr. Patel. These doctors, with good humor and camaraderie, see a large number of complex cases. There are so many
patients here with terrible eye diseases. In one hour we see five fungal corneal ulcers amongst many other serious problems. Patients
file into the exam room, quickly sit in front of the microscope, are examined, treated and the next patient brought in. When we finish we head up to the operating rooms.


The heat in the hallway is stifling as the temperature outside reaches 42 C. The two pre-operative rooms are filled with patients as is the anesthetic area where there are twenty or so beds. The anesthetic technician freezes the eyes. We walk around with a flash light to examine the eyes of patients and select those appropriate for phaco emulsification, a form of cataract surgery.

I begin to worry about my ability to do surgery in this heat as I am drenched in sweat. Thank goodness the operating theatres are
air-conditioned, albeit the electricity cuts in and out with alarming frequency. The lady doctors don't stand on ceremony and I begin to do
surgery. Patients come in and out. They sit beside the OR bed and as soon as one case is done, the next patient lies down. Staff and
doctors come in and out to observe and at one point there are 10 to 15 people. I lose count as I'm doing my best to concentrate.
Concentration is a challenge as everyone chats, laughs and joke around, completely foreign to when I am in surgery at home.

I quickly learn that my role here is to demonstrate different techniques and help train two junior ophthalmologists phacoemulsification. It's fortunate that we had brought a lot of lenses and supplies for this type of surgery as it is quite expensive
to perform. The people here generally cannot afford this, or even the SICS (small incision cataract surgery) that is done here with minimal equipment and instrumentation. Many of of the surgeries are done gratis as this is a
charitable hospital. I am pleasantly surprised how quickly the two doctors, Dr. Singh and Dr. Patel, pick up the techniques. I learn later that these doctors do 2000 to 3000 cataract surgeries as residents and have done that many in their three year career. That's as much surgery as many ophthalmologist in Canada might do in a career. Needless to say, they are superb surgeons.

The next six days follow the same pattern. I give a lecture for an hour, we head to the busy cornea clinic, and then go up to surgery. They have two large cataract surgery rooms, each with 8 beds and 4 microscopes. Each of the four surgeons use one microscope and have two beds. He or she operate on one patient while the nurses set up the patient on the adjacent bed. When the surgery is done, the surgeon swings his scope over the next patient and starts surgery while the patient he just finished is taken away.. On and on it goes. These docs are efficient, slick and highly skilled. It's back breaking work too as in the busy season they each do over 50 surgeries a day. When they finish they do the many emergencies that come in.

There were so many things to see and observe here that I can only give the highlights. What I first notices is that the patients are uncomplaining and patient. Up to 80% of them walk across the nearby border from India. This town is ideally located and is at many cross roads. They will wait for days in the heat to receive care. The other thing I observed was the closeness and friendliness of the doctors and staff. They are like a family and even all live in the hospital compound. I noted earlier the chatting and noise in the OR but learned that this is what they do. They teach each other and help each other through cases. They sit beside each other and operate day in and day out. I also found it remarkable how much they care about their patients and maintain their humor and respect despite the huge volume of people they serve.

Even though we had been here for only a week, it was tough to say good-bye. We have quickly grown to like and respect the doctors and the work they do. Dr. Byanju, the kind and soft spoken leader of LEI, was grateful for the little contributions we made and requested for Calgary to help train their junior ophthalmologists. They are certainly a well trained and educated group. Dr. Salma Rai, the pediatric person, did her one year fellowship at the Children's Hospital in Vancouver. Dr. Kobita, the cornea specialist, did her fellowship at the Moran Eye Institute in
Salt Lake City. They currently have one staff training at the Will's Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. Their second pediatric person, Dr. Anju is soon off to Portland to do a 6 month fellowship. I hope we can help train these excellent people.


Lastly and not least, having worked with their somewhat temperamental 25 year old phaco machine, we decided to ship one of our machines to LEI. Stephen, Katie and I also decided to donate funds for much needed surgical supplies.

This was a tremendous experience, one that the kids and I hope to do
again and soon and come back to visit the many new friends we have made.

Besides, Mount Everest beckons.

