Trekking through Nepal

Susie Rivard is a mountain person. It's mountains that led her to the Olympic Peninsula and it's mountains that led her, in 2002, to take a trip to Nepal, home of the Himalayas. Nepal, according to Rivard, is very geologically unique with tropical areas below sea level, arid zones at 10,000 feet elevation and peaks up to 19,000 feet.

"You're constantly going up and down, up and down," Rivard said.

Since her �rst trip, Rivard has returned a number of times to the small country nestled between India and Tibet.

"I just fell into love with the people," Rivard said.

In 2004, traveling with her husband through the village of Braka, Rivard met a little girl named Anita. Not only was it an unusual name for a girl in Nepal, but it is the name of Rivard's daughter. The Nepalese Anita could not read or write and after the couple returned a number of times to the village (for yak yogurt), Rivard decided to sponsor the girl's education.

It took about 18 months to �nd Anita a boarding school and by that time Rivard had lost track of the family because they move to Nepal's capital city Kathmandu each winter. With a population of about 700,000, �nding anyone in Kathmandu is a daunting, if not impossible task, but through the efforts of a friend, the girl was located and admitted to a boarding school. Anita's two older sisters already were being sponsored to attend school by a couple in Germany.

Rivard said she decided to sponsor Anita because there is so little opportunity in Nepal for girls to be educated.

"If anyone goes to school, it's the boys," Rivard said.

Anita, who is now 10 years old, and her family have since moved to Kathmandu year-round. They live in an apartment - two 10-foot by 10-foot rooms. The kitchen is a two-burner camping stove and the shared bathroom is down the hallway. For $2 a month, the family's one luxury is cable television. "I just wanted to cry when I saw that," Rivard said. "It was shocking how little they had."

According to Rivard, Anita's living conditions re�ect not only the poverty that exists throughout Nepal but an ancient and prevailing caste system. Anita and her family are what Nepal society calls "untouchables," the lowest tier of the social order.

"They say there's no caste system but they might as well have it stamped on their foreheads," Rivard said.

In October 2007, Rivard, a registered nurse with the Jamestown Family Clinic in Sequim, returned to Nepal, this time as part of Karing for Kids, a moving medical camp put together by the nonpro�t organization The Mountain Fund. The 82-person team, which included porters, kitchen staff and three Sherpas, trekked along Nepal's Tamang Heritage Trail visiting seven villages and providing free health care to the inhabitants. The team took two buses along the trail on a road that was nothing more than dirt and rock etched out of a mountain. To reach the �rst village, it took the team 16 hours to complete only 60 miles. At one point the porters had to pull the buses through a section of road that a mud slide had obliterated.

"It was the bus ride from hell," Rivard said.

Rivard primarily took care of wounds and burns. Many of the villagers had burns from several months earlier that had festered, becoming infected. Rivard said that this was due to poor hygiene.

"It would never get that bad in the States," Rivard said, adding that in one village that had access to hot spring water, infection was almost nonexistent among the village children.

This summer Rivard plans to trek through Peru providing medical care and in October she will return to Nepal.

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