Happy Dashain 2073

A very Happy Dashain to my Nepali friends the world over!



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Farewell to Nepal … for the time being

A few of you have been pestering me for photos of myself, and as usual I have none of my own.  I am not known for selfies.

As luck would have it, I’ve had a few outings over the past while, where some more than others have insisted on taking a few photos with me in them, so here goes ….

Myself and Nikita at Trisara (live music place).

Myself and Nikita at Trisara (live music place – Sound of Streams were playing).  Photo credit Trisara (they have a photographer who takes a steady stream of photos throughout the night).

Anu, Archana, Nikita and I had a night out in Lazimpat recently and I now regret not getting a photo of us all togther.

Dr Prakash is recently returned from Pakistan after passing his Fellowship exams.  Dr Prakash is now a neurosurgeon – wow!  Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks have guided Dr Prakash through Spinepal – click here to read some more.

Myself with Sheela

Myself with Sheela

Keeping with the Spinepal theme, I also had a lovely coffee with Sheela, wife to Dr Raju.  Dr Raju is another of the Nepali doctors Drs Peter Wing and Claire Weeks support through SpiNepal.  Dr Raju has been in Dhaka, Bangladesh over the past few years and he sits his final exams next Spring to hopefully become Nepal’s first PM&R Doctor (Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation).  I would wish him luck, but he’s a smart guy, we know he will do it!

Myself with a few of the SIRC folks, out for the night in Thamel last weekend. Woo Suk Jung from KSCIA, Korea also joined us!

Myself with a few of the SIRC folks, out for the night in Thamel last weekend. Woo Suk Jung from KSCIA, Korea also joined in the fun.  I now know he is a Rock n’ Roller – hee hee

Neecol and I having lots of laughs in KTM, a fun day!

Neecol and I having lots of laughs in KTM, a fun day with my beautiful friend!

Enjoying dinner out with the Kayasthas in Bhaktapur - there is always lots of food with this family - yum!

Enjoying dinner out with the Kayasthas in Bhaktapur.  This family love their food … they are my kind of people.  Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.  Much love.

A beautiful sunny day in Banepa on my last morning with Lok, Krishna Maya and Reena.

A beautiful sunny day in Banepa on my last morning with Lok, Krishna Maya and Reena.

I’ve been in and out to Kathmandu so much lately (visa stuff etc), I’ve not been able to meet everyone as I would have liked, but be assured I will miss Nepal and will return!  In the meantime, my bag is packed and I am ready to go.

My bag is packed and I am ready to go. Only one bag for 9 months .... it helps that I no longer need winter clothes :-)

Only one bag for 9 months …. it helps that I no longer need a -20C sleeping bag and winter clothes & boots🙂

Sri Lanka here I come.  I’m looking forward to that first smell of the ocean and eating seafood – yum!

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Continuing on the generosity theme

In addition to the generosity of Bowen Island’s small community, I have to call out two individuals who have been supporting the education of a number of children in Nepal for some time now.  Children whose parents have been economically weakened by one of their parents suffering a spinal cord injury, thereby reducing the income coming into the household.  More often than not, feeding the family  and putting a roof over their heads takes priority over sending children to school.

Government schools are free, but the uniforms, books, stationery and tiffin (lunch) must be paid for.  Children must come to school in their uniform and with a full set of books, otherwise they are not allowed attend.  This rule must make sense to someone, it does not to me!

Per child, uniforms cost Nrs. 5000 per year, books and stationery another Nrs. 4000 per year, and daily tiffin for the school year costs Nrs. 4,800.  All in, the total equates to approximately $200 USD per child per year.  Not a lot of money by Canadian standards, but far too much for an improverished family, particularly if there is more than one child (there invariably is).

You can see why this donation is so important, and makes a heck of a difference to the lives of these children.  Education is the key to ensuring the children struggle a little less in their adult lives, as compared to their parents.  I don’t think I need to convince anyone of the value of education.

If you travel frequently on Peter’s Bus or are on Cormorant Marine’s water taxi service from Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove, you may have spied Cathy Bruce, knitting profusely while engaging in banter and much laughter with her fellow commuters.  I so enjoyed my daily commute with Cathy over the past 18 months and we have become fast friends because of it.