May 21


Posted by stephenhuang1 07:28 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

The Adventure Continues!

Days 11-13

semi-overcast 25 °C

As much as it saddens us to leave Nepal before planned, we have finished our charity work and a new adventure awaits us.
We board our plane to Doha, Qatar then to Frankfurt, Germany and drive off to.....


We have a lot of adventure to make up for, so we have decided to wing it from now on.
We stop in the town of Basel where most of the buildings are over 800 years old and the architecture blows me away. Churches, apartments, and stores all carry with them a certain mysterious essence that makes me feel like I'm living in the 1300s.
We immediately feel an indescribable difference of this place from Nepal (obviously).
First, the bad. Since the Swiss people voted against joining the European Union, they are charged a tariff on all their goods. Unfortunately, Switzerland doesn't have an abundance of natural resources and must import a lot of goods. Ergo: mediocre pizza for 3 costs us almost $60. Quite a shock in contrast to the free breakfast, $1 lunch, and protein bar for dinner we were having in Bhairahawa.

Now the good stuff.
1) Everywhere here smells like sweet mountain air. Or bacon. Or some euphoric combination of the two. I'm not kidding.
2) The food here is amazing. I mean, I did love the food in Nepal, but there's just something about an unlimited amount of cheese and chocolate all made in this very country.
3) The scenery. Everywhere we look is a panoramic view with mountains completely surrounding us. I couldn't believe it when my dad opened the curtains in the morning and I was staring straight into a gorgeous mountain view.

Our first stop after Basel is Interlaken (literally- between lakes). We start our day by touring a waterfall that esentially twists and turns through a cave. A shameless tourist trap, but awesome nonetheless. I'm amazed that a waterfall of such power doesn't completely erode the rock around it. Instead, its leaves massive smooth surfaces with even smoother holes throughout the cave to wander through.
We then take a gondola up the mountain and get started on our hike. It starts through a gorgeous town catered to skiing and consists of mostly chalets with dark wooden exteriors and flowers on every porch. After hiking for a few hours, we take the train back to where we started and the gondola back down.


I much desire to open a Swiss bank account to hoard my millions, but am soon informed that they aren't even run by goblins like in Harry Potter. I mean, you can store thousands of pounds of gold and diamonds in those things, right? How do they expect to keep that safe without goblins? We decide against the Swiss bank account.

Despite the similar glacial processes that created both the mountains in Nepal and the Swiss Alps, they couldn't be more different. Driving through the Nepalese mountains was overwhelming as our van climbed the never-ending switchbacks and we delved deeper into vegetation. Erratics littered the ground and the peaks were largely spaced apart and unimaginably tall. The Swiss Alps include endless hills and mountains, but mostly vertical cliffs off each mountain. Perfect for bungee jumping off of.


Peace and blessings,

Posted by stephenhuang1 00:04 Archived in Switzerland Comments (2)

A Turn of Events

Days 9-10

sunny 39 °C

Each and every day, we wake to a sweltering heat. Each and every day, the power runs out and the air conditioner fails to work. The stream of rusty bikes flow back and forth and locals linger on their doorsteps while children carelessly play. The empty hotel's restaurant offers only one item on the breakfast menu, serves no one but us and we eat obediently. But this is what we expected. This is Nepal. However, when the breakfast (consisting of a mashed potato lump and an tomato onion omlette) starts serving a tomato onion omlette without the tomatoes and onions and no potato lump, things are turning for the worse. The strike continues, and stories of isolated tourists consistently increase, more so everyday. All the hurdles have been set, and we have done our best to race to the finish line. All schools, stores and roads are closed to us. The hospital lacks their regular flood of patients and a need for help (especially with such competent staff). We are left with nothing to do but wait in our hotel room and pass the time and the strike certainly does not seem like it will be going away anytime soon. If the heat doesnt kill us, surely boredom will.

After much debate and deliberation, we have decided to end our mission in Nepal.

We will be departing as soon as possible.

