I am a student nurse and booked the Nepal Medical elective with kaya responsible travel this year. The reason I booked with Kaya was that my friend and I asked whether they could recommend any of their courses to third year student nurses with an a&E focus for our four week elective. We originally were thinking of going to the Philippians but Kaya assured us that Nepal would be the best option if we wanted an A&E focus and a hospital placement as opposed to a rural community experience. So we promptly booked with them and on our booking confirmation they assured as we were going to Nepal on a hospital medical elective (suitable for student nurses) with an A&E focus…Perfect!!
However, all was not as it seemed. As we came closer to our going away date I decided to ask Kaya exactly what hospital in Kathmandu we would be working in, as the hospital name wasn’t explicitly mentioned on their site. That way I could let the insurers know as well as look it up on the internet and generally get a better idea of where I was being sent. At this point I thought I was staying in Kathmandu because :
1. Kaya’s internet page only had a hospital placement in Kathmandu advertised as their medical elective
2. I’d been sent details and pictures of the house in Kathmandu that I was told would be my home for the four weeks
3. The contacts from Kaya had been emailing me about Kathmandu!
So in response to my email I was told I was volunteering in Indrawti Hospital. Keen to find out more I looked up this hospital under ‘hospitals in Kathmandu, indrawti’. I couldn’t find anything on the internet, so I asked Kaya why. They responded and said that it didn’t have an internet site and therefore I would not be able to find it.
So I set off to Nepal with my friend. During our 12 hour stopover in Mumbai I checked my emails (I almost wished I hadn’t!!) and Kaya had emailed me saying they had more details on the hospital I was volunteering in. This email said that it was not in Kathmandu and it was a Community hospital two hours away from Kathmandu. My friend and I immediately replied explaining that this was not what we had originally booked and that we had told our insurers and university that we were staying in Kathmandu. At this point we felt a bit let down by the company. If we had known that we were working in a community hospital not mentioned anywhere on their website, we would not have booked purely because we wanted to work in a city hospital.
We explained the situation to the lovely Nepalese girls who work in the house in Kathmandu. They work for a company called The Mountain Fund and from when you arrive in Nepal you are under the care of this volunteer company. They were helpful and when we asked if we could swap and work in the hospital in Kathmandu they explained that it was not suitable for student nurses as it was more of a pre-med placement as you can’t help out and it is purely observational. My friend and I discussed our options. We are both experienced travellers and decided that there was no point in fussing about misrepresentations that had already been made by Kaya and therefore decided to go to the community hospital.
Well, Nepal is a beautiful country and travelling 2 hours outside polluted Kathmandu was a great experience! The countryside has breath taking views and it was great to be immersed in a village where hardly any white people came to. The Nepalese men who run the community clinic were great. They made the time that we spent there really special. I really cannot fault the staff in Nepal. However, on most days we would get hardly any patients. I can really only explain the community hospital as a clinic as there’s hardly any equipment and patients rarely stay overnight.
We had very strict rules from our university about only practicing in the scope that we would practice back home. My friend and I felt strongly on this, the Nepalese people were not our Guinea pigs to practice whatever skills we were not able to practice on patients back home. In the clinic you were encouraged to diagnose and treat patients, something we are not allowed to do back home. Fortunately there was a junior doctor there so we spent most days watching her diagnose and treat patients. The doctor comes twice a week and we were also able to watch him diagnose and treat patients.
Although this was a good insight into the Nepalese healthcare in the community, and the doctor was great at explaining the Nepalese healthcare culture, there is no way I could ever recommend this to experienced student nurses. I would not have booked an elective which was focused on watching doctors diagnose patients. I wanted to watch what the nurses did and their role in the community/hospitals.
After some time in the community we decided that we might as well try out the city hospital. Although the staff in the community were fun, helpful and great to be with we really wanted to use our skills to help out or at least observe some Nepalese nurses, which was not available at the clinic.
The hospital was exactly how the girls at the house had explained it. Only suitable for pre-meds. That is, people thinking of studying medicine. This is because it was all observational and although some of the doctors made us feel welcome, none of the nurses were able to communicate with us and explain their role. This wasn’t through lack of trying either! My friend and I continually asked if we could observe them or help them and we were either told to sit down somewhere or in one case completely ignored. Both placements were not cut out for student nurse volunteers and the Kathmandu hospital had absolutely no structure for volunteers.
So at this point Kaya asked if we could give them feedback and to cut a long story short, my friend and I explained that although we had had a really good time and the staff out in Nepal were fantastic, it would be difficult for us to recommend this placement to other student nurses. We barely had any contact with nurses and were unable to include ourselves in their team and properly observe them. We understood before we went to Nepal that we may not be able to be very practical but we were expecting at least to be involved with the nursing practice.
Kaya then proceeded to attack our claims. They couldn’t understand why we hadn’t enjoyed ourselves and why other people had. We explained countless times that others such as doctors and medical students may have enjoyed themselves more but this was because they aren’t student nurses and student nurses and student medics want completely different placements. Kaya even went as far as saying that we had booked the wrong volunteer programme suggesting it therefore wasn’t their fault. Fortunately I had emails to prove that they had suggested this placement and confirmed it would be suitable for us as student nurses. We were continually referred up to more and more senior people until finally I gave up! Which is not like me at all, but I felt our suggestions were falling on deaf ears.
However, Kaya did eventually make changes to their web page, which now includes a page on the community hospital. However, even then the information was not correct. It was clear that the people we spoke to had never been to Nepal let alone visited the volunteer projects. They did admit they were sending staff out this summer to their projects in Nepal, so hopefully they will now be more knowledgeable.
In addition to my frustration with this company, The Mountain Fund were completely unprofessional with the way they handled our criticism. We began emailing Kaya about our disappointment during our time in Nepal and soon all the volunteers knew about our private emails as well as a mountain fund representative telling the ladies at the house that it was their fault we were unhappy. This was awkward as we had never said anything about the ladies as they had been nothing but informative trying to help us find a suitable placement. A Mountain Fund representative even facebooked us asking why we were causing trouble.
To finish, I loved Nepal the people there were great and so was the culture, so please do not be put off from visiting this beautiful country! My only advice would be not to travel with Kaya Responsible Travel!!