Cathy (recently retired from the Bench) together with her husband Bill Kitchen (also a retired judge) gave me another donation on my return to Nepal this summer, and I knew exactly who do ask to help me ensure the money was allocated to the children who needed it most.

Thanks to SIRC ‘s Community-based Rehab Coordinator, Prajwal Ghimire, he was immediately able to suggest three families (7 children) who would benefit from Cathy and Bill’s donation.

All three families live in Dolakha, an area badly hit with the first earthquake on April 25th, 2015, and was the epicenter of the May 12th 2015 earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3.  This gives you an appreciation of the hardship these families have suffered, and continue to suffer.  To read more about Dolakha and the impact of last year’s earthquakes, click here.

The following are the stories of these three families, written by Prajwal, and reproduced with the individuals’ kind permission.

Tika Bahadur Pandey:  As a farmer, Tika Pandey’s life was going on well until he sustained Spinal Cord Injury due to fall from electric pole while he was fixing the wire. Mr. Pandey spent three months at Spinal Centre for comprehensive rehabilitation. He has good realization on life after SCI. He needs wheelchair for his mobility.

Tika Bahadur Pandey with his family, Prajwal is in the blue t-shirt on the right. Photo credit Prajwal Ghimire.

Tika Bahadur Pandey with his family, Prajwal is in the blue t-shirt on the right. The family continue to live in a temporary home with mud walls and tin roof, whilst waiting for government funding to rebuild their home after last year’s earthquakes.  Photo credit Prajwal Ghimire.

His living  standard deteriorated after the accident and the pain even worsened  due to the collapsed  house by the massive earthquake. Three of his four children are school-going age and the whole family are thrilled to receive this funding, allowing the three kids to attend school for the coming year.

Bishnu Khadka:  Bishnu Khadka was a laborer at one of the marble companies in  Kathmandu. Life was going on well for the Khadka family until Bishnu sustained Spinal Cord Injury due to compression by heavy load while working at his job. Mr. Khadka spent six months at Spinal Centre for comprehensive rehabilitation. He needs wheelchair for his mobility.

Bishnu Khadka and his family outside their temporary home. Photo credit Prajwal Ghimire

Bishnu Khadka and his family outside their temporary home. Photo credit Prajwal Ghimire

His house collapsed on the massive earthquake last year and they also are living in a temporary shelter made of tin whilst waiting for the Government to distribute rebuild monies. with this donation, Mr. Khadka has two little kids in his home who will continue to go to nearby government school.


Shambhu Khadka: As a laborer, Shambhu Khadka was working at one of the shops in Sikkim, India. He came to his home one day for a holiday. One day before the massive earthquake took place, he fell from tree while collecting fodder for his cattle and sustained spinal cord injury. Mr. Khadka spent four months at Spinal Centre for comprehensive rehabilitation. He needs crutch for his mobility.

Shambhu Khadka with his two children (plus three more neighbourhood kids in for a look!). Photo credit Prajwal Ghimire

Shambhu Khadka with his two children (plus three more neighbourhood kids in for a look!). Photo credit Prajwal Ghimire

His house collapsed by massive earthquake and this family are living in a bamboo and mud wall structure as their temporary home. With this donation, Mr. Khadka has two little kids in his home who go to nearby government school.

Cathy and Bill, the three families, Prajwal, SIRC and I greatly appreciate your generosity to these families, who will remember your great kindness forever.  You just can’t imagine the difference you are making.

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A Day of Firsts

After three weeks of paper-pushing, vast numbers of explanatory emails and too many phonecalls to count, my visa to work in Sri Lanka came through today.  Yahoo!  I am delighted!

The success is mostly thanks to Firasa who works in Land O’ Lakes, Colombo and who navigated through the process so efficiently.  All I had to do was show up at the Embassy a few times, and basically just sit there, reminding them we were not going to give up with our quest for a visa.

The visa stamp itself fills a full page of my passport and of all the pages they could have used, they chose the page next to the Garda Siochana stamp, approving my entry to Cork, Ireland on March 27, 2016 ….. a little over six months to the day.  Serendipitous me thinks.

There was quite the degree of excitement during the wait at the Embassy today …..

