What Does it Take to Change the World? An Interview with Dr. Milan Maharjan of Ear Care Nepal
Written by: Samantha Colicchio, Liquid I.V. Brand Storyteller
At Liquid I.V., we believe everyone has the ability to Change The World, and we’re shining a spotlight on some extraordinary people who are doing just that. We know that by spreading the word about people who are making a difference, we inspire those in the LIV family to make change happen in their own communities.
In May, the Liquid I.V. team visited the office of Dr. Milan Maharjan in Kathmandu to learn about how she’s Changing the World.
Dr. Maharjan’s calling was always clear: she wanted to make the greatest medical impact on the greatest possible number of people. Today, Dr. Maharjan is the founder and chairperson of Ear Care Nepal, a volunteer organization that provides free ear surgeries to schoolchildren across Nepal–surgeries that prevent deafness and, in some cases, death. 16.6% of the Nepali population suffers from a hearing disability, and 55.2% of the cases of deafness in schoolchildren are due to preventable causes. When Dr. Maharjan learned of the epidemic of deafness, she knew she had to do something.
Dr. Maharjan sat down with us to discuss the risks she took and the enormous sacrifices she made to found Ear Care Nepal.
Where did you grow up and what inspired you to become a doctor?
I was born into a middle-class farmer’s family in Patan, Kathmandu, and I spent all of my childhood in and around the Patan heritage area. Even though my grandfather was a farmer and not educated, he had great vision. He understood the value of education. With great difficulty, he made sure that we all got a good education. He was the one who had wanted me to become a doctor since I was a child. He used to remind us all the time that even if we had to do farming, education would make us better farmers. He made sure that we all studied, so we studied hard to fulfill his dream. My grandfather passed away in 1998, the year I completed medical college, because of an ear infection going into the brain. Maybe that is the reason why I am doing what I am doing today…
What drew your attention to the problem of deafness in Nepal?
Immediately after completing medicine, I had the opportunity to travel to many rural parts of Nepal conducting medical camps. Then, I realized that deafness was a really big problem in Nepal, and I was very sad to learn that ear infection was the main cause of hearing loss. Even then, I knew that one day I would do what I am doing today.
Why is child deafness so common in Nepal?
The main cause of deafness in children in Nepal is chronic ear infections–infections that could have been easily prevented if they were treated in time. Sadly, because of a severe lack of trained medical personnel, that doesn’t happen. Access to health care is difficult due to the landscape and the lack of awareness about deafness and its long-term impact. All of these issues make deafness so common in Nepal.
What has been the biggest challenge with starting Ear Care Nepal?
Initially, it was leaving my permanent job and convincing people (who loved and cared about me) why I wanted to quit my job in my prime time of life. In Nepal, the general concept about doing social work is that one does it only when one is retired and old and has no other work to do. So when I wanted to leave my job and become a full-time volunteer, it was impossible to make people understand me. Later on, it was about getting cooperation from the government authorities, and fundraising has also been a very big challenge.
How do you partner with places like Direct Relief to make the biggest impact?
Ear Care Nepal is the only organization in Nepal to do purely school-based ear health programs. With support from Direct Relief, Ear Care Nepal was able to screen all the government schools of the Bhaktapur district and now the Kavrepalanchowk district for the first time ever. This has never been done, not just these 2 districts but none of the districts of Nepal have had these programs. This pioneer work was possible because of help from Direct Relief. Over 33,000 children from the Bhaktapur and Kavrepalanchowk districts have benefited from the program supported by Direct Relief. I don’t think there could be any bigger impact we could make than this.
What is the one thing that makes the biggest impact on the people you serve?
We are not just allowing these children to hear better, we are also saving lives. Many people aren’t aware that ear infections, if not treated, can not only makes you deaf, but can also be life-threatening. That’s why primary ear education is one of the most important part of our school ear health program. We not only treat these children for ear diseases and deafness, but also educate them and their teachers about ear diseases and hearing loss.
Out of all the people you’ve helped, do you have a favorite success story?
About one and a half years back, a 10-year-old boy called Nima Dawa came to us with ear discharge and headache. He looked very sick, and had an ear infection and poor hearing. I started ear surgery and got one of the biggest shocks of my life. The ear infection had eroded the bone, exposing the brain in many places and leaking cerebral fluid. The surgery took 6 hours, and I needed help from a neurosurgeon to deal with the complication. I admitted him for 3 weeks for antibiotics and post-surgical management. At the end, he went home walking. I couldn’t bring his hearing back because it was beyond repair, but we did save his life.
A big thank you to Dr. Maharjan for sitting down with our team and showing us that changing the world is possible! For more information on Ear Care Nepal, please visit www.earcarenepal.org.