In 2018, INF Australia proudly supported a ten-month internship program in INF Nepal. This supported Nepali students, particularly young women, to gain practical experience and contribute their skills to INF’s work. Sunita Bhandari completed the internship last year and has gone on to join INF’s Palliative Care team, which is pioneering palliative care treatment and policy in Nepal. We caught up with her to hear about her experience as an INF intern.
What was your experience like interning with INF?
It was a wonderful experience for me and I am very grateful to the entire INF Nepal team for supporting me through that period. It was a ten month programme divided into different placements. For my short-term placement I was based in Gorkha district, the epicentre of the devastating 2015 earthquakes. I joined INF’s GRACE project, where I was closely involved in community-based rehabilitation and livelihood work for people with disabilities. Over twenty-one days I lived in different villages of Gorkha linked with our project to monitor and evaluate our activities, and I also got an opportunity to facilitate self-help groups. I met many people, listened to their stories, their pain and the changes in their life brought through INF. This experience gave me new energy, and completely changed my perspective towards life. I learned more about INF’s community development work, and my interpersonal, communication and leadership skills were increased as I had opportunities to contribute my ideas and opinions towards the project.
My long-term placement was completely different. I was placed in INF’s office in Banke district under the Donor team, where I was involved in writing reports and proposals, and also assisted in trainings. This built up my writing and computer skills as well as coordination and networking skills. I worked with many of the community projects that are based in Banke, including the Maternal and Neonatal Child Health project.
Overall this internship taught me a lot and helped me to be a better person. Of course, I faced some challenges too – like walking a whole day in a jungle and on a muddy, slippery road without any food just to see a single patient; but when I reached there, I felt so different – so satisfied and happy, which I had never felt before.
Were there any key lessons you learned through the internship?
Yes, I have seen how the small effort of INF has brought huge transformation to individual people’s lives and to their community. Even a small effort can make a big difference.
You have now joined INF’s Palliative Care team as a Research Assistant. What do you do in that role?
For nine months I have been working with the Palliative Care team, assisting the team leader in research designs and methods, preparing tools like questionnaires. I do data collection and analysis, prepare reports and stories and provide support in proposal writing. One of our current projects is using menthol for patients with neuropathic pain. By using follow-up questionnaires, it has been satisfying to see that patients are experiencing significant improvements in managing their pain.
I support the planning and organising of trainings and programs that our team offers, and network and coordinate with others. I am also involved in community visits to patients receiving palliative care.
What’s your favorite part of your work?
I love getting to work with the palliative care patients. I laugh and cry with them, which is very emotional but powerful as well. I have seen transformations in patients after receiving palliative care support and this really motivates me to continue working. I also like planning and managing events and trainings, and I have found it very interesting doing research on different topics.
Can you share a favourite or special story of a patient you’ve worked with?
Yes, I would like to share a patient’s story which is very close to my heart. Two years ago, while doing an internship for college at INF’s Green Pastures Hospital [GPH], I met MG, a seventy-one-year-old lady suffering from a spinal tumor, lying paralysed in bed and desperately wanting to die. That was a short meeting, but it left a deep impact on my heart. MG felt she was in the last stage of her life and a burden to her family, so she stopped eating so that she could die soon.
I completed my bachelors and then the INF internship, and then became part of the Palliative Care team. And amazingly, I got to meet MG again, when she was readmitted for some palliative rehabilitation. I was very happy to see her and listen to her untold story.
After MG was referred to the Palliative Care service, she was followed up with home visits, loaned equipment and provided support. When she moved out of our area, this support and encouragement continued over the phone. However, as we were very concerned about her symptoms as well as her malnourished and poor condition, we offered a few weeks charitable admission for palliative rehabilitation. Working closely with the whole GPH team, MG had a surgical assessment for a previously broken arm that had not healed, and the splint made by the Orthopedic Assessment Clinic enabled her to use her left hand again. The medical and nursing teams provided expertise improving nutrition, reducing other symptoms and managing her bowel and bladder; Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy support re-enabled her to get out of bed and into a wheelchair; and a novel intervention (menthol) being used by the Palliative Care service reduced the burning pain she was suffering in her paralysed legs. Peer and other counseling encouraged MG and has supported her family.
It’s hard to believe the dramatic changes we saw in her with our small amount of support; she became a different person from the sad and depressed lady I re-met on her admission. She is much happier, and she talks and smiles more now. That’s what we want to see in our patients because each one is precious, and we want to do whatever we can to improve their quality of life.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
Working with the Palliative Care service, I have realized that palliative care needs to be broader and more accessible to people in Nepal so that no one has to suffer and die in pain. It is one of the most-needed services in Nepal, but only a few organizations are working in it. I want to work for some years and do further study, to become a palliative care specialist in Nepal. That’s my future plan and I believe God has brought me here for that purpose.
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Praise God for INF’s Internship Program, equipping young Nepalis like Sunita with skills and exposing them to INF’s work. Pray for Sunita as she contributes to INF’s Palliative Care service, that she would continue to be a blessing to many.