GIVING HOPE WHERE NONE CAN BE FOUND – THE SECOND LIFE OF A BURNED GIRL

Kushi, is a girl from Mugu who suffered severe burnings when she was a little girl. Her mother, I call her ‘Amma’, told me, that many children were playing around her while she was frying food in a half round-bowl with hot oil above an open fire. One child must have pushed Kushi while playing, the little girl fell and stumbled into the big pot with hot oil. The hot oil severely burned her lower lip, her neck, her arms and her entire upper body. Since there was no medical treatment available for her in Mugu, the burn marks grew into ugly and obstructive, large bumpy scars. Kushi always covered her neck with a scarf, but since she could not close her mouth because her lower lip had grotesquely grown together with her neck, the burns were always visible. When we first met Kushi in her hopeless situation, we decided to take her to Kathmandu to a hospital specialized on burnings. At the end of October 2010, the journey started.

Kushi comes from a very poor family that has already lived through many quirks of fate. Only one year after Kushi’s accident her father died because he also found no medical help in Mugu. Amma was now alone with 4 children. While the father was ill, they already sold all their land because they hoped to safe him by buying dubious medicine prescribed by self-proclaimed ‘doctors’. Amma works as a day labourer, load carrier, at construction sites and on the fields of others. Her oldest son is now 19 years old and works as a day labourer and is married. He and his wife live with Amma and her other children in a tiny room. Amma is only 40 years old but looks like 60 as the worries of life have left their marks.

Under the watchful eyes of the entire village, we signed a contract with Amma, stating that we would pay for any costs incurring during Kushi’s stay and treatment in Kathmandu Amma was so relieved, I could see how the weight fell off her shoulders. Since Amma can neither read nor write, everything was read to her and checked by the village mayor and only then she put her fingerprint under the document. A big moment. In Nepal one always needs a relative by his/her side during a hospital stay who takes care of the patient’s wellbeing. Meaning organizing meals, helping the patient to get up, getting to the toilet and the such. Amma decided to accompany Kushi and gave her oldest son the responsibility to look after the other siblings. She only asked to take Chutki, her youngest one, with her which we agreed on.

 

Kushi’s journey to Kathmandu

When we left to the airstrip after all farewells were said, I noticed how anxious Amma was. I tried to give her some courage and off we went. It was an exciting trip to Kathmandu. First, we took the dangerous small plane and Amma and her children looked in awe at the mountains below. Kushi was scared (and to be honest, I was too) and never let go of my hand for the whole flight. Then we drove for about 5-6 hours with a minibus to Nepalganj. During the trip, the small family could not stop vomiting as driving a car was completely new to them. By the time we got to the last plane it was already dark and we arrived at night in Kathmandu. There was no power failure and the city lights were on. Kushi was just amazed and blown away by what she saw. They all stayed at my house because I did not want them to stay at a hotel room in a complete new, different and strange world. It was quite funny because in Mugu they live in another universe where they do not have water taps or western toilets in the apartments. When I asked them to take a shower before going to the hospital, they just used the detergent for everything: to wash themselves, their hair, their clothes while sitting in the middle of the bathroom with a bucket and a carafe in front of them. Already on November 2nd 2010 we drove to the hospital, which is located about 45 minutes outside of Kathmandu in the countryside. This hospital was founded by the German organization Interplast and offers excellent medical help. Often, German surgeons are spending their holidays here and operate on the needy. After examining Kushi, the surgeon gave us a prognosis and said that she should be prepared that she would need three major surgeries. The first surgery was already scheduled for the following day, the 3rd of November. Amma and I spent the time together during the surgery, both of us were very anxious but just on the inside, because in Asia one shows calmness on the outside on such occasions. So, we mostly sat side by side in complete silence.

Then we were brought to Kushi in the recovery room. We stood at the side of her bed, trying to calm her down when she groaned or tried to stand up, still under the effects of the anaesthesia. Amma was deeply shocked when she heard her little girl crying and weeping while dozing. Time and again she helplessly kept telling Kushi to be calm and finally asked me if Kushi would always stay like this… I tried to explain to her the effects of anaesthesia and that Kushi would be her old self again. Amma was very relieved about that information. After a few hours, we were able to bring Kushi to her room. Amma then called home and told the entire village that the first surgery went well. I talked to the surgeon and he said that he had started with the most difficult part of her neck and that the operation was successful. To loosen the adhesions on the neck, it was necessary to transplant skin which was removed from her leg. Kushi recovered very quickly. I got her a teddy bear, which she never let go from there on. Covered in a ruff around her neck, she even got up for meals and started playing with other kids in the garden area of the hospital. She had already changed a lot. Since the adhesions on her neck were removed she was now able to close her mouth again. She kept looking at herself in the mirror and was very happy and proud of her change. Her voice became louder and better to hear as well. She had gained more self-confidence.