Although things didn't go quite as planned, we have still managed to make the absolute most of this trip. In fact, we have managed to donate to 2 orphanages and 7 schools, all of which have promised that our contributions will bring huge change to each of their institutions. We have met some very trusting and selfless people along the way, and in doing so have entrusted them to finish our mission and help continue to make a difference once the strikes are over. Mr Hari, a camera shy pediatric optometrist, has been an essential coordinator on our mission and has spent a large part of every day helping us reach various schools. Esteemed and respected by everyone at the LEI, he has offered to help us buy and donate $400 dollars worth of equipment each to two institutions:

The first is an orphanage called Boudhi Apanga School in a northern town called Bhutwal run by a single widow. The widow has made it her cause to house 45 children ... all by herself. Our donation will go towards food, sports equipment and anything else she feels neccessary. Frankly, I wouldn't complain if she spent it on a day at the spa; lord knows she needs it.

The second is Manigram Blind School, a remote blind school caught between the mountains and plains in Nepal, just to the west of Bharatpur. Our contribution will help go towards braille books, and the building of another classroom.

We have also decided to donate another $1000 dollars to Guru Tashi who runs an orphanage in Kathmandu, and will use it as a base fund to start his own school. The school will be available to those who cannot afford to pay school fees.

Lastly, we have decided to also donate a very large amount to the LEI. Although they are considered a very wealthy institution in Nepal, we feel that a new phaco machine would help the most people. To give you an idea, the city of Calgary's ophthalmologists combined perform 12 500 cataracts per year. This single institution does over 32 000 .

Our next stop would have been Bharatpur, a small town several hours east of Bhairahawa, but it has become a region of intense political tension. With very few flights out of the small town, traveling there (assuming we could even get there) is a sure way to get ourselves trapped as the roads are completely shut down. We were all very excited to go. As luck would have it, we had all of our school supplies that we brought over shipped to the town upon our arrival the first day, courtesy of Mr. Kandel and the great people at SEVA. Mr. Kandel has been helping us coordinate our trip for the last six months, and will no doubt put the school supplies to good use. We have also shipped a large majority of the viscoelastic and intraocular lenses kindly donated by Bausch & Lombe to Bharatpur. The little eye institute in Bharatpur is in dire need of supplies, and will no doubt make a huge difference.

Our experience in Nepal has been both trying and greatly rewarding but now it is time for us to leave. But where? Not home, surely ... not yet.


Perhaps the next time I write, it will be in another part of the world. Who knows. Preferably somewhere that serves more than just omlettes. We are all very sick of omlettes.

Stay tuned,

Posted by stephenhuang1 19:05 Archived in Nepal Comments (4)

Another Day in Bhairahawa

Day 8

sunny 43 °C

We start off Day 8 at the Lumbini Eye Hospital to help Dr. Peter set up for his talk and take some pictures and videos of the surgeons doing cataract surgery. Dr. Peter is confused with the custom of Nepalese people shaking their heads while they say yes.
"Should I make the incision here doctor?"
"Yes Dr. Peter."
Head shake.
Luckily no patients were harmed.

After a few surgeries, the hospital's driver takes us to another school that has been organized by one of the teachers of Amar Jyoti Secondary High School. As much as it saddens us that we can no longer buy school supplies like originally planned, we are compensating by gathering lists of what schools want and allocating money accordingly. Although students are not in school due to the strike, those that are staying at orphanages, hostels, or boarding schools are at the schools to greet us.

Bahira Bal Higher Secondary School:

We drive to a remote part of town where civilization becomes scarcer and vegetation is more prevalent. The atmosphere here is rather pleasant and inviting. When we get to the first school today, a strange hush falls as we exit the van. I can only imagine that this is because we have arrived at Bahira Bal Higher Seconday School for the deaf. We meet with their friendly principal and are given a tour. The school is unbelievable. It's been designed so that the students are very self-sustainable and do most things themselves (including cleaning their own school bathrooms!) They have a print room where they make their own notebooks, a small library, and a computer room. Classrooms from kindergarten to grade 12 have loose floorboards that the teacher stamps to get attention as the students feel the vibration from it.
Since there are only 6 schools for the deaf in Nepal, many students must travel far distances, and therefore must live at the school. There are 2 rooms for girls and 1 for boys, complete with a kitchen/ study area and bathrooms. These are the students who stand outside to greet us by bowing and saying "Namaste."
Despite the obvious success that Bahira Bal Higher Secondary School has had from various donors, every place that we've been to has definitely needed some help. The principal has requested help with funding for a solar panel to alleviate the inconvenience of 12 or 13 hour power outages (even I'm getting a bit tired of showering in the dark). Their fundraising has brought them almost halfway to the price of the solar panel and we decide to give them enough of our funds to almost bring them to their goal. Even though we haven't brought anything of material to the school, our efforts all seem worth it when the principal kisses me on both cheeks and thanks us continuously. This gesture is by far one of my favourite and most rewarding parts of our trip thus far.
We leave the school as the students wave goodbye and the principal tells us that they will remember us forever.

