In this Huffington Post blog, Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director of Handicap International US, introduces Bikram Malla, a Nepalese boy born with clubfoot.
Three years ago, a Handicap International community worker trekked to the isolated village of Lalmatiya, Nepal. He was on a mission to identify people with disabilities who needed help.
His journey began in the district of Dang, a few hours flight west of Kathmandu. He drove 15 minutes away from the region's main road, crossed a knee-deep river by foot, and hiked into the village. Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, Lalmatiya is inaccessible to cars. Locals travel by foot, bicycle, or oxen.
That day in 2009, our community worker met the family of a small boy, Bikram Malla. It was clear that the boy was languishing, despite living in a happy home with his three brothers, mother and father. The simple, two-room house was a mere 300 feet from school, but Bikram would not attend. He was ashamed that he couldn't wear shoes, walk or play soccer like the other children. Born with clubfoot, Bikram refused to leave his home much at all.
As an infant, Bikram's parents took him to several hospitals in nearby India. Doctors there unsuccessfully fit him with casts to correct his feet. Knowing that Nepalese society struggles to accept people with disabilities, Bikram's family began to despair and feared for his future.
Our community worker suggested another path. He thought Bikram was a good candidate for a corrective operation, which, paired with Handicap International's rehabilitation expertise would likely see a positive result. He made his case to the parents.
"He told us that Bikram could be operated on in a hospital here in Nepal," Bikram's father recalls. "And that the surgeons could do what was necessary and that Handicap International would cover all the costs."
The surgery was a success, and made possible thanks to Handicap International's strong links to Nepal's Ministry of Health and a range of community partners and hospitals. With physical therapy after the operation, Bikram was soon up on his feet walking. After a few more sessions, he could run, too. And in 2011, he decided to attend school.
"We're really happy that he can finally thrive," Bikram's father says. "He feels a lot more at ease with other children and his teachers say he takes part a lot in class. We know that he can get married, find a job and manage by himself in life. His future has been transformed by this operation."
Now aged 7, Bikram counts many friends, is a keen student, and sits in the front row in class. His spirit is infectious -- and he's a bit of a rascal, too!
When I talk about our work, I often explain how a small action here, in the U.S., can make such a big impact overseas. Bikram's story embodies this.
Bikram learned to walk and decided to join his community because Handicap International had the means to hire and train a Nepalese community worker, and to send that person on a mission to Nepal's most remote areas. The final cost for Bikram's travel to the hospital, operation and Handicap International's rehabilitation sessions? $240.
In Nepal, people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals. They live in extreme poverty, are poorly educated, and generally excluded by the rest of society. Amid such stigma, they have to overcome so much to simply meet their basic needs.
Last year, Handicap International's staff of 47 Nepalese professionals and a handful of expatriates helped 7,593 people with disabilities (nearly half were children). We offered rehabilitation services, crutches, wheelchairs, prosthetics and, overall, enabled people with disabilities to live fuller, happier lives. To prepare Nepal for its frequent earthquakes, we also trained 360 surgeons, nurses and therapists to treat and manage the common injuries earthquakes cause.
These are the kinds of numbers that show the impact and scope of our work in beautiful Nepal -- one of 60 low-income countries where you'll find Handicap International staff reaching out to people who are so often overlooked.
It is Bikram's smile, and those of the thousands of others like him we help that fuels us. It's why we celebrate each and every donation we receive, whatever the size, because we see how small acts here also result in smiles, education, soccer games and hopes for a happy life there.
This blog is part of a #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y, United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday -- which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 -- is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note.