In the upcoming weeks, Amma and Kushi became more and more integrated, made new acquaintances, but still were seized as something exotic because they came from the remote area of Mugu. I regularly visited Kushi and kept a diary about her stay in the hospital.Each and every time I came to visit, I brought fruits, juices, biscuits… all the things they could not get at the hospital. The daily meals, for which we paid for, were provided by the canteen. The other two major surgeries, which took place on December 15th, 2010 and January 5th 2011 went also well without any complications. Here the shoulders, one armpit and the arms were treated. After the surgeries, Kushi had to endure the painful changing of the dressing. Right after the surgeries and skin transplantation, the dressings could only be changed under general anaesthesia due to the immense pain. Kushi was so brave. She never complained. She was just so happy to finally get help. Even with Amma you could see that many of her worries fell off her and she suddenly looked 10 years younger and always had a smile on her face.

On January 24th of 2011, Kushi was released from hospital. She was scheduled for a follow-up two months later and during this time she had to continue her physiotherapeutic exercises and had to cover and cream her fresh wounds. We booked a nice little hotel for the small family as I desperately wanted everyone to go to the dentist as well as I wanted Amma to go see a gynaecologist. In the meantime, we showed Kushi Kathmandu and even went to a fun park with her where she could ride carousel. She really loved this trip. Amma told me that she desperately wanted Kushi to stay here in Kathmandu for upcoming surgeries and for a chance on a good education. I was completely shocked because I did not expect that, as everyone was looking forward to returning to Mugu. It almost broke my heart to imagine what it must take for a mother to give up the beloved daughter to grant her a chance on a good education and for a better future. Caused by poverty and out of desperate need! After another week they headed back to Mugu. We hugged each other once again and arranged that Kushi would be picked up by us after 1.5 months in Mugu. My team members told me about her eventful return. The whole village was amazed by her beautiful face and her newly found smile. It was very exciting for everyone. Immediately, Kushi started to play with her old friends and she had so many stories to tell about this other world outside their universe – this universe called Kathmandu.

 

Kushi’s new home

Meanwhile, we found a nice children’s home for Kushi with an affiliated school, in which she will get a good education, the support she needs as well as loving care. We registered the little girl for the first grade. When she returned to Kathmandu in March, I was very happy to see her again, because she had won my heart. She is a smart girl and quickly adapted to the new situation. She shared her room with other girls and quickly became the leader of the room. Kushi loves to go to school and is well liked by the teachers but also by her classmates. Especially her achievements in mathematics and English are outstanding according to her teachers, because Kushi is very committed. Later, she said, she wants to become a teacher and teach the children at her home village and she wants to take care of her family. Kushi has regular contact with her mother even despite the huge distance. About once a month, Amma calls her little daughter in Kathmandu. Making phone calls in Mugu is very difficult and still a ‘big deal’. Of course, Amma does not have her own phone, but still it is nice for them to hear from each other and talk from time to time.

During one of our regular visits to our project villages in Mugu, our two project managers, Dikendra and Achyut, met Kushi’s mother. She wanted to know exactly how her little one is doing. When she learned about the good healing process and her daughters academic achievements, that her daughter was already fluent in reading and writing, she was full of pride and had tears in her eyes. She is very happy that her daughter has the opportunity to not only receive good medical treatment but also a sound education.

 

More surgeries in December 2011 and a visit of Amma

During one of her routine examinations in October, her doctors announced that they would operate on her chin again within the next three months to remove more scar tissue. The operation was then scheduled for December 2011. In Nepal, a patient, who has to stay at a hospital always needs a relative by his/her side to take care of him/her, to feed them and more. So, we decided to get Kushi’s mother to Kathmandu. Amma came all the way from Mugu to be with her daughter. The joy of the little girl and her mother to finally see each other again after months was huge. Kushi happily showed her mother the children’s home and introduced her to her best friends.

