How does a Belgian manufacturer of sleeping mattresses become benefactor for a pro bono orthopaedic hospital in Jorpati?
It all goes back to a 30-year-long relationship between Luc Salens, from Maldegem in Belgium, and the clan of Juddha Bahadur Shrestha, the well-known public-spirited entrepreneur who died ten years ago.
Luc met one of Juddha Bahadur's sons, the engineer Promod Shrestha, in 1973 at a Jaycee convention in Nice. Their friendship spread to other members of the family, and he started to send cheques to Nepal to support indigent students at the Namuna Machendra School in Patan, and to help in the education of three blind boys, Sujan, Kamal and Utsab.
Over the years, the youngest son of Juddha Bahadur, Anil, finished his studies and became an orthopaedic surgeon working at Bir Hospital. In a trip to Kathmandu in 1997, Luc and his wife Ingrid were introduced to a "ghost building" at the Jorpati compound of the Nepal Disabled Association. "With thirty lakh rupees, I can make this into an orthopaedic hospital," the young doctor told the Belgian businessman.
Luc went back and started raising euros, and now the empty buildings have been transformed into the Nepal Orthopaedic Hospital (NOH) run by Anil Shrestha. "I am now retired, my associates run the business, and my central focus is raising funds for NOH so that it can stand as an example of people-oriented health care in Nepal," says Luc.
The money Luc sends back isn't frittered away for overheads, but goes directly to benefit patients. Making the Jorpati hospital self-sustaining is Luc's primary concern, so treatment here is not entirely free. But the charges are modest and vary according to the patient's ability to pay. The hospital plans high-end private rooms for those who can afford it as a way of subsidising the care.
Luc says their concern for Nepal, and more particularly the NOH, gives him and Ingrid a lot of joy. Then there is the deep friendship with the Shrestha family. Luc still keeps an unopened bottle of Khukuri Rum gifted to him by Juddha Bahadur years ago as a memento.