21Learn and improvise

How I was forced to be flexible in the foothills of Himalayan Tibet

Following my first trip to the Tibetan nomadic communities, and drawing on my nursing background, I decided to form a small medical taskforce to run a childbirth awareness program in the Himalayas. I invited second-year medical students from Bristol University Medical College in the UK to accompany me. My candidate interviewing technique was unorthodox. Instead of firing up the students with descriptions of all the wonderful things they would see and experience, I painted an exceedingly daunting picture. My intention was to attract individuals with the right level of courage and determination and to weed out those who would be so overwhelmed by the demands made on them that they would want to come straight home. I knew it would need a special type of person to slip quietly and effortlessly into the harsh reality of life in the Himalayas, with its hardships and political and cultural sensitivities.

I placed the ads and waited. Within a few days I received five applications and arranged to meet the students in a local café in Bristol.

Alice was the first to arrive. A tiny, elegant girl with waist-length hair and wide eyes, she beamed at me and sat down, almost disappearing behind her enormous leather satchel. Words tumbled out: ‘I am so excited to work with you. I was born in Hong Kong, I speak fluent Mandarin and am a human rights activist.’ She barely drew breath and although I admired her ...

Get Leading on the Frontline now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.