The surest way to locate Dr Govinda KC is to go looking for him in that part of the globe where a major natural disaster has just struck. He rushed to Gujarat after the devastating quake there in 2001, to Pakistan after the 2005 quake, to Burma after Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and to Haiti after the magnitude 7 quake in January this year.
And if a major disaster has not struck anywhere, the 52-year-old orthopedic surgeon can be found at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital where he has worked from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for 16 years now, except during his trips to remote villages of the country where he trains health professionals on first aid, apart from distributing medicine for free.
He won’t be found practicing anywhere else. He has not practiced in private clinics or a nursing home, except for a year when he couldn’t decline a request from a close friend. The friend left for Japan for a year and Dr KC assumed his responsibilities during that period at Kathmandu Nursing Home. “There was a motivation too. I could learn from Dr Ashok Banskota,” he said.
The doctor goes to remote villages in the hills or poverty-stricken villages in the plains of the country twice every year, taking along about 20 kilograms of medicine during each trip. His trips are self-financed and so is the medicine. While in the villages, he provides free medical check-ups, apart from training local health workers on first aid and distributing the medicine for free.
In the past 16 years, the doctor has been to 72 districts of the country to avail villagers of his free service and medicine.
The selfless trips have not been entirely been free from danger, especially during the Maoist conflict. Unable to believe his identity and his intent, some people called him a guerilla, while others called him a government spy. Once, he was put in the confines of a house for 19 hours. At other times, villagers refused to give him food believing that he was a Maoist.
But these incidents were far outweighed by the doctor’s sense of social responsibility and he has been continuing with his solitary trips.
The doctor’s another area of active contribution is providing free medical services in disaster-hit places both within the country and outside. The doctor started doing this after the earthquake of 1988. After coming to know that the quake caused massive damages in eastern Nepal, he took a night bus to Dharan and provided free services there.
The doctor went to Jajarkot during the cholera epidemic last year. He knew that he needed loads of medicine to provide treatment there, so he hired mules to carry the medicine and provided his services for 10 days.
Three years ago, he reached eastern Nepal after the Koshi floods and conducted health check-ups of 1,751 people.
“Reaching out to areas hit by major disasters is my way of making the best use of my skills,” says the doctor, who was born in Makadum-Simle VDC of Ramechhap district.
STRANGER IN HAITI
Dr KC made a dash to Haiti watching live footages on CNN of the devastation caused by the January 12 quake. But the airport in Haiti was no longer operating commercial flights in the immediate aftermath of the quake.
Without establishing any contact with agencies concerned in Haiti or making arrangements for serving as a volunteer there, Dr KC flew to New York and then to the Dominican Republic from where he took a bus to Port-au-Prince.
“I had heard that hundreds of hardened criminals had made it out of the prison in Port-au-Prince and therefore I wanted to reach there before nightfall, lest I run into one of them,” said the doctor who was carrying US $ 2,500 in traveler’s check and cash.
In Port-au-Prince, he looked for the cheapest lodging, which cost him US $ 30 a night, and on the morning of January 31, he got on a truck to l´Hopital Universitaire d´Etat d´Haiti, the biggest hospital in the country.
To his dismay, he found that most of the hospital complex had turned into debris. An HIV clinic had been converted into an operation theater, where injured Haitians were receiving surgeries from volunteers from all over the globe.
“After I introduced myself to the coordinator of the International Medical Corps who was overseeing the medical camp and informed her that I wanted to work as a volunteer for two weeks, she was overjoyed. Most volunteers barely stayed for a day or two,” he said.
In the following two weeks, Dr KC provided treatment to 395 injured Haitians. He conducted 232 surgeries.
When he returned to Nepal this month, just US $ 32 remained of the US $ 2,500 that he took with him. The airfare cost him an additional US $ 2,300.
Apart from his trip to Pakistan in 2005, all his other trips and expenses were financed by the doctor himself. This atheist likes to self-fund his trips as a volunteer, for he does not want to dilute the satisfaction he derives out of social work.
“As soon as money gets involved, it no longer remains social work,” says Dr KC who is single and therefore does not need to provide for a family.
ALMOST IN CHILE
While in the US en route from Haiti to Nepal, the doctor heard of the quake in Chile measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale.
Sensing that he might be needed there too, he contacted the Chilean embassy in the US, but was informed that despite the high magnitude of the quake, there was little loss of life and Chile was well-prepared for the aftermath.
By now, Dr KC has developed an acute sense of where he might be needed next. “Disasters are occurring regularly all around the world. But I don’t go to places where I believe the local medical capability is adequate,” he said.
But if there is a major disaster anywhere, he won’t rest without at least trying to reach there.
After Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in 2008, he saw on television that foreigners were being denied entry to that country.
“But I decided to approach the Burmese embassy in Kathmandu, so that I wouldn’t have to fret later for not having tried,” he said, reminiscing the experience. “To my utter surprise, I was granted a visa without delay, and that too gratis,” he exclaimed.
For his commitment to social work, his refusal to engage in private practice, his single status and his refusal to carry a cell phone (he is content to carry a pager), people often call him Dr KC crazy.
“But they say that out of appreciation,” says the doctor who does not limit himself to serving in disaster-hit areas.
During an interview with Republica, the doctor was more interested in talking about Kathmandu’s lack of preparedness for dealing with the aftermath of a major disaster, than about his own selfless acts.
“There are few empty spaces in Kathmandu to evacuate people in case of a major disaster. Modern equipment for search and rescue of trapped people [after an earthquake] is a far cry,” he said worriedly.
Dr KC intends to continue serving people. “But not forever! Only as long as I am capable physically,” he quipped.
"Dr. Govinda K.C., is a person to whom the government still has been unable to recognise, a patriotic figure dedeicated to service, honest to professions, and inspirational leaders for the youths,"
The coverage is quite good. So many many heartfelt thanks to Mr. Bikash Sangraula and The Republica for getting this information on the National Daily. Congratulations you have done a great job.
Dr KC is the person whom I can not imagine anybody can be. He is made up of different entity. Though we can not be like him but yet we should get inspired from him and try to learn at least an iota of selflessness from him. Since perfection is unachievable but still do we need to strive for it. He is THE MAN. .
Dr KC is an exemplary figure. He is not only a selfless surgeon but also a great academician. Very Inspirational!!!
I congratulate Republica for bringing into public light the deeds of our Nagarik Heroes and for honoring them. They are the role-models to our society and to the younger generation. While the country seems burning everywhere and the cloud of despair is hanging low in the political horizon, these Heroes have not only given service to the Great Nation, but also given HOPE and COURAGE to the people. They have transcended region, religion, ethnicity, and ideology! Above all, they are NEPALI. Salute