What is it that motivates us to travel half way around the world, at our own expense, to serve those who are in need? The answer is yet to be revealed to this writer. “Just because” my fellow traveler tell me. Within those two words lie the answers.

I am told the people of Mainpat have been waiting patiently for our return for the past year. It was last year at this time the HERO medical team visited the Tibetan refugee camp in the area known as Mainpat, India. Granted “Protected Status” by the Indian government in 1965, the area now has 7 encampments and a monastery for schooling monks who will one day travel the world teaching the dharma. And so it is, the HERO medical team, a dental team, engineering and sustainable teams, and lay people from all walks of life, have come to this area for 2 weeks to give of themselves to help these impoverished people. First glance betrays our assessment of improvised. Rolling fields of Buckwheat, yellow fields of Mustard, and Barley spread as far as the eye can see. Not all have been harvested, still waist high and waving in the wind. Most have been harvested and the crops sent to market. Homes built of mud with tile roofs, brightly painted walls and prayer flags flying from masts make the residences appear similar to any upscale subdivision in anytown, USA. A closer look tells a very different story. Lacking are the conveniences we in the United States take for granted: hot and cold running water, sewers, an electrical outlet in every room, 2 cars in the driveway, and the family away at work for the day. Many are unemployed, eking a meager living by selling some grain or handicrafts at market. Bartering is a popular form of exchange. Got some spare yarn, trade for some corn. Water is provided by a communal well which flows on most mornings. Electricity is notoriously unreliable.

The HERO team, headed by Dr. Julie Williams, arrives at Camp 7 mid morning. The plan was to arrive by 9, to see as many people as possible. This morning, they must first have their papers checked by the local constabulary…again.  We wonder as we pull up to the mud and brick building whether this is for real or just another official looking for a bribe. It turns out the official in charge is off today. We travel back to the Monastery where we are camped for the duration of our trip only to be called back to have our papers checked, this time by the official’s assistant. He stares at the stack of papers, looking very serious, double and triple checking to make sure everything is in order. We look at one another and wonder if this man can read.  After half an hour we are free to go.

Arriving at Camp 7, they have selected the perfect place to set up our clinic: between the temple and the community hall.  People are waiting when the 4 jeep caravan pulls up. Soon the line forms, 5 people, 10 people, 25 people. The team stays until 3, working nonstop, pausing momentarily sipping tea and cookies provided by the grateful people. The afflictions we find this year are much the same as last year: diabetes, malnutrition and complications from the lack of vitamins. One man shows up with fresh burns over the right side of his body. He smelled of alcohol; he probably fell into the fire last night. He hardly made a sound while his wounds were dressed.

People were given an eye test and fitted with glasses. Many smiled in delight as they looked at familiar scenes, now in focus. Thank you Dr. Serge Wright of Sedona for donating all the glasses. An elderly holy man with long gray beard and furry eyebrows, dressed only in loin cloth, was sporting a new pair of dark sunglasses.  In this part of the world lack of vitamin A contributes greatly to the loss of eyesight. Nutrients like vitamin A are taken for granted in the United States, and yet two of these small red pills taken twice a year can prevent loss of eyesight. Vitamin Angels, an international nonprofit dedicated to preventing blindness, donated thousands of vitamin A caps. Solar cookers were donated to each of the 7 camps. Here we find the cooker sitting in the community center, unused. Laura McGrath saw to it that cookers came from America. This new technology was provided to save wood and spare people from smoke inhalation, not to mention lower the CO2 of the already polluted Indian air.

At 4 pm the clinic begins to pack up in preparation for tomorrow’s work, this time in camp 5. We travel the bumpy back to the monastery where tea and cookies are again waiting. Over a dinner of rice, fry bread, cucumbers and cooked string beans prepared by our Tibetan hosts, we reflect on our day. The question of why we do these things has only been partially answered. Tomorrow we will set out again, in the quest find the answer to what this is all about. Under the starriest skies one could ever see we walk across the grounds to our sleeping quarters and fall into deep sleep.