Kopila

Poverty & Mental Health

Our latest blog has been written by Mrs. Bina Silwal, the Executive Director of KOPILA-Nepal (WDR Partner). Bina looks at poverty in terms of mental health and wellbeing and shares Kopila’s experience.


KOPILA-Nepal (KN) was established as a non-government social organization in 2001 with a vision  towards a society in which the rights of all people are realized and basic needs are met.

The team at KOPILA-Nepal strives to ensure that the most marginalised people in their society can enjoy their fundamental human rights and psychosocial wellbeing. To achieve this mission, it has been working with the most marginalized women and children through developing and mobilising self-help groups, skill development training, education, psychosocial counselling, mental-health treatment, re-habitation & social re-integration and advocacy for rights. Kopila Nepal works with family, community members, school teachers, and policy maker/implementers to deliver these programmes.
Currently we are working in nine districts of Gandaki Province (Western Nepal). 

Various studies, globally and in Nepal, have reported the reciprocal relationship between mental health and poverty. KOPILA also have similar experience that psychosocial and mental health affect peoples' socio-economic status of individuals and their family. Though there is no statistical evidence, we have experienced that many families living in chronic poverty are at the highest risk of developing poor mental health and psychosocial problems in the community. 

During our work in the community we found several such examples and we realized that medication only does not heal mental health problems. Therefore, we need to find out the cause that triggered mental health or psychological problem and plan our intervention accordingly. As stated above, in the case of the community we found that poverty has significantly contributed to increased poor mental health and this has pushed the whole family into poverty. Poverty should not only be taken as economic poverty but powerlessness, poor social support network, discrimination, voiceless are different forms of poverty.
For example, in Nepal, there is huge gender discrimination. Women’s voices are not heard, they are not part of decision making. They may have money to spend but they are still poor. In rural Nepal people are discriminated based on gender, caste, ethnicity, disability and so on and they are at more risk of falling into mental health problems.

How poverty can affect mental health

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Kopila Nepal works with poor and marginalized women who are widows, abandoned, abused or victims of rape. Their voice is not heard, and they are they do not have any power even to demand rights they are entitled to. They are having problems to provide for their children’s basic needs and feel highly unsecured and vulnerable. Most of these women have developed the symptoms of serious anxiety and depression. Kopila Nepal provides psychosocial counselling to help develop their self-esteem. Medication is provided only if their symptoms are serious and, where possible, support is provided to make some income. When they start earning, they feel more secure, their self-confidence improves and due to Kopila they realise that they are not alone in their fight. This helps their mental health and also helps women become independent. 

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Ganga Magar 52, a single mother, lives in Taprang village with her 3 children. She got into mental health problem due to difficulty to provide her children, Kopila-Nepal referred her for mental health treatment, counselling and provided goat-keeping training and business skills. She now earns enough to meet the basic needs of the family and can send her children to school. 

Mangali Ranabhat, 49, a resident of Madi 4, Thumako Danda suffered from poor mental health after the death of her husband. Due to her poverty she could not afford treatment as it is not available at local health centre in the village. Kopila Nepa also l supported her for her treatment, provided counselling and supported for goat-keeping business. She now is sending her daughter to school and is managing her home well with the income she makes. 

There are several stories of people and families whose mental health is suffering due to poverty. Kopila Nepal knows that this problem cannot be healed only by medication but needs a proper counselling. Furthermore, to help provide a solution, we must continue to identify the triggers for poor mental health in these circumstances. 

The long road to Base Camp

We are so pleased to share another story from one of the 2018 Everest Base Camp team. Reaching Base Camp was a goal for Pamela since 2014, and here she tells us how she got there... 

My journey to Everest Base Camp was a very long road.

In August 2011 I suddenly became ill with high temperatures. I gradually got worse and worse and after 3 weeks was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with viral meningitis. Though I was unable to walk more than a few steps, and had lost the capacity to think and speak ‘normally’, I’d been told that lots of people recover from this condition quickly, and so I expected to be back at work and in my usual routine in a few weeks or at worst months. That wasn’t to be my experience!

A year later I had been medically discharged from the job that I loved, and was struggling with even the least strenuous of daily tasks. A year beyond that, having been referred to the amazing Brain Injury Team based in Thompson House in Lisburn, I was starting to make progress. However, I was still suffering from chronic fatigue and continued to struggle with word finding and cognitive function. This was two years after I first became ill. Our family were attending Castlewellan Holiday Week, and it was then that I heard about the trek Jono and Beth were leading to Everest Base Camp. I turned to David, my husband, and said, “I’m going to do that, and when I do, I’ll know that I’ve recovered!” I know he didn’t believe me, and I didn’t join the first trip in 2014, but in 2018 I finally reached that goal! 

