Local Rotarian ministers to health needs in Himalayas
© Chuck Conner Photography
This is Anju Achami. She lives in Bandipur, Nepal. Anju is holding the offspring of a goat provided to her family through the efforts of the Ripley Rotary Club and the Patan West Rotary Club of Nepal.
The photo was selected as a second place winner in the Rotary International Photography contest for 2006. It was published in the June issue.
Chuck Conner has served as site coordinator over the past fourteen years for the West Virginia Rural Health Partnership, a program which places health services students in rural settings.
He uses his vacation days, however, to travel on Rotary service projects.
And he has learned that poverty in rural Appalachia is wealthy by some standards.
Supported by the Rotary Foundation, local Clubs in Ripley and Spencer, the Jackson County 4-H, the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, and many individuals, Conner has journeyed -- several times -- to northern India and Nepal.
"In India and Nepal where you have to hike three or four miles to reach a village, now that's rural," Conner told Putnam Rotarians in their noon luncheon today.
He doesn't have much patience with "our whiney RHEP students who live in such excess and attitudes of entitlement."
In rural Nepal, "Women often have to walk a couple of miles for water," said Conner. "And $500 will drill a well to provide water for a village. Safe water means good health."
"There is one physician for every 20,000 people.," he said.
Charles "Chuck" R. Conner<
The shopkeeper took Conner's list and sent out the word for contents for 60 first aid kits. Before long cyclists and runners began arriving with such supplies as were available.
"Our team made an incredible impact with sixty kits."
Many people in Nepal are blind with cataracts from high-altitude exposure to sunlight. Twenty-five dollars will provide for an operation to restore sight.
Conner became interested in Nepal as a member of a Group Study Exchange team to that part of the world in 1996, and determined that Rotary provided an opportunity for direct aid and community service to distant places with great need.
The Fayette County native became involved in Rotary in 2001. While president of the club in Ripley in 2004-05 he developed and followed through with service projects in India and Nepal. He was assisted by fellow Rotarian Jim Keresztury of the Morgantown North Rotary Club.
Getting to Nepal by air took less than seventeen hours flying time. But travelling from Katmandu to the mountain village of Bandipur by motor car and bus was an act of faith. "They weave all over the road," said Conner, "continually honking their horns, and swerving at the last possible moment to avoid oncoming cars, buses, oxen, and bicycles."
Bandipur is an ancient trading community at 3500 feet on a old route between India and Nepal. Perched above the Marsyangdi River with a spectacular view of the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas, life there now is a struggle, and opportunities are limited.
A local teacher helped to determine families of greatest need who then received goats and information on breeding, nutrition , milk production and cheese making.
"They need a chilling plant for milk," Conner said. There is no refrigeration. What comes to market has been prepared that day.
The "paper trail" of contracts, receipts, delivery tickets and inventories, necessary for accountability to organizations funding the project, was difficult to maintain. "Your word is your bond, sealed by a handshake," in Nepal. People are offended when you ask them to explain what they are doing in the program and how they are doing it.
Outlying schools are in need of basic supplies. "It's not that the supplies needed to be replaced: they never had any to begin with." Conner contacted Rand McNally who immediately sent maps and globes.
In the world community of rapid communication and easy travel, the greatest problem is that people are not aware of the desperate need in much of the world.
"We climbed up, down, and around mountains and valleys at ten to fifteen miles an hour.
"The road had been gouged out of the mountainside only five years ago and of course there had been no maintenance.
"We were welcomed to the village by a group of Buddhist mothers, flowers and a large band. A monk blessed us in the local temple.
"During our time there we hiked twice to different mountains," up another 2000 feet from the 5600 foot elevation of Sirubari.
"One morning we began our hike at 4:30 to reach the top by 7:00 and see the sun rise over the white-capped Himalayas. On another hike we ended up on the top of a mountain where a Hindu family sacrificed a goat in a yearly ritual."
The people of Nepal are deeply religious, and the religion is a part of their daily living.
"The choice of animals for farmers in the Sirubari region was cows.
"This was decided by a village development committee," Conner told the group, "and they assured us they would be utilizing the funds in a manner similar to the Bandipur project.
In Bandipur we could begin by purchasing goats for forty families." Cows are more expensive, however, and the number for Sirubari would be only six.
Everywhere they went, says Conner, they were welcomed, and fed "beyond belief (or capacity)."
We travelled on to Tibet for seven days," he said, "-- but that's another tale for another time."