Isabelle’s Inspirational Volunteer Experience in Nepal

Arriving in Kathmandu, the vibrant capital city of Nepal, is a sensory overload for anyone. But for Isabelle, a fourth-year Notre Dame physiotherapy student, it marked the beginning of a transformative journey.

In her own words, Isabelle reflects on her unique experience, saying, “Kathmandu was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The bustling streets, cows freely roaming, and constant construction—it was all so different from Australia.”

Isabelle, along with a group of 13 allied health and medical students from the UK, Ireland, and various parts of Australia, was accommodated in a ‘work the world’ house. “It was a cozy haven in the midst of the chaos,” she says. Two chefs and housekeepers ensured their comfort, but daily life in Nepal had its share of challenges, including the lack of a washing machine which meant handwashing became a part of Isabelle’s daily routine.

Language barriers were another obstacle, as most local patients didn’t speak English. Isabelle and her peers were determined to bridge this gap. She recalls, “We undertook two Nepali language lessons each week and received valuable insights from the hospital’s medical staff through two weekly lectures.”

Isabelle’s time was divided between the Teaching Hospital, where she attended to musculoskeletal outpatient and neuro inpatient cases, and the neighboring children’s hospital.

At the Teaching Hospital, Isabelle noted a unique funding model that facilitated their academic immersion. “The absence of scheduled physiotherapy appointments led to a constant flow of patients, with physiotherapists often managing up to ten cases an hour.”

Isabelle’s daily routine included a two-hour lunch break, followed by two hours on the wards, but each day threw different challenges her way. “In the second week, the hospital witnessed a massive strike as residents protested against physical assaults by a patient’s family member and a lack of protection from local authorities. With physiotherapy referrals directly from doctors, the strike led to a temporary decline in patient numbers and a heightened sense of risk in navigating the hospital entrance.”

Throughout her time in Kathmandhu Isabelle was exposed to the struggles that many developing countries face in delivering healthcare. The under-staffed hospital wards necessitated family members’ involvement in daily nursing and physiotherapy care. The scarcity of mobility equipment called for resourcefulness as Isabelle and her team assisted patients. She also noticed the absence of comprehensive health insurance, which meant many patients had to return to their rural villages with limited education on improving their condition.

Isabelle vividly remembers the intermittent power cuts in Nepal, saying, “Power cuts were a challenge, and we often had to carry torches to continue treatment in the dark.” Despite these hurdles, the overall experience at the hospital was eye-opening, highlighting the dedication of medical staff working in an under-resourced facility. Isabelle expressed immense gratitude for the healthcare system in Australia, recognising the stark contrast in resources and opportunities.

During weekends, Isabelle and her fellow volunteers explored Nepal’s stunning landscapes, witnessing the grandeur of the Himalayas, embarking on hikes, encountering local wildlife, and even going paragliding. They had the privilege of participating in local festivals, such as Indra Jatra, where they witnessed the Kumari, the living goddess, being paraded through the streets. The warm hospitality of the Nepalese people left an indelible impression. Isabelle notes, “It was incredible to delve deep into the country’s rich culture and religion.”

In closing, Isabelle reflects on her journey, expressing profound gratitude for the opportunity to experience physiotherapy in Kathmandu and the incredible people she met along the way. Despite contracting dengue fever after returning home, this life-changing trip has ignited a passion for travel, leaving Isabelle eager to explore more of the world in the future. She concludes, “Nepal will always hold a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait for more adventures in different corners of the globe.”

Isabelle is a shining example of the drive and impact of Notre Dame students. To find out more about studying at Notre Dame head to

See some photos from Isabelle’s trip here

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