West Kelowna councillor and career operating room nurse Rosalind Neis went through an incredible experience helping with Red Cross disaster relief in Nepal.
On April 25th, 2015, Nepal was struck by an 8.1 earthquake, and hit again by a major 7.3 aftershock on May 12th, killing over 9,000 people and injuring 23,000 more. Neis was part of an 18-member medical response team as an international nurse sent by the Red Cross to help with emergency efforts in Nepal. Neis and her team were stationed in the town of Dnuche from July 3rd to August 4th, where they were the fourth of five medical rotations in the community.
When Neis arrived in Dnuche, she was reminded of Kelowna after the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire in 2003, as one building would be perfectly fine while two beside it would be gone. In total, Neis described the devastation as extreme, as she estimated at least 50 percent of the buildings in the town were destroyed or in need of being rebuilt. However, the scale of the disaster didn’t come as a shock to her.
“I’d seen photos ahead of time, which was really helpful as you had a visual of what it’s going to be like,” she explained. “I would say it was pretty much what I expected. The Red Cross does a very thorough briefing ahead of time, so when you get to the location you aren’t upset or shocked.”
Getting to the village after arriving in Nepal was an entirely different story for Neis. While they only had to drive 120 km to Dnuche, the trek took them five hours to complete. The narrow, unpaved mountain road they took had sheer unguarded drops down the side of cliffs in the Himalayan Mountains. The road was so narrow, when two vehicles travelling in opposite directions met one of them usually had to back up quite a ways to find a section of road that had enough space for them to pass each other.
“I had never been so scared in a vehicle in my life, and I’ve done a lot of back country travelling in the mountains in Canada,” Neis described. “We did have local drivers who knew the area, and I figured if they weren’t scared I shouldn’t be scared either. But some of those roads, there were points where I wanted to stop the car, get out and walk across a cliff to meet the car on the other side if they made it. But you had to put faith in the drivers, because they wouldn’t have gone if they felt danger.”
After spending the first day in Dnuche acclimating to their responsibilities and learning what the previous rotation had done, Neis and the rest of her team began providing medical assistance to people who had never had access to a doctor or medical aid before. Patients came from quite a ways away to receive medical attention, and Neis recalled one instance where a pregnant woman walked for two days to reach their facility, where she gave birth the following day. The medical team worked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week, although they were on call 24/7 to be prepared for any medical situation, such as one day where 100 people showed up at once.
One month after arriving in Nepal and assisting with the disaster relief efforts, Neis returned to Canada on the heels of a life changing experience.
“I think I appreciate things a lot more, and I don’t think I’m as serious as I was before,” she explained. “When you experience people that have nothing but are so grateful, thankful, kind and polite it makes you think, ‘What are we sweating so much in the west for?’ We see things on the news and we think we understand things that are occurring halfway across the world, but you really don’t know what it’s like until you’re there.”
Helping in Nepal was Neis’ first disaster relief experience, and she noted she would absolutely respond again to future disasters if she was asked to by the Red Cross. For anyone thinking of helping with emergency efforts in the future, Neis recommends volunteering with the Red Cross through redcross.ca as you know you will be making an impactful difference in the lives of those you are helping.