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CQ paramedic's working holiday in earthquake zone

Mathew Holt at the Annapurna Base Camp celebrating surviving the hike to 4135 metres above sea level.
Mathew Holt at the Annapurna Base Camp celebrating surviving the hike to 4135 metres above sea level. contributed

MOST people visualise a holiday being something where you sit back, relax and soak up the culture around you.

But a Rockhampton paramedic prefers to go rough and tough, helping those less fortunate while training.

Mathew Holt spent six weeks in Nepal working at as a volunteer at a health clinic, hiking up the Himalayas mountains, learning wilderness first aid skills, building a wall for a new health clinic and teaching school children first aid.

His time was spent in the area devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2015 near the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, starting in a village up the mountains called Chitre.

"It was a bit of a luxury to get a hot shower," Mat said about the conditions in the village and along the hike.

The 26-year-old, who has been living in Rockhampton for two and a half years since taking up his first posting in the Beef Capital, returned from the 'holiday' on December 15 and is already planning to go again.

 

An avid outdoorsman, Mat has spent much time hiking Australian trails and even spent time working at a recreational camp in Canada after high school.

He said he had heard about this opportunity in Nepal through a colleague in Yeppoon who had completed the adventure about a year ago.

The medical side of the adventure Mat went on is run by two organisations - Wild Medic Project and Earth Trails Expeditions.

The school part is run by the Mother and Children's Art Foundation which is a not-for-profit organisation that supports schools in villages.

Mat started his amazing working holiday in Chitre, running a health clinic with five other volunteers where his role included liaising with Nepali pharmacist accompanying the group and organise equipment and medications.

"All of their villages are set up on levels going up the hill," he said.

"We had people coming from five, six hours walk away to come for the eye clinic check and the health post check.

"There was a lot of chronic conditions going on. A lot of arthritis, muscular skeletal type conditions."

He said the volunteers would provide the checks, hand out short term prescriptions and provide recommendations to see a doctor in Kathmandu where available.

Mat, who was the team's clinical leader, said there were also a lot of respiratory problems as well due to the fact they do a lot of cooking indoors and the wood there is fairly resinous.

"A lot of people have got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with emphysema symptoms and with no history of being smokers," he said.

"That was tough to see all these chronic conditions that you wouldn't see in Australia just based on the living environment in Nepal."

Mat said the volunteers did also do some basic wound care type stuff, but they also dealt with a lot of reflux and gastric problems as well caused mainly from the timing of when the locals ate.

"Everyone works really really hard there so they won't have regular meals," he said.

"Because of that timing and a lot of their food is quite spicy and rich, it disrupts their digestion of the food and that causes a lot of problems in terms of reflux and ulcers."

He said the volunteers tended to start fairly early each day.

"You would get times when there would be no one there and then they would finish whatever job they had to do and they would all come in a stream," Mat said.

"The first time I was there, there were five of us. Another qualified paramedic, a student who had just graduated and two biomedical students who were there in a research type role.

"For us, it was tricky because there were three people that were able to do the assessments and with the amount of people we had come through ... we had 100 people in two days and then on the third day we saw only about 15 for very minor things."

He said at one stage they would have seen 40 people in one hour.

Mat's medical adventure didn't stop there as he joined a group for a hike up to Annapurna Base Camp while learning wilderness first aid/life support course along the way.

The group would hike for up to seven or eight hours a day and then do a couple of hours of theory and practical work while guides and porters set up camp.

"The hike was actually fantastic because we had this wilderness life support course so a lot of improvised techniques to deal with injuries, illnesses while out on a hike with no equipment," Mat said.

"That was fantastic ... That was run by an EMT that does a lot of this sort of wilderness first aid work from the UK," he said.

"We also had an anaesthetist from Victoria and she ran a lot of the theory based subjects as well."

Mat was amazed at how the Nepalese guides and porters were keen to learn the same medical skills as the group in the hike.

"We would all practising these things and we would look over and some of our Nepali guides were practising the same things... using splinting and making stretchers using rope," he said

The group trekked to just above Annapura Base Camp (3150 metres above sea level) to 3200 metres.

"It was really funny.. .all of us Australians were puffing and wheezing and these guys are just smiling and setting up the camp when we get there," Mat said.

"It felt strange to give these massive big packs to these guys who are mostly quite short, quite skinny and the packs they are carrying are almost as heavy as they are themselves... but that is their primary source of income. And they were really friendly and happy."

He said it wasn't just all volunteering, hiking and learning.

"Probably one of the most fun things that we did was at Annapurna Base Camp," Mat said.

"There was a bit of a flat area above the camp.

"We actually got together and had a bit of a game of soccer.

"That was pretty tough. You definitely felt the altitude there."

Part two of Mat's Nepalese adventure tomorrow.

Once the group reached 3200m, they turned around and hiked back down again.

They returned to Chitre where Mat joined a group of about 15 people to run another health clinic and build a retaining wall for a new health clinic in the village.

"The one there was basically a tin shack, very small and not a lot of resources," Mat said.

For this part of the adventure, Mat was the project manager organising the construction of the wall, liasing with local builders, organising the distribution of water filters to the village of Thalo (a village about one hours walk from Chitre).

Mat said the funds for the wall and water filters were raised by members of the group Mat was travelling with and previous groups who had made the trip.

He said locally, a number of businesses donated towards the wall and water filters, including Workshop Rockhampton, Chemist Warehouse in Stockland Rockhampton, Allenstown Square Meats, Frenchville Quality Meats, staff at Rockhampton Ergon Energy depot and Rockhampton Ambulance Station.

Mat said between those businesses, family and friends, he raised $1800 for the project.

He said it was amazing returning to Chitre after four weeks to see the difference in amount of rebuilding that had gone on in that short time frame.

And it's because of what he saw then that Matt is keen to go back again next year to see what more has been accomplished.

"They are all starting to rebuild," he said.

"One of the main things that they tend to start doing first is their monuments... their stupas as they call them... so it's like a Buddhist shrine. They were working on that. All employing local people.

"You could see some of the houses start to be rebuilt as well.

"It was really nice to see that they are actually making progress and moving on from the earthquake."

Mat said the school had just been rebuilt, but the children had not yet been allowed back in the building when he was there running first aid courses.

"They do need quite a bit of assistance with the school... They still need a lot of the basic school equipment," he said.

"The school doesn't even have one computer. So that's one big part that they need for both learning and administration.

"They need a lot of basic school equipment like rulers, maths equipment, pencils, calculators is a big one."

Mat said the group did a lot of work with the school kids as well.

"We actually provided the final assessments for one of the school groups to do a first aid certificate.

We did the scenarios, handed out the certificates. That was excellent.

He said the group managed to disrupt classes quite often while they were working at the school.

"As soon as we walked past they would all flock to a window and start waving at us," he said.

Mat said despite what the people living in that area had gone through with the earthquake and not having much in terms of amenities and other items, they were still very happy, welcoming and hospitable people.

It is a very poor area but everyone is definitely very happy. They are all lovely, welcoming people. Very hospitable.

"Any assistance you can bring to those areas, they are very appreciative," he said.

"On our way out, quite a few of the elders of the community, they came to us as we were packing up our camp and gave us a farewell blessing.

"They gave us these silk scarves they call khata (ceremonial scarf in Tibetan Buddhism). It's a blessing for safe travels.

"It's really nice to see these people that have very very little give us what they can."

Topics:  earthquake nepal nepal earthquake paramedic queensland ambulance service travel



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