In a Memoir of the Public Health Expert
Dr. Nawa Raj Subba
A teacher is one who often teaches classes. The Guru, a public health expert, is the one who increases self-esteem when walking the path of life with the meaning given. A Guru manifests ideals and the truth of life in the lifestyle he follows. Therefore, in defining a guru, I consider the character in a broad life journey to be a guru rather than just a narrow range of teachers and trainers. My respected seniors taught me how to understand public health in practice. I am moving forward to Janakdas Shrestha.
It has been almost a decade and a half since I thought of writing something about him. The day passed while it said tomorrow. I’m fulfilling that word today. In hamlet, there is a saying: treat the party as if you would die tomorrow and read as if you will live forever. I didn’t understand the first time. But this is a philosophy of life. If we look for the depth of the presented statement, we will find the practical meaning. We must complete today’s work thoroughly. Allow the work to speak for itself tomorrow. Allow your work to speak for itself even if you are not present.
It is rightly said that since human life is mortal, one should do what one wants on time because all people are destined to die one day. Therefore, the consciousness that we should treat each other humanely as long as we live can also be found in that verse. That is a philosophical statement that we can see from different angles. We find ourselves close to spirituality at that time. We will be back if we disregard our forefathers’ proverbs.
There are many people in the world today who read, write, and know things. Some experts have obtained various degrees from the university. Some have taught in universities, and many more who study there come out as wise. But they often leave the world without putting their knowledge into practice. Nothing happens just by reading or knowing. Life is in vain if we pass without doing anything for the family, society, and the world.
My father used to say when I was in a government job, “Do something in life.” After working very hard as a government employee, I expected to have to care for myself and my family. I arranged for basic needs and reviewed the father’s obligations after about two to three decades. Only then it seemed to me that the sun hit my heart. Then I realized that the education I had taken to survive was incomplete. So now I started thinking about how to get qualitative life by doing creative work in life.
Only later I did realize that fewer people put their knowledge into practice. So fewer people are going to be successful. It is not that such general theoretical knowledge has not been known since childhood. We have read such things in school since childhood. I had to fade my black beard whitish to comprehend what that meant. That is an important question, when and how to get rid of theoretical knowledge? Learning also needs an environment. It is also a matter of luck to find someone who can effectively teach the education received in the workplace of life. I got this opportunity from one of the leading public health experts, Janakdas Shrestha.
What did he tell me?
He turned on the light of my mind. He used to say – Nawa Raj, many people like you in society have studied public health. They consider themselves public health experts after completing their master’s degree i.e., MPH from the university. You intend to be an excellent public health worker; you should put your knowledge into immediate and timely implementation. He used to say that the person who has ‘drive power,’ i.e., has an attachment to performance, wins the competition. Not only by gossiping, not only by arguing minds. Work should be visible. It should be written and brought to light if it is a creative work. Only then will the knowledge within you be meaningful.
You think that you will say something from your heart that is good. However, the world sees and understands it only after writing and showing it. And people read you, understand you, and the world knows you. That is how the personality is formed and becomes your true identity.
Shrestha’s words stuck in my mind. I tried to implement the education he gave in my life as much as possible. I took it as a mantra in the field of public health. As a result, I tried to make the District Public Health Office’s public health activities effective, public-oriented, and transparent.
I published articles and compositions in newspapers and books to spread public awareness about public health. Spread the message through radio and television interviews.
What I did do?
For the first time in the country, the District Public Health Office, where I was working, produced and broadcasted the radio program “Public Health Radio Program” on FM radio. I mobilized the working group in the concept and content selection of the radio program. Based on the letters from the listeners, the radio program also served in the Himalayan and hilly districts of the eastern region, including the Morang district. To begin, data collection was considered the first step in managing the district’s public health. During that time, I took out the district profile of public health in Khotang in 1998, which was a pioneering publication in public health management. The government later implemented that example in all districts. After that, the custom of every district to publish its annual work progress continued. Thus, I put positive pressure on the government from within the system to start a good tradition.
Apart from public health, I followed the same mantra in my research and literary creation. I tried to put into practice the meaning I got in every possible area of life. I have brought to light the composition I have been writing for many years. My songs, poems, and essays were limited to diaries and published as the book works. I considered the memories in my mind as property and transcribed them. In this way, I turned the feelings that arose in my mind into instant creations. I thought my knowledge and experience were worthwhile publishing the work as a collection of books.
Ah, old age would not have been favourable if I had stopped thinking about whether I would do it tomorrow or after I finish my job. As the body becomes weak, it would be more likely that literary service would not be a priority. There was a chance that my composition and dreams would follow the fate of the lizard story in unfortunate circumstances. Nevertheless, I did not hesitate to write down the experience and knowledge gained while active and bring it to publication. That’s why some writers used to be jealous of seeing the publication of works so quickly. However, I felt a positive change in my life with self-strength inspired by Shrestha. As a result, it helped in personality development.
Shrestha in Eastern Region
Return to the public health sector of the Eastern Region of Nepal. How do we see and understand the public health sector in which we work? How to make the right impression? Shrestha’s opinion on such essential questions was clear. He looked at the public health program with a very subtle and critical eye. He relied on statistics rather than verbal information. He used to believe in the qualitative and sustainable conditions seen from the observation by reaching the depth of the facts. In discussions, he often used statistics. Therefore, people listened to his views carefully. With this characteristic and efficiency of his, Janakdas was established as an excellent guide in public health.