  • In the many years the Embassy staff have been working in Kathmandu, they have never had to process an Entry Visa for a foreigner.  They have processed many tourist visas for foreigners, but never an Entry Visa.  A first for them (which probably explained the slightly bumpy approval process!).
  • A guy from Himalaya Airlines was at the Embassy today finalizing the visas for the crew of their inaugural direct flight from Kathmandu to Colombo scheduled to commence on Saturday October 1.  The staff were positively thrilled with a direct flight – not only does it mean a reduction in travel time from 17 hours (due to layovers) to 4 hours flying time when they go home for a visit, they were also very excited at the prospect of frequently receiving fresh seafood and tropical fruits & veggies from ‘home’.  This service operates three times a week you see.
  • As it happens, I am on that very same inaugural flight on October 1!  And the guy from Himalaya Airlines told me I was the first member of the public to book the inaugural flight.  I suppose there are not many Kathleen Coffeys booking flights in Nepal.  But there is something about remembering the name of your first client – some 25 years later, I still remember the name of the first client at J.Rothschild International.  I know, very geeky.

But really, how’s that for synchrony?! (Peter Wing’s words).

In my book, being the first member of the public to book the inaugural flight surely makes me Special.  Don’t you think?

Perhaps they are planning a champagne reception as a surprise?  Maybe I will get free lifetime flights with Himalaya Airlines, as Cormorant Marine does for anyone born on the water taxi from Bowen Island to Horseshoe Bay??

To be on the safe side, I best get the hair as straight as I can in this humidity and the make-up perfect for next Saturday … in readiness for the paparazzi don’t you know.

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The latest on life in KTM

This post is being reproduced with the kind permission of the writer, who has lived in the western part of Kathmandu city for some decades and provides us with a log of life in KTM from her perspective as we near the end of monsoon and the festival of Dashain.

September 2016

The monsoon is drawing to a close. We are experiencing more sunny and hot days with some rain in the late night. The nights are beginning to cool and up here on the hill. The leeches are receding so I ventured forth with the dogs along overgrown walking trails. For the past three months the dogs have been kept to the roads to avoid picking up hitchhiking leeches. I was shocked to see that most of my favorite part of the walk, a small ravine shaded by multiple trees and bushes, has been clear cut to make way for a drivable road.

A number of parcels are being sold and houses that have been on the market for two years are finally being sold. One large tract of land with a lovely A-frame house has recently changed ownership. The new owners have torn down the house and for over two months have had a large machine pummeling the huge boulders into manageable sizes, one hears rat-a-tat-tat all day long from this machine. I wonder if the owners realize that by digging up these boulders they are destabilizing the ground and any structures built on this land will more likely experience earthquake damage. A majestic old deciduous tree has had half of its roots cut and now people are starting to chop it down. I am so sad at the loss of this beautiful tree.

Petrol is free flowing now, however there were two times when there was a shortage. The depot for the Valley is being enlarged and is out of use, so trucks are delivering directly to the petrol pumps. There was a three day holiday and many were filling their tanks for a holiday trip and this created a small line. People driving by seeing the line began to panic that there was a shortage so also lined up to fill their tanks. By the end of the day the pumps were empty. The next day no trucks arrived because the truck drivers decided they were also on holiday, and no fuel was coming up from India. It took almost two weeks for things to normalize. Everyone still has a knee jerk reaction to fuel shortages.

When I returned to Nepal I found that I had a full stock of cooking gas and was told there was no longer a line to get the refilled canisters. Sometimes when I drive down into town I will wave at the owner of the local cooking gas shop. He is smiling now. I can’t imagine the stress he had been under during the months of the shortage. He had to switch off his phone to avoid all of the angry calls he had been receiving. I admire him because he refused, during this whole siege, to take a bribe. There are many rich people living up here on the hill who could have easily paid a big sum for a full gas canister, but he refused to do it. I tried one time. He had called to let me know my canister was coming at 8 am that morning. I sent my gardener down to get it (I was at work). My gardener waited all day for the truck to finally arrive. I suggested he pay the owner a few dollars to call him once the truck arrived, so that he could return to work in the garden. The owner not only refused the money, but also told him that if he left I would lose my place in line and would have to wait for another 6 weeks for my refill. An admirable person in this society of bribes and favors.

