There’s a great deal of talk these days about the overbearing, albeit well-meaning, NGO that sweeps into a country, defines its needs, and prescribes a solution–usually what’s best for the country from the point of view of the West. A solution from the top down. In contrast, I’ve just discovered one that works from the bottom up…a real grass roots endeavor with plans and programs initiated by three Nepalese villages and administered by a Nepalese staff. I hardly dare interject the work done by its founder, Dr. Richard Keidan, an oncologist from Detroit, MI, who has not one, but two NGO’s to his credit. He was adamant that I understand that the initial ideas and planning come directly from the Nepalese people. I’ll let you fill in the blanks by going to his website: www.Detroit2Nepal.org
I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Keidan this week and he gave me an overview of the public health needs in the vast majority of small towns and villages in Nepal, and the woeful lack of hospitals and qualified doctors to treat anything but minor ailments. But this hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm; it has only heightened his desire to help.
Richard’s love affair with Nepal began in the ’80’s as a trekker, and really flourished after he met Namgyal Sherpa, the sirdar (lead guide) on the Kangchenjunga trip he took in 2009. The following summer Namgyal took him to his home area of Khotang and he observed the compromised state of public health, health care, and education in the villages. This is when D2N was born! Namgyal, himself, had been instrumental in starting educational projects and working with underprivileged children in his village. He introduced D2N to the traditions in the area and was on the ground floor of its organization. Tragically, Namgyal was killed on one of his many descents from the summit of Mt. Everest last May, a tremendous loss to the people of Khotang and to the NGO he helped to inspire.
Richard spends a total of three months a year in Khotang, which he reaches by a one-hour plane ride, followed by three days of hiking to reach the first of three villages. He spoke glowingly of standing on a hillside on his last visit, looking down at the houses, each with a new cement outhouse (a sustainable toilet with septic system), its metal roof sparkling in the sun. “Can you imagine how great that makes you feel” he said, “to see what these people have done for themselves in such a short time?” This was the Dipsung toilet project, planned and executed by the Nepalese, themselves. They realized that until they had a safe sanitation system they would never have clean water, and most of their diseases stemmed from this pervasive problem. You can read on the website about the many other health and educational initiatives planned and carried out by the villagers and supported and funded by the dedicated work of this unique, caring man, Richard Keidan. Here is a case where there is no overhead and every dollar given by individuals or organizations goes directly to the projects that improve the health and well-being of Nepalese families. And an added advantage of this kind of community endeavor is the jobs it creates for the many people involved in the planning and executing of each project.