Like elsewhere, health programs were reviewed at a conference every year in the eastern region. Shrestha worked in UNFPA, a non-governmental organization, and used to facilitate the technical issues in these seminars. Moreover, he used to give technical advice to the Regional Health Directorate Dhankuta. In addition, he played an active role in program monitoring and planning. I was working as a planning and program officer in the regional directorate. While there, we worked jointly. As a result, what was expressed formally and informally left a deep impression in my mind.
Public health expert – a facilitator
I discovered that the theoretical knowledge of public health that I read could be translated into reality in this way. During my stay in Dhankuta, I was responsible for preparing technical reports on behalf of the regional health directorate. At that time, he and his colleague Dr. KK Mishra provided technical advice. At that time, I had an excellent opportunity to assess the public health situation in Eastern Nepal. This knowledge later helped me to go to the district in the management work of the District Public Health Office. I would probably have lost in the district without taking Shrestha’s words to heart. However, I could show it to some extent by working in the district. Shrestha also contributed to this. I express my gratitude to him and KK Mishra for that.
A bitter experience on the job
One truth that happened in his life hurt me badly. Janakdas Shrestha, who played an essential role as a facilitator in the annual and half-yearly review conferences held in collaboration with the Eastern Regional Health Directorate for nearly one and a half decades, was the supporter of all. He was in the hearts of the technicians working in the district health and public health offices of 16 districts of Eastern Nepal. I am a witness to that.
One day he died untimely. That year also, the directorate organized an annual review in Biratnagar. His physical presence is no longer there. His absence deeply saddened me. I was present as a district participant. To my surprise, at that time, the regional health directorate of the organizing authority did not remember him formally or informally. No one in the health service department, ministry, or 16 districts thought it necessary to remember. No officials placed the late Janakdas Shrestha in the seminar; no tributes there. The Regional Health Directorate, which organized the seminar, could remember and pay tribute to Shrestha’s contribution. Have we become machines? Aren’t we human? I hated myself for our style.
Until yesterday, whose speech was listened to seriously by the participants, there has been no formal or informal inquiry into his death. Seeing such a brutal scene, I felt despondent. I am aware that no one will remember us in the same way they do right now tomorrow. Such feelings and knowledge appeared to me. I was kind of discouraged. This feeling played out in my mind so much that now I started to think that this job life would be nothing. Whatever job or service I say, it is till I touch it.
When I saw the insufficient government salary to feed my family and educate my children, I was convinced I had worked for the country. Due to a lack of money when I was young, I could not satisfy my heart’s desires. Now this lack has become a habit of living in scarcity. After three decades, I had arranged for my family’s basic needs. What could be more ambitious for a job holder than this? Finally, I realized I had been taking the job only for myself. It’s done now. Financially, I am happy and proud to be able to live the life that a middle-class Nepalese citizen lives.
My turning point in life began there
The same thing started playing in my mind. An unexpected earthquake occurred in my heart at the natural death of a person I considered the source of energy in my working life. I started looking at my job from a different perspective. Now I have decided to retire shortly. Birth and death are regular events in life. But Shrestha’s emptiness created a sudden emotional tide in my mind. I decided to write two words about him to heal the wounds I felt then. It took almost a decade and a half to fulfill that wish.
I thought about how selfish we humans are. Today, many experts know him in the field of public health. But there is no leisure and custom to remember the elders. Comparatively, work or personality is recognized in the literary world. That is a good thing. After writing books in the field of literature, there is a discussion. But no matter how much he contributed to the public health sector, his name is not mentioned. That made me unhappy to see. Today, it is not customary to remember people who contributed to the social development field. It is essential to pay attention to this. In this way, many names are missing from the anonymous list that society must not forget. That is a challenge for writers.
A reality I felt
Educated veterans, technicians, administrators, managers, knowledgeable laborers, farmers, and skilled homemakers have enough knowledge and wisdom in our country. Most of them make plans in their mind saying that they will do this and that. However, the implementation is not done under this or that pretext. The knowledge and wisdom of many such experts and wise people remain limited. Without putting it to good use, one day, it will disappear.
Only a few people execute their plans. Most of them leave incomplete in the middle. Therefore, only a small number of people are fully utilized. Shrestha’s emphasis was here. Having information with someone is not enough. First thing, there should be a good vision and plan in it. It is not just about making a plan; its implementation and results must be seen. People evaluate programs and healthcare workers based on quality services. Therefore, good work should be started or done today.
I miss you!
Janakdas Shrestha, my Guru, gave me the vision, knowledge, and self-strength to move forward in life. Therefore, I refer to his knowledge and perception.
If I would like to add a little to the Guru’s words, every person needs confidence to move forward. Unfortunately, people hesitate to take action for fear of the possible consequences of not having confidence. Without faith in themselves, people are confused and make excuses.
Confidence is not acquired by itself; it is achieved only through study, research, testing, practice, or gaining experience. Therefore, there should be an immediate initiative in life with knowledge, skill, and confidence. Only then our absolute dreams will one day turn into reality.