A friend had been incarcerated for weeks and was finally going to go to court where we all hoped she would be released. I went by scooter, easier to park, and easier to get around in heavy traffic. It was shocking to see how extremely congested the roads have become. I rarely go through town these days so was unprepared for the present day traffic. Almost wished for a return of our past fuel shortage. It took an hour to go 5 kilometers. Over 4,000 vehicles are registered monthly now. Vehicle ownership has doubled this past year.

It turned out the charges against her hadn’t been written so she wasn’t coming after all. Two days later she was brought to court and had to sit in a van with other “detained” women in the hot sun for hours. This time the commute was half, I took a back route that is relatively unused. No one was allowed in the room except her and they questioned her for some time. Again, on another day she was brought to court, but this time her lawyer could be with her. She was finally released on bail but couldn’t be processed as it was after hours so once again had to be detained. But today she is free, out on bail. It may take up to a year before she can defend herself at a hearing. Justice moves very slowly here. But we all pray she will get justice.

It was announced in the paper that the gov’t was prepared to start distributing its first installment of money to the 250,000 households that were damaged. I mentioned this to a coworker that the amount seemed small. Wasn’t it about ½ million households affected? She is very pro government and said, no, only 250,000, that the rest were fake reports of damage. There must have been an uproar over this announcement because two weeks later another announcement was made that the rest of the 350,000 households would also start receiving money. This, after two wet monsoons of people living in tents and tarps and leaking structures thrown together from scraps. People are still camped out in green spaces in the city. The cases of cholera have doubled this monsoon (although the numbers are very low considering the conditions people have been living in over the past 1.5 years).

This month it was announced that those in the Valley would start receiving their money next week. I alerted my staff and was told that no, it will be at least another month before they get their first installment of $500. The total for each household will be $2,000, barely enough money to build a one room structure. Those that have savings have already started building, some have had to sell land to afford to build an earthquake resistant structure and many are taking out loans; although paltry, any money from the government will be welcome. Hopefully most will be living inside by wintertime. With all of the rebuilding the costs of materials have skyrocketed, doubled for some materials, and builders are booked up for months.

The 36 family member neighbors who used to run a tea shop have almost finished their extended family house (at least five family units) and just in time as the property they have been camped on for the past 1-1/2 years has just been sold and the owner is anxious for them to move out.

They have two cows and I have been getting fresh organic cow’s milk daily from them. But once they move, there will be no space for the cows so they will have to sell them. They also have a goat. The main Nepali holiday is almost upon us and the cost of animals skyrockets. In the States, we eat Turkey, here, goats are eaten for those who can afford them. This family bought their goat two months ago when prices were still normal. They are primarily vegetarian but for Desain they eat meat. I asked them if they plan to eat their goat. I was told that originally they were, but after caring for it for over two months they have become attached to it and can’t kill it. Lately the goat has been very playful. When I walk down there with one of my dogs to get my milk, the goat starts jumping around trying to entice my dogs to play. I think on some level it has realized it has a stay of execution.

We still have aftershocks but they are far and few between. Most have been around the original epicenter, although some have been closer to the western part of Nepal, nearer to a section of the tectonic plate that hasn’t moved for centuries and is overdue for a correction. The other night my side stand started shaking. My dog was sleeping next to it so I assumed he had been scratching himself. It turns out it was a fairly large aftershock, 4.5, but fortunately it was short lived.

Load shedding is a way of life now. The schedule of power cuts hasn’t changed since April, but we have been given more unscheduled electricity because the monsoon rains generate more. And one of the electric generators has been repaired so there is less demand on the national grid. But, with only a little rain these past two weeks, the hours of electricity are slowly beginning to decrease.

Life still hasn’t returned to normal for most Nepalis affected by the earthquake, and especially those affected by the multiple landslides from this very wet monsoon, but for me it has. I have a years worth of stockpiled petrol and enough cooking gas to heat the shower water and to heat a room for this winter. Food is plentiful, although more expensive; at my new residence, my new organic garden is finally starting to produce vegetables ( not much grows during monsoon, just beans and plenty of basil).

And my earthquake kit has been restocked- just in case.


