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In 2005, Dr. Rob McKersie (Chicago Schweitzer Fellow, 1996-97) published a memoir called In The Foothills Of Medicine: A Young Doctor’s Journey From The Inner City Of Chicago To The Mountains of Nepal. A new documentary film, Hearts in the Himalayas, shines another spotlight on his efforts to expand access to quality health care in Nepal, where more than fifty percent of people live below the international poverty line.
Hearts in the Himalayas profiles the work of Himalayan HealthCare (HHC), a volunteer organization that establishes health care, education, and economic opportunities in rural Nepal. McKersie is HHC’s president (by day, he is a family physician in Lawrence, Massachusetts; you may remember seeing him in action in our Creating Change, Improving Health video).
According to a HHC press release, the film “integrates footage shot during an Everest-size expedition fraught by challenges with a powerful narrative as [HHC Founder Anil] Parajuli takes the viewer into the brutal conditions the villagers face every day.” It tells the stories of “Pema Tamang, Phe Dorge Tamang and Bin Maya Tamang, the HHC trained healthcare providers who work around the clock to provide medical care to the people of their villages; Bahadur BK, who, with the help of HHC, has broken the barriers of his caste to become one of the most respected educators in the region; and the women who are determined to improve village life through the income generation and empowerment programs. Parajuli and HHC board president Dr. Robert McKersie reveal the story behind Megh Bahadur Parajuli Community Hospital which became the beacon of hope for the 300,000 people in the Ilam region during the fog of a deadly 10-year civil war.”
“I urge everyone to see this film,” McKersie says. “Hearts In The Himalayas is an accurate and inspirational chronicle of the effective programs HHC has implemented over the past 20 years.”
Brought up in a family of teachers, McKersie was first drawn to a career in education. Working with inner city youth in Chicago and eighth-graders in East Palo Alto, California, he witnessed the paucity of available health care for low-income students and their families. At mid-life, he was inspired to become a doctor and earned his medical degree from Rush University. While a medical student and a Chicago Schweitzer Fellow, McKersie worked with Music Theatre Workshop (now Story Catchers Theatre), to help young, incarcerated women create original productions about their lives.
“The obstacles and boundaries encountered when volunteering in Nepal are both physical and mental — physically climbing over a high pass and then diagnosing an unfamiliar medical condition with minimum resources,” McKersie said in a recent Chicago Schweitzer Fellows Program newsletter. “The obstacles and boundaries encountered during my project at the Cook Country Juvenile Detention Center were subtler and mainly mental — trying to bridge the void of distrust that often exists between the incarcerated and the volunteer.”
“The lesson of being flexible in one’s approach and having a willingness to call on your team stood me well with my Schweitzer work in 1996, and is now the baseline for my work in Nepal,” he added. “These skills are what generations of Schweitzer Fellows acquire on their assignments and use to good advantage in their implementation of successful and meaningful projects.”
Click here to learn more about Hearts in the Himalayas and buy tickets for upcoming screenings.
Click here to learn more about the Chicago Schweitzer Fellows Program.