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It took all of those, almost 7 years, to get to a place where I believed I was ready for this challenge. I wasn’t worried that day by day I was the slowest of the nine members of the team who came together to trek to Base Camp. I had a confidence that somehow, I was going to make it to that destination at 5,335m. 

The trip and trek itself was amazing with such a mix of experiences! There was the noise, colour and culture of Kathmandu, the flight into Lukla, with a  helicopter ride back out, and then the breath-taking scenery trekking through the Himalayas. The trekking company who looked after us were so professional, and the guides with us made sure everyone was safe and well. The accommodation was basic by western standards but, on the whole, much more comfortable than I had expected. It was great to both have company to walk with, but then also to have times when I could walk alone and just allow the beauty of this amazing place to sink in.

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The few days both before and after reaching Base Camp were the most challenging, but again, I had a real peace and inner confidence that I was going to reach that target. When I finally did reach Base Camp it was incredibly emotional. This was something that meant so much to me, in marking the end of a chapter where a period of illness had seemed to define so much of what life was about for me. Reaching that physical place on a mountain far away, symbolised having overcome another mountain which had been an ever-present barrier in my life for what seemed such a long time. 

Pamela reaches Base Camp!

Pamela reaches Base Camp!

Through this whole journey of recovery I have been very aware of God’s hand at work again and again, in opening doors to my healing, and in teaching me so many lessons along the way. His presence was also incredibly real on this 18 day journey to and from Everest. Alongside a great group of people, led so expertly by Jono, Beth and the team from Mountain Delights, this was a life changing experience for me, and one which I would recommend anyone to consider.

If you'd like more information on the 2019 Treks, please get in touch or you can download the brochure for Base Camp or the Himalayan Trail Trek.

A journey of faith & exploration

September 2014 saw the first trek to Everest Base camp in aid of Kopila-Nepal (WDR Partner) and The Surf Project. In this blog, one of the members of this first team, Jim McBain, shares his reflections on the trek and how it really is for all ages... 

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When the Methodist Church in Ireland approved the first fundraising trek to Everest Base Camp I was immediately interested. My son had been there and come home with photos of soaring snow-covered peaks and huge suspension bridges over deep ravines and raging rivers.  Mountain villages perched on terraces and Sherpa farmers tending their yaks added to the lure. I wanted to go, but at the age of 70 I knew there would be obstacles. I was sure my wife would oppose the idea and get support form our daughter, a hospital doctor who understood the dangers of altitude sickness. However, when I cautiously broached the subject, I was surprised by my wife’s willingness to let me apply;  she was confident that a man of 70 would be turned down on grounds of age and idiocy! 

The organisers were more sympathetic. Jono and Beth stated their willingness to let me join the party if I passed the medical and coped with their testing training hikes in the Mournes. And so it was, that in September 2014, I set off with 19 other adventurers on the trip of a lifetime.  I kept a journal of my time which runs to many pages but shows how each day brought fresh joys.  Many memories crowd my mind, one being a poster in a hostel half way to base camp which proclaimed “Age is just a number”.

The fact that I made it there and back owes more to the experienced leadership of our Sherpa guides and porters than to any claims I might make for strength and stamina.  No doubt 13 days of continuous trekking [8 days up – 5 days down] demands a degree of mental and physical fitness, but it is perfectly doable with a bit of training and preparation.  Supported every step of the way by fellow travellers it was a journey of faith and exploration.  We were on a Mission Together– to reconnect with our faith in the company of other believers in a setting which proclaimed the creative power of the Almighty.  It is easy in the Himalayas to look around and praise the name of Him who made it all.  The fact that the money we raised [over 30,000 Euro] was doing so much good was an added blessing- check out Kopila's work here

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I would encourage anyone with a sense of adventure and a desire to do one outrageous thing in their life to join.  You will not get the opportunity to laze on a lounger by a 4-star pool, but you will have the chance to bathe in waterfalls flowing from glaciers and along the way marvel at monasteries on hilltops and flowers at your feet.  As for the altitude, have no fear.  Jono and Beth will look after you and bring you home glowing with renewal and fulfilment and a feeling of achievement unlike anything you have ever known.

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If you'd like to follow in Jim's footsteps and climb Everest Base Camp to fundraise for Kopila-Nepal, please get in touch. You can download the brochure here, or for the Himalayan Trail Trek click here. The money raised by the teams has a huge impact on Kopila as they continue to improve the lives of local people in Nepal.