The unassuming humanitarian is the first to tell you his life’s work is the result of the most traumatic event of his life. “Simply put” Anil says, ” I was kicked out of medical school a little over twenty years ago and when you are the son of a highly regarded physician and humanitarian, there is not much worse you can do when your only responsibility is to graduate.”
He can talk about it now without anger, but I sense a tad of irritation in his voice as he describes what led to his ouster from the prestigious Armed Forces Medical College in Pune India. “All I had to do is graduate. That is it!” I was six months out” Anil recalls. A series of innocent circumstances lead school authorities to determine he was a bit too much of a rebel for their taste. “The student sit-in” he says “was the last straw.”
As I listen to his story, it is clear his “failure” as he calls it, was the inability to say no to help people in need, something he struggles with to this day. He put the needs of others before his studies and paid the consequences. Anil has difficulty expressing the complex feelings he had at the time of his ejection, but admits he fell into a deep depression.
To cope, Anil pursued his lifelong hobby of trekking. Ultimately, he would organize and lead tours all over Nepal. It was through this family business that he realized he could bring hope to the thirteen thousand or so impoverished inhabitants of the Dhading region, which is located in central Nepal. Utilizing his medical training, he began bringing supplies and medicines into the villages and providing basic health care to the people he met during his treks.
Although the seed to his humanitarian efforts was planted during his childhood years spent at a Jesuit boarding school, he says “I could not just hike through the villages with wealthy foreigners and not help the local population. We are talking about severe malnutrition among other life threatening medical issues. Babies were dying daily”. To this day, Anil cannot bear to look a child in the eye as it triggers memories of the ones he could not save.
Eventually, his compassion drew the attention of sympathetic American lawyer and fellow trekker, Lisa Gomer, who offered to help him establish a 501 (c) 3 non-profit in 1992. The organization has a parallel board in Nepal. Its members and Anil have always made the decisions for HHC. Nearly twenty years later, surviving a devastating civil war, economic hardship and famine, Himalayan HealthCare is considered one of the most successful Nepalese humanitarian organizations in country. Of the thirty thousand or so non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Nepal, HHC is the only one, which operates in the Dhading region. He says the mission is quite simple: Help people help themselves.
The organization has a three-prong approach to their success: healthcare, education and income generation. The success did not come without failures. Anil says over the years, HHC implemented dozens of different programs that failed miserably. They finally began to collaborate with a number of organizations, including Gulf For Good, Jolka, Direct Relief International. These partnerships have resulted in magnificent growth and much needed social change in the villages.
Soni gave up a comfortable job to help her husband run the non-profit after going on her first medical trek in 2010. She mentions there are things behind the scenes no one would ever consider. “We have to make sure the Sherpas are healthy for the trek. We will have close to one hundred Sherpas, porters and cooking staff working night and day. They have to be healthy. We also make sure we have the right foods for the volunteers.” Anil adds that he and several Sherpas thoroughly inspect every piece of equipment. “Every spoon, every light, sleeping mat, chair and tent are checked out and repaired to make sure everything is in perfect working order because there is no room on the mountain for equipment failure.”
The passion for humanitarianism is not lost on Anil and Soni. On the condition they pass their exams, their two young daughters, Sitashma, Priyasha and six year old son, Saharsha join them on the expeditions. So far they have not missed a trek.
(photo courtesy of Robert Stern. copyright 2012)
(photo courtesy of Robert Stern. copyright 2012)
Today, some of the same Maoists still live in the villages that HHC serves. Anil describes the current relationship with the Maoist as a level of “mutual respect”. “We have to get along with all political groups because we want to continue to bring services that otherwise, would not be available to the populations here.
Anil says the most difficult part of the job is asking for money to fund the mission. He spends months abroad holding his hat out for even the smallest donation. “With the amount of time I spend on fundraising, I could be here doing the desperately needed worked in the villages. I wish I could just win the lottery,” he says. It’s funny, I can face the Maoists, but I find it tougher to ask for money. In the end, it is not about me, the Maoists or the bureaucracy of the government. It is about the people we serve in the villages and whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.”
To learn more about Anil and Himalayan HealthCare visit http://www.himalayanhealthcare.org/