Unlocking Potentials

February 6, 2013 , by Bibek Bhandari, Comments Off
Unlocking Potentials » My Dreams Mag
Thsering Lama came to the UK as a 19-year-old. 10 years later, he is returning to Nepal with a doctoral degree and a determination to make a change in the country’s health and education sector.

As a 13-year old, Tshering Lama grabbed a self-help medical book and walked around his village. He used turmeric powder as antiseptic, alcohol as antibacterial and prepared rehydration solution using salt, sugar and water.

At a place where the nearest health centre was a two-day walk, Lama used his skills to treat illnesses with homemade remedies. In this remote village of Shermathang in Helambu, he was one of the few who could read, write, and use that book in a practical way.

“I felt the responsibility to use my knowledge no matter how less qualified knowledge it was,” says Lama, who now holds a doctoral degree. “I wanted to apply my educational skills in the real world.”

According to Lama, it certainly took time for the 13-year-old to establish a trust among his community. But what he was doing had effective results, and so people started coming to him for consultations.

That was the moment Lama realised the power of education, and how it could be translated into meaningful actions.

“The value of education – being able to read and treat those people was a big achievement,” he says.

Planting a dream

As a young teenager, Lama dreamed of becoming a scientist so that he could make a soap that would contain the odour from the cow dung – in school his hands smelled foul because of the chores he finished before his classes. Young Lama woke up at 5 am, fed the cattle, finished the chores and made to his class at 9 am.

“I didn’t consider it as difficult,” Lama says. “It was a part of my life. And that life has taught me a lot.”

A bright student, also the school prefect, Lama went to the only school in his village. The school grew with his class—Lama’s class was the first SLC batch.

It was here where he met volunteers from the UK who inspired him to think the impossible – to travel beyond the hills of Helambu to Kathmandu for his A levels.

“It planted a dream to go beyond those mountains and beyond Nepal,” Lama reflects of his past.

In 1999, his father took out a loan of Rs. 150,000 enabling him to take a first step towards his far fetched future of a foreign education.

While in Kathmandu, he volunteered at the Kanti Children’s Hospital where Lama says he got an in-depth perspective on Nepal’s health sector.

Speaking from his personal experience and what he saw at the hospital, Lama states there is a lack of information to health, and the educational aspect is missing too.

“Most of them [doctors] are working toward the curative side,” he says. “But people are not working toward the preventive side. And I think most of the diseases can be prevented if there is proper information and if people are educated.”

According to Lama, that was a “turning point in his life,” which determined his interest and inclination to delve on to this topic. Meanwhile, he also secured an opportunity to attend a health conference in Singapore where he impressed the attendees with his philosophy.

“My way of looking at health is not about bacteria and virus. It’s about helping people,” he says.

This was when he decided to pursue a degree in public health.  But there were imminent challenges. A foreign education was financially unrealistic.

“But you know what,” Lama smiles and pauses, yet retaining that smile.

“I have learned that if you share your dreams, someone is going you help you fulfil that,” he adds. “I’ve never hesitated to do that.”

So when he shared his interest  with Helena Cullen, a British woman volunteering in Nepal, in doing a public health degree, she offered to help Lama. After returning to the UK, Cullen started fundraising for Lama’s foreign studies.

“That’s the biggest trust and reward I got,” says Lama of getting the opportunity to study at Northumbria University in Newcastle.

Harvesting the goals

After 10 years of student life at Northumbria University in Newcastle, Lama has returned to his homeland with his doctoral degree that focuses on telemedicine in Nepal.

During the past decade, the young boy from the village has matured and lived up to his aspirations. Though away from his own community, he created a community of his own at Newcastle to cope isolation, and at the same time, to forge a relationship with the people around him.

As a student, Lama volunteered – he says it is the best way to be involved and reach out to people. He set up the voluntary action group at Northumbria, helping and reaching out to the local community.

“Volunteering gave me a chance to understand people better and do something that is valued within the community,” says Lama who later served as the regional co-ordinator for the international non-profit Oxfam.

He says the volunteering opportunities helped him to “unlock his potentials” as a team member, and also as a leader.

It was for his efforts and enthusiasm that he received the outstanding international student award in 2006 giving him a chance to meet former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“A boy from the small village at Downing Street was a big achievement,” the 30-year-old says. “But it was an achievement with a sense of responsibility.”

And he has been shouldering his commitment to helping communities in Nepal. He is currently the country director of Childreach Nepal, a part of the London-based international non-profit Childreach International.

Since his involvement with Childreach in 2006, Lama has been investing his time and efforts in educating children. As a part of that initiative, in partnership with Childreach, he helped reopen his school in 2009; the Maoists had bombed it during the decade-long conflict that jeopardised the country’s peace and progress.

In the years that followed, they have renovated four schools in Kavre and Sindhupalchok districts. Adhering to Lama’s principle of educating and informing people about health, they have started projects to train students with first aid.  This program also includes having health centres within the schools. The next phase, Lama says, is the school telemedicine system.

“I believe in unlocking a child’s potential, but before that we need to unlock our own potential,” the enthusiastic dreamer says of his plans.

And armoured with hope and a prospective future where he can translate his knowledge into action, Lama is on a quest of improvising and investing his knowledge in the health and education sector.

Speaking of how he wants to weave his doctoral research in Nepal, he says: “Telemedicine is not about the technology. Its about the new relationship I want to build up through the use of technology.”

Since people in remote parts rarely get to speak to doctors, Lama wants to make healthcare professionals accessible to the people through technology. As a first step, he has already set up four health centres through Dhulikhel Hospital’s outreach centre, which has 17 other centres of its own that are connected through telemedicine.

In these 10 years, Lama has realised his goals, something that was impossible from that 13-year-old’s eyes. But he says that teenager was driven by a faith, passion and a hope for a better future, which made all the difference. He credits education as the single biggest factor to have helped him shape his future.

“Education is the only way of liberating people, giving them a sense of freedom, sense of choice,” Lama says. “And education has given me that choice – to be successful.”

Photo: Simon Veit-Willson

  • Tshering Lama
  • Tshering Lama Graduation

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