Remembering Ruth Watson
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Ruth Watson, one of the early pioneers of medical work in Nepal. So, it's a good time to reflect on the role she played in establishing the work of INF.
Ruth was born in Coventry in 1926. Her father worked in the car industry. He was an excellent engineer and worked with Sir Frank Whittle on the jet engine. Her mother had been a secretary. Ruth was the third of their four children.
Ruth decided to study medicine at the University of Birmingham Medical School. During the summer break before she began her training she was invited by a school friend to spend time at a Christian camp for girls. There she heard about Jesus and decided to accept Him as her personal Saviour. It was not long into her medical training that she felt the call to become a missionary. A casual conversation at a student mission event was to be the spark for a call to Nepal.
Preparing for Nepal
Doctor Ruth Watson qualified in 1949 and began working in the Birmingham Accident Hospital where she picked up many skills which were to be useful in Nepal. She also used the time to find out more about the country and was perplexed to discover that it was closed to Westerners. However, convinced that Nepal was where God wanted her to be, she went on to a missionary training college.
During her year at college, Ruth was introduced to Dr Pat O'Hanlon, who was in the UK briefly with Hilda Steele, looking for new workers for the Nepal Evangelistic Band. The Band had been formed in 1934 while these two women were working on the Indian side of the border amongst Nepali migrants. At last it looked as though Nepal was going to open its borders to Westerners. Ruth applied to join the Band and was accepted.
Ruth said her goodbyes and boarded the ship that took her to India to join the rest of the Band.
Nautanwa to Pokhara
Ruth joined Pat O'Hanlon and Hilda Steele in Nautanwa, where they had been running a small clinic to help Nepalis. With them was a small group of Christian Nepalis, excluded from their home because it was unlawful to be a Christian in Nepal. But political upheavals were happening in the country and in October 1952, the Band was given permission to enter Nepal and travel to Pokhara to set up a hospital.
On 10 November eleven members of the Band, Westerners and Nepalis, began their trek into Nepal. After the arduous journey, recounted in Tom Hale's book Light Dawns in Nepal, they arrived on 17 November.
Buddhi Sagar, a Nepali Christian who had become friends of the missionaries in Nautanwa, offered the Band the opportunity to build huts on his land. Two were erected as accommodation and one as a dispensary.
The area was some distance from the bazaar and was not an ideal site for a hospital. As the work grew it was decided to rent another piece of land on the other side of town. Permanent buildings could not be erected so aluminium huts were brought in from Calcutta. The local people began to call them the Shining Hospital because of the way sunlight reflected off them.
Ruth was popular with the locals and became known affectionately as Kanchi Doctor, Kanchi being the Nepali term for the youngest daughter in the family. The doctors saw dozens of patients in the mornings and, despite poor light and intermittent electricity, Ruth and the team carried out surgery three afternoons a week. Nepali staff and theatre nurses were trained and given work. Ruth and other members of the band extended their own skills as a matter of necessity. Whatever medical or surgical help was needed, they gave it.
In 1956 the Green Pastures Leprosy Hospital was opened. Ruth had very little experience of leprosy but sought out six months of specialist training in India. She then visited Green Pastures most weeks, travelling the six miles on foot or by bicycle.
Ruth herself was not always well. She had asthma which flared up from time to time. But in 1965 she began to develop a series of medical problems which left her feeling very weak. She recovered enough to be able to work again but was never fully well and in 1973 she caught hepatitis.
In 1976 Ruth Watson began to develop severe headaches which she tried to keep to herself at first. When she did admit to them a few weeks later, they were explained as migraines. Then, one Sunday while she was doing rounds, she lost the sight in one eye. A colleague examined her and confirmed what Ruth suspected - it was possible she had a brain tumour.
Ruth was put on a plane to Kathmandu and then to London. The tumour had become so large that the surgeon simply did the best he could. Ruth died later that year, having never been able to return to Nepal.
Ruth Watson was one of the most significant people in the history of the organisation which became INF. Having been one of the younger members of the Band when they first entered Nepal, she was the natural successor to Pat O'Hanlon when she retired. Her life was dedicated to bringing health and healing, both physically and spiritually, to the people of Nepal.