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Bowen Island’s generosity put to work

Although it’s been a few months since I handed over the proceeds from January 2016’s fundraiser at the Gallery on Bowen Island, SIRC has now identified two patients who will benefit from the monies raised.

This will give you an idea of what an enormous impact every dollar you donated, has made to the lives of these two young people.  The following are their stories.

Prabin’s story

Prabin is a young 8-year-old boy, who was playing with friends in the garden, shining up trees as kids are wont to do.  A fall from a tree mid July resulted in a T6 fracture (complete) to his spine, which has left him a paraplegic with little or no voluntary motor or conscious sensory function below the lower back area.  His parents are daily wage workers which means little financial security for the family of four who live close to the border with India in the Rupandehi district.

Prabin with his parents soon after arrival (permission granted). Photo credit SIRC

Prabin with his parents soon after arrival (permission granted). Photo credit SIRC

Prabin arrived to SIRC mid August and was admitted immediately despite the family not having any resources to pay for his rehabilitation.  This is the kind of thing SIRC does in such circumstances, they figure out payment later.  Prabin arrived with no bladder or bowel sensation, unable to move his lower limbs and a nasty pressure sore, as well as a broken wrist.

Over the next four months, SIRC will provide him with the medical care he needs to clear up the pressure sore and manage his pain, as well as providing him with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psycho-social counselling, wheelchair skills etc, as well train his mother on how best to care for him over the coming years once they return home.

It’s fortunate Prabin’s home is located in the flatlands of the Terai, so there won’t be issues for him to navigate mountainous trails in his wheelchair.  By the end of his stay at SIRC, it is expected Prabin will have the wheelchair skills he needs to get around his village, return to school and be as independent as possible in his future life.   Godspeed.

Uma’s Story

For those of you who have trekked in Nepal, you’ll be familiar with a place called Jiri – gateway to the Khumbu Valley that is home to Everest and other high mountains.  If flights to Lukla are impossible, most climbers travel by jeep to Jiri and then begin the few weeks walk into Everest base camp.  Uma is a young 13-year-old girl from Dolokha, in the same region as Jiri, and one of the worst affected districts as a result of last year’s earthquakes.

Uma was collecting fodder for the water buffalo the family own and fell out of the tree, causing a C5 and C6 fracture of the spine (compete).  Believe it or not, falling out of trees whilst collecting fodder for cattle is one of the top reasons for SCIs in Nepal, followed closely by road traffic accidents.

This kind of injury will not be kind to Uma, as it will leave her paralyzed from the chest down, with weakened breathing and difficulty getting around in a manual wheelchair (power chairs are unheard of in Nepal).  She will also struggle to feed and care for herself given her limited mobility in her hands and arms.  There is a long road ahead for Uma.

Uma with her elder sister at SIRC, soon after she was admitted towards the end of August. Photo credit SIRC (permission granted).

Uma with her elder sister at SIRC, soon after she was admitted towards the end of August. Photo credit SIRC (permission granted).

As for Prabin, Uma’s parents are also daily wage workers with limited finances to feed and house this family of seven.  Uma’s elder sister is currently with her at SIRC, caring for Uma’s non-medical needs, as well as learning how to be her long-term carer once they return home.

The aim over the coming months for Uma, is to make her as independent as possible by being able to feed herself without assistance, basic grooming and get her as mobile as possible in her wheelchair.  All this can be achieved through the comprehensive rehabilitation and therapy that SIRC has to offer.  Because Dolakha is located in a mountainous region, her ability to get around will be challenged, although the hope is for her to continue her education and return to school.

Both Prabin and Uma thank you – the community of Bowen Island for you generous donations which has allowed these young people to receive the rehabilitation and therapy they need, to regain their independence and live active and fruitful lives within their communities.


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Visiting Ram

The following is a combination of two posts from Dr Stan Ducharme, and with his and Ram’s kind permission, I am reproducing it here.

Dr Stan worked directly with Ram in the aftermath of last year’s earthquakes at SIRC, and on Dr Stan’s current visit to SIRC and Nepal, Dr Stan was keen to accompany Prajwal (the senior community-based rehab specialist) on a visit to Ram’s home in Dolalghat, Kavre and see how he was doing some 17 months later.

Dr Stan says “A home visit is a community event. Half the village turns out to welcome you and to check out these strangers from another country.”

