An amazing thing has happened here at the hospital, something I didn’t think would happen in my first month here. When I first arrived at the hospital, I noticed that Buddha dai, our groundskeeper, never ate with the rest of the staff. I was very confused by this because he lived and worked at the hospital like the rest of us. He was the only staff member who worked every day and didn’t eat lunch with us. He was also one of our most loyal staff members, and has been with Nyaya Health for many years. My thought was that perhaps he did not eat with the rest of the staff because he is from the lowest caste. Of course, this is merely speculation and I have never asked Buddha dai what his caste is, but my inclination says that this may be the main reason. He is not the only staff member who we have here that belongs to the Dalit caste. The organization is very adamant about hiring staff from all different castes and backgrounds. The caste system is a staple of the Hindu religion. In history, the caste system was defined by what roles or jobs people held in society. Members of the highest, or Brahmin caste, are the only ones who are able to be religious leaders. However, the lowest caste, known as the Dalits have historically held jobs that other people do not want to do, and unfortunately the Dalits have always been discriminated against. While this discrimination is not as severe as it used to be, it still exists today. This piece is not to pin one group against another, I don’t want it to come off as US verse THEM. Let it just be said that cultural traditions and practices are ones that don’t change overnight, and it takes everyone’s collaboration to make progress happen.
My original idea for this post was to write about discrimination amongst the staff. However, after recent changes in the eating policy, this post will address discrimination a bit, but will also focus on Buddha dai and his two children, Laxmi and Tula. Both of his children live with him. I just want to make clear that Buddha dai and his family are not being oppressed by this organization. The organization has provided them with a free room and gives Buddha dai a nice salary. His daughter also has been provided a part-time job.
In getting to know Buddha dai, there was something else that I didn’t like or understand about his situation. Buddha dai and his two children live in a little room next to the kitchen. The painful part is that their room has no door. In the winter months, like right now, I can’t imagine how cold it must be. One night I was talking to Buddha dai and he mentioned that it is very hard for him to sleep because of the cold. I went into his room once and saw that 3 people only had 2 blankets between them. There was a push for them to get more blankets. The next morning, after using their new blankets, Laxmi and Buddha dai told me they were so warm that they overslept. We will ask the carpenter to build doors for their room, not only for more privacy but also to protect them from very cold nights. Things are changing here at Bayalpata Hospital and we are making progress. However, this does not mean that things are always peachy and that staff are treated with the respect they deserve. There is still room for improvement not just for this family, but also for other staff members.
Buddha dai is from Bajura district; his village is about a ten to twelve hour walk from Sanfe Bagar. He came to Sanfe in the early days of our clinic. He used to sleep under the steps of the clinic, until the organization gave him maintenance responsibilities. He came on his own but later his small children accompanied him. Unfortunately, his wife drowned when his children were very young. He never remarried. His young daughter had to take charge of caring for her brother and father. She did what a wife would do: cleaned and cooked. She made sure everyone was all right. Currently, his eleven year old son, Tula, is going to school. He is in first grade and his favorite subjects are English and Nepali. The former Community Health Director and the former Country Director enrolled him in a private English school and paid for his entrance fees and other fees. He is a very sweet boy who likes to play soccer and speak English. His sister Laxmi, on the other hand, is a bit more shy. She is a great cook and has beautiful black hair. She helps in the kitchen as a part-time staff member. Once you get to know her, she is more open to talking about herself. Unfortunately, she has not been able to go to school. I am not sure if it for financial reasons or family reasons, perhaps it is a mixture of both. However, some of the staff members are passionate about her learning. There was an idea of putting her into school but it would very uncomfortable for a late teen to start in grade one. There was another idea of hiring a tutor that could come to the hospital and teach her for a few hours a day. Right now, we have not found anyone to be her tutor but there is hope that in the near future she will be able to read and write.
Since coming here, I have been very attached to this family. I can say that Buddha dai is many people’s favorite person at Bayalpata. He is very sweet and is always looking out for other people. He will heat water for you so you can take a warm bucket bath. He will also try to get you to eat more. He likes to build fires and watch them from a distance. He likes to drink tea in the morning and is always willing to share his glass of milk with me. He says milk will make me very strong. He likes to tell ghost stories around the fire and lets us know that light scares away any ghosts or creatures walking through the grounds at night. Seeing him smile always touches many people. His dedication to this hospital is incredible and he is probably the hardest worker I and many other people know. He never complains, and is very good at what he does.
Hopefully all the changes I talked about earlier will have taken place by the time this post reaches the website. I will be updating everyone on the progress. If the changes mentioned don’t happen, you know that I won’t be a silent bystander. I will try to do what I think is right. Luckily for me, there are other staff members here who feel the same and are very supportive of giving this family a better life, whether it is an extra blanket or food during lunch. Seeing the smiles of these three makes my day better and for a moment of time erases any worries I may have.
Richa Pokhrel was born in Nepal but grew up in Iowa. She is currently the Director of Evaluation and Research at Nyaya Health. Richa has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh.