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Helping Hand - Son of Sidney Couple Helps Build Medical Clinic in Remote Desert Area of Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2005/01/23; January 23, 2005.]

Sideny Hearld, USA

By Ellen Robinson

Terence Neff, son of Ruth and Earl Neff, Sidney, joined a team of eight medical personnel which built and opened a much-needed medical clinic in the remote high desert area of Tibet.

Neff, a pediatrician in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, along with a dentist, a pharmacist, a respiratory therapist, three other physicians and a pastor, traveled 40 hours by airplane to Shangri La, China, the closest city to the area, then traveled 10 hours by jeep through the Himalayan Mountains. The last leg of the journey was a goat trail. They packed mules for two days on the goat trail to reach the clinic site where more than 500 patients were examined and treated by the team during the two-week stay in the village.

"These people were so hungry for medical care. It was so badly needed, and they referred to western medical practices as 'magical,'" Neff said. "They were very welcoming and very friendly."

Neff described the medical care performed during the two-week stay in the village as difficult because patients had never received any medical care before.

"If you don't have any money, you don't get any medical care in China. We saw a lot of iodine deficiency, cataracts and arthritis," Neff said.

The area's people had relatively healthy diets from living as farmers and ranchers. Their diets consist mainly of wheat, barley, apples, goats, rice and chickens.

"They have no salt in their diets, so we saw a lot of thyroid problems," Neff said. "We also saw a lot of people who had been injured, broken limbs that didn't heal correctly. Medical care has been inaccessible to these people."

Seeing the lack of medical care in this region reminded Neff of how good American health care is compared to other parts of the world.

"We are spoiled here in America. Our health care system is pretty darn good," Neff said. "They showed so much gratitude to us for being here. I was very surprised by how welcoming everyone was there wasn't any resistance to us."

Neff was struck by several aspects of the Tibetan culture.

"The lack of hygene surprised me. There's no water for bathing, so they don't bath their entire lives. Just doing a routine exam, the doctor will get his hands dirty just by touching the individuals," Neff said.

"They have no running water, so there are no bathrooms."

The overwhelming friendliness of the village people had a great impression on the team.

"Some of them would bring Yak cheese to pay us for our services because that's all they had. They were all so friendly and welcoming. When we would go to someone's home, they would prepare whatever they had, tea or rice, and we always knew we were getting fed when a piece of the goat that was hanging up went missing," Neff said.

The village families fed the team during their two-week stay.

"By American standards, it was hardly eatable. But when you've had a long, hard day, it is good, kind of like camp food. You wouldn't want that for dinner every night, but it tastes good when you're hungry from physical work," Neff said.

Another cultural aspect Neff noticed was the lack of privacy in the village.

"Life is harsh there, and they have to depend on each other so much that they have no sense of privacy. People who heard we were there traveled for days out of the mountains to come see us, and if we were asleep, they would just walk on in," Neff said. "There is no personal space in their culture."

The sight of monks walking the goat trail through the mountains wearing Adidas tennis shoes and talking on cell phones seemed unusual to the team.

"They would be out in the middle of nowhere, on a goat trail in the mountains talking on cell phones. The monks were the only ones who had the money for cell phones, and the Chinese government placed cell towers all over the region. It was just bizarre to see that," Neff said.

The team also helped train a local medic to staff the new clinic.

The team of eight medical professionals was supported by The Friends Church, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which has a strong emphasis on outreach missions.

One of the church's members, an architect who had been building schools in China, recognized the need for a medical clinic in the area and was able to obtain funding from the Chinese government.

The medical team plans to work on orphanages in India in 2006, and has plans to return to the medical clinic in Tibet in the future to further assist with the needs in the area.

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