Dr Stan with village kids. Photo credit Dr Stan Ducharme.

Dr Stan with village kids. Photo credit Dr Stan Ducharme.

Ram’s story is a reminder of the great work SIRC does, in providing multi-disciplinary rehabilitation to those with spinal cord injuries here in Nepal.  In addition to the medical & nursing care, physio, occupational therapy, provision of wheelchair and other assistive devices as needed, one thing that differentiates SIRC’s care is the counselling provided by staff psychologists and peer counselors – those who have previously sustained an SCI and who can provide practical support to the patients … afterall, they have been through the trauma of an SCI themselves.

Patients do extra well when, combined with what SIRC provides them, the patients themselves have the inner-strength and determination to live a wholesome and full life.  This is one such story.

Visiting Ram

Posted with both the permission of Ra and Dr Stan Ducharme Ph.D, September 15, 2016.

“I first met Ram in June 2015. He had suffered a spinal cord injury at the L2 level during the earthquake of April 25, 2015 when his house collapsed on top of him. Sadly, his grandmother died in the devastation.

Dr Stan with Ram. Photo credit Dr Stan Ducharme.

Dr Stan with Ram. Photo credit Dr Stan Ducharme.

Ram is a 27 year old married man. His wife was 4 months pregnant at the time of his injury. Prior to injury, he was the sole support of his family and took great pride in his ability to care for his wife. Like all expectant parents, they were thrilled to be having their first baby. However, that excitement abruptly ended during the night of April 25th.

Ram and his wife at the entrance of their replacement home

Ram and his wife at the entrance of their replacement home.  Photo credit:  Dr Stan Ducharme

During rehabilitation, Ram attended our group and individual counseling sessions. He worked tirelessly in physical therapy and pushed himself to the limits while encouraging other patients to do their best. His goal was to return to his village as soon as possible in order to be the father that he had wanted to be for so long.

Sure, Ram received some of the best rehabilitation in this part of the world. But it was his enduring spirit, desire to fulfill the traditional male role in the family and refusal to admit defeat that allowed him to overcome overwhelming odds. He persevered with a focus and a mission.

Photo credit: Dr Stan Ducharme

Photo credit: Dr Stan Ducharme

Today, you will find Ram running his own roadside business selling corn to his neighbors in this remote mountain village. You would also see him playing with his son, both with a smile, and encouraging his son not to fear the wheelchair.

What is perhaps most inspiring of Ram is that each morning and evening you would find him next to his new home working out on his parallel bars. You see, Ram does not give up nor does he accept less than his best. He has built parallel bars from local branches and twigs along the side of his home. For him, rehabilitation has not ended.

Ram on his parallel bars. Photo credit: Dr Stan Ducharme

Ram on his parallel bars. Photo credit: Dr Stan Ducharme

Ram, thank you for letting us into your life yesterday. You inspire us every day to do the work that we do. Enjoy your family, your son and the fruits of your independence that you have worked so hard to achieve.”

Dr Stan is currently on a short trip to SIRC and in  addition to making this home visit, he is also upskilling the Peer Counselors with some additional training.    As you can see, he is rather pleased to be working with this group!

A day of peer counselor training with Dr Stan and SIRC's nine peer counselors. Photo credit Dr Stan Ducharme

A day of peer counselor training with Dr Stan and SIRC’s nine peer counselors. Photo credit Dr Stan Ducharme

Dr Stan’s words:  “These 9 people with spinal cord injury will help newer SCI patients and families through their own example, positive lifestyle and their ability to support people during difficult emotional times. This level of communication about emotions is generally unheard of here. Not anymore; at least not at SIRC. Go you guys. Proud to work with you.”

I think that says it all, don’t you?

About Dr Stanley Ducharme Ph.D.  Dr Stan hails from Boston and is a clinical psychologist and consultant specializing in the areas of sexual dysfunction, gender, physical disability, addictions, relationship issues and concerns of daily living. With over 25 years of clinical experience, Dr. Ducharme has worked with a wide variety of problems and has gained national and international recognition for the scope and quality of his work.  He has worked with SIRC for many years, providing psychology-based counselling training to SIRC’s staff psychologists and peer counselors.  His website:  http://www.stanleyducharme.com/

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