The strike has proven to be more difficult than we had anticipated, and increasingly so as time progresses. We have received news that all schools are being shut down for the duration of the month. It seems that all Nepalese schools are on vacation for the month of June, but has been moved to this month. Fortunately, we have help from some amazing people, including Dr. Selma and a teacher from Amar Jyoti Secondary who has organized several more places for us to visit despite this major setback. We've agreed that we'd like to spread out our funds to as many places as we can while in Bhairahawa, so Stephen and I sort out donations between visits. We've also had a lot of help from Dr. Hari: optometrist, organizer, translator... What can't this man do?

Terai Development Forum (TDF):

We've decided to extend a bit out of our vision and donate to a local NGO whose goal is enhancing health, societal, and economical status of the needy in Nepal. Successful past and current projects include two eye camps (supported by Lumbini Eye Hospital), a potable water project, a nutrition program, and a vegetable production project. The founder of TDF is the husband of the teacher who has been helping us, so we are more than happy to support them. They're currently starting a new project called Child Help Line which is very similar to the Kid's Help Phone in Canada. After meeting with a few of their chairpeople, we are informed that nearly everyone in Nepal has a cell phone... farmers, beggars, you name it. TDF has already trained about 150 people to pick up phones and is hoping to decrease rates of children who run away from home or turn to drugs. Our donation is the first for the Child Help Line and will help them launch it.

Amar Jyoti:

Sister Jaya and the principal, Sister Josephine, take us for a tour of Amar Jyoti Secondary High school which is located across the street from the disabled center, both loacted in the heart of Bhairahawa. Although there are no students, the teachers have made and effort to come and show us around. In the ever-present heat, I can't image trying to attend class in the open and unconditioned classrooms, let alone pay attention. Perhaps it's a good thing I go to school in Canada. The sisters have come up with a large list of things that the school needs, including benches and chairs, a xerox machine, and sports equipment. We pick some items from the list and sort our donations so that the school will have enough one of the larger items and all of the small pieces of equipment they need.
Amar Jyoti's Center for the Differently-Abled is in need of a TV, a water boiler, a backup generator (like I said, power outtages are no fun and very frequent) and a CD player. Their current source of music is a tape player and, to be honest, I'm sure everyone at the center could use a break from 70's Nepalese music. The sisters invite us to their crib for dinner, which is impeccably clean and welcoming. We sit down with a couple of doctors from LEI and their children. Sister Jaya is the owner of their school and Sister Josephine their principal, so naturally they are scared beyond belief for this dinner. Digging into our first bites, we decide that this meal is probably tied with Dr. Selma's in terms of exquisiteness. Rice puff 'things' for an appetizer, rice and rice cakes for the main course, and I wouldn't be surprised if the yogurt for dessert somehow had rice in it. The sisters have prepared about 6 dishes for us and are incredibly warm and motherly.
"Here, take take momo"
"You want more momo? Take take."
(Momo is like a Nepalese dumpling..rather satisfactory)
After dinner, we present Sister Jaya with two envelopes; one with our donation for the Center for the Differently-Abled and the other for the High School. The sisters all accept gratefully and shake our hands one by one. I can't say enough how thankful we are to our donors of Nepal Vision because the money in the envelopes comes from them. It seems almost unfair that we are the ones getting all the thanks and kindess and I hope that these words and pictures can suffice to give my thanks for everyone's help.


Posted by stephenhuang1 17:13 Comments (1)

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