Amma was very impressed by her daughter’s development as well as by the care she obviously received at the children’s home, which also made her thrive. Of course, Amma also wanted to see Kushi’s school and even spent half an hour next to Kushi at the school desk and saw all the notebooks and school documents of her daughter. Even though she cannot read nor write by herself, she is even more proud that her daughter has now learned to read and write and is making such good academic progress. When Kushi was hospitalized, the doctors and nurses warmly welcomed her and were all excited to finally have their little ‘most favourite patient’ back with them. There was a big ‘hello’ from everywhere. Everyone was surprised by Kushi’s new look, because just a few days prior she had decided to get a boyish haircut because she thought it was modern and chic. Yet another proof that she has really arrived in the city of Kathmandu. Personally, I liked her long hair better, but thankfully they can grow back.

The surgery was on Monday the 5th of December 2011 and was successful. The surgeon removed excess scar tissue from the neck and again transplanted skin from Kushi’s leg. Once again, Kushi was very brave, never complained and was just grateful to be able to improve her appearance and regaining the ability to move freely. Her mother was waiting outside in the hospital garden and was visibly nervous. During the surgery she prayed non-stop and said that the two hours had seemed like two full years to her. Relieved that everything went well, she sat next to her daughter’s bed in the recovery room and after another hour, Kushi woke from her anaesthesia. Amma did not leave her daughter’s side in the following days and cared for the little girl. Time and again, Amma said with gratitude and tears in her eyes: ‘You have given Kushi a new life!’ Kushi had to spend her birthday, which is on December 7th, in the hospital but joyfully celebrated it and was happy that her mother was with her. She also received many birthday greetings via phone from her children’s home and of course, our team visited her and surprised her with a birthday present. Even in the following year, Kushi did great. She is extremely proud of her accomplishments at school and she really can be proud of herself. Not only did she score very high in the main subjects such as Nepali, English and mathematics but also in all other minor subjects such as social studies, science and IT. With great pleasure, Kushi learned to use a computer and cannot wait to be able to write emails by herself. For a girl coming from the mountains of Mugu, this is more than amazing. But her English skills are impressive as well. During my last visit, I was very surprised that she did not talk to me as usual in Hindi/Neplai, but in English. She is just making great progress and always smiling. Although she often thinks of her family in Mugu, especially of her mother, she does not feel homesick, she says. She is happy that she got the opportunity to go to school every day and play with all her new friends.

 

Amma in danger

When our project managers visited Amma in late June during a project trip, they were shocked to find Kushi’s mother in a very bad and critical condition. She was very ill and extremely weak. Her whole body ached. The situation was very serious. We decided to bring her immediately to a clinic. She had a very high fever. Poor nutrition and more than 15 hours of hard work per day had completely exhausted and weakened Amma. Immediately, she received the necessary medical care and vitamins. Fortunately, she was well again after just one week. She was incredibly relieved and thankful. Amma told us that she had been very scared that she would never see Kushi again. Therefore, we decided to organize another reunion with her daughter as soon as possible.

 

Kushi visits her home village

In December 2012, Kushi celebrated her eighth birthday with her school friends. Unfortunately, her mother could only congratulate her by phone this time, but only a few weeks earlier we had taken Kushi to Mugu on a project trip, so she could spend a few days with her family and friends. Everyone was happy to see Kushi again. “She looked so disfigured and pitiful a few years ago and now she’s a pretty girl and has grown so much,” said one of the villagers. All friends were very excited to hear Kushi’s stories from the far-off Kathmandu. They were hanging on her lips as she talked about planes, buses and temples, the sounds and smells of the big city. Many children in Mugu have never seen a car or even a bicycle and therefore they could not believe how Kushi’s everyday life was like in Kathmandu. Unfortunately, the time passed way too fast in Mugu for Kushi. The whole time she had a smile on her face while walking the streets of her village, wrapped in her traditional clothing and a scarf and effortlessly integrating herself as if she had never left. But it was Kushi herself who urged everyone that she wanted to be back on time in Kathmandu for school. “The visit at home seems to have motivated Kushi again,” her teacher said a few weeks later. The already very good student even improved her performance.

In April 2014, Kushi successfully completed the second grade and even skipped one grade after consulting her teachers. She is now in the fourth grade – according to her age – and very happy about her achievements. Her health is also very good. As Kushi grows steadily, the scarred areas of her skin have to be examined regularly because until she is fully grown it will be inevitable for her to have some minor surgeries to adapt the scarred areas to the growth of her body. In any case, Kushi is on a very good way, happy and healthy. Kushi’s name means “happy” and after many years this is true again. Sometimes it is very easy to change a devastating fate into something positive again.

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