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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Nepal Journal: I thought it was going to be easy.

Special guest blog by Dr. Nikhil Joshi, currently on the ground in Nepal for Team Broken Earth.

I saw the pictures year after year from Haiti- it looked like the docs and nurses there had a ball and really enjoyed being there. Of course they made a significant difference, and things probably weren’t as easy as they were in Canada, but it didn’t look especially tough.

But that’s the deceptive part of social media isn’t it? We all pretend like we’re having the best times of our lives, when the truth is often far from that. Most of the time we show only the happy portions of our lives, while the private and painful moments are hidden.

Before I left, one of the Team Broken Earth members was trying to prepare me for the things I would see. He told me about a time he was with a Haitian porter who brought a patient for a CT scan. This doctor struck up a conversation and asked what this young man would be doing over the weekend. He replied that he liked to work and found being home difficult because his wife, children and parents died in the 2010 earthquake. They died in his home while he was at work. He then talked about how he tried to pry the walls off with bloody fingers. But he knew that no one survived. He listened everywhere in the destroyed house, stifling even in his weeping, hoping to hear something. Anything.

In the retelling of that story, the doctor I was talking to teared up and I realized that these things we see, these injustices and tragedies that occur, stay with us forever. The cost for helping others is sharing their pain and that can scar the soul. No matter how disconnected we pretend to be, wherever we are in the world and whatever we do, if we interact with people we can’t help but feel these things and be moved by them.

But at the time, I didn’t know what to do with the information. I didn’t think it was going to be that bad for me in Nepal.

But then I saw her shoes.

They were the remnants of a child’s flip flops. Two red flip flops. In the village of Lang Tang where almost everyone had died. You’ve heard me write about Lang Tang before, estimates are that hundreds have died there. When you arrive in the village, the feeling is palpable. For those in my team who have never felt death before, it was unnerving. Even for me who has administered to the dying routinely, it was challenging. I was never previously in a place where hundreds have died. The air is sad and hallowed. I remember vividly what the air felt like, what it sounded like, how the earth felt before my feet.

The child who owned the red flip flops is dead- I know it in my gut. Even the metal pots and pans are in a million pieces, what chance did human sinew and bone have? We’re such fragile creatures, human beings. I wonder how she died, what was the last thing she was doing? Were here parents close by or was she alone when it happened?

While it is a sad memory, I am not broken. I bore witness to a tragedy that happened in my lifetime and I tried to make people care about it. I could do no more. In knowing this, I am free to choose how I process this experience, and I’m working to see it as a meaningful learning experience that is a failure only if I forget the child who once ran through the mountains in red flip flops.

Some people find it helpful to talk to a counsellor or professional after being through experiences like this, and I hope I make the point clearly that this is not a sign of weakness but a strength. That asking for help isn’t anything to be ashamed about and probably can help aid workers cope with the trauma that occurs with the things we see, whether that is at home or away.

But will I talk with someone when this is over? No. First because I already have- I shared with the world my most intimate thoughts and life experiences here in Nepal. This is my work but also my catharsis. I’m free from the pain of the memories I share because I share them with you. I have tried to show the world what has happened in Nepal, the miseries and triumphs and by sharing them the triumphs are doubled and the miseries are halved.

But the other reason I don’t want to see someone after this is over is because I don’t want to talk about it. Will telling you that I saw starving children, or a full body bag floating in a small gulley after a monsoon rain help me? Will my friends Josh and Wyatt talking about the broken vertebrae they saw make you care more for this country? No, not you the person who is reading this right now. It might for others- lots of people need the horror to be shocked into caring but I seriously doubt that this apply to the readers of this blog. ‘Horror porn’ as I call it is the exact opposite of Team Broken Earth’s ethos. You’re not reading this because life is hard; you know that already. You’re reading this because you want to know that there are people besides you who still care to make it better. Yes, I’ve seen some things this month- but I choose not to dwell on them, but rather on the positive changes we were able to create in this country, because that’s how I stay sane.

Will I be back? Can I go through this or something like this again? I really don’t know. For now I just want peace and space and silence.

Thanks for sharing the journey with me and being there through this. Your support meant so much to so many people. I’m glad we’re trying to care about the world and each other. This is the life I want to live.

-Nikhil

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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Nepal Journal: failure is not something I am willing to accept.

Special guest blog by Dr. Nikhil Joshi, currently on the ground in Nepal for Team Broken Earth.

I’m in a car on the way to the Prime Ministers’ Residence.

I look out the window and consider everything that has happened so far. What started as a scouting mission for long term opportunities to help has become so much more. Many people are excited for the possibility of a collaborative project with Team Broken Earth. I think back to the key people that have taken me this far and have shown me so much of this impressive country. They’re the reason I’m on the way to meet with Prateek Pradhan, the Prime Minister’s chief press advisor.

This Harvard educated man speaks perfect English and we chat about the similarities between Boston and Newfoundland. We talk about St. Paddy’s Day and he lets me know that there is Guinness in Nepal and tells me where I can find some. In the course of our conversation, we have a candid discussion about the need for medical help. There is still a need for medical relief work in the country, he tells me, but it needs to able to reach the remote villages. We also talk about INGOs, aid and charity; topics which I’ve found to be challenging as I seek to reconcile good intentions with actual results. I’ve seen many well intentioned people and NGOs fail in Nepal and if Team Broken Earth is coming here for a long term project, failure is not something I am willing to accept.

I ask him what, in his opinion, is key to an NGO succeeding in Nepal? He tells me that the most important principles from the governments’ point of view are:

  • Local Support
  • Low administrative cost
  • Concentration and focus of aid

This all seems like common sense, but you may be surprised to learn that Nepal has over 40 000 NGOs and INGOs together. Many have been in the country since the 50’s and 60’s. If you are wondering how the country has so many NGOs and yet it seems like nothing is moving forward, then please know you’re not the only one pondering that. But I can’t solve the complex interrelationships, I am only concerned about whether Team Broken Earth can help and do so safely in country.

In many ways Nepal could be a growth point for our organization. Physical safety is all but assured from the people and the government; even at night, I feel pretty safe here. When we took a helicopter to a small village in the Sindu Palchuk district, I was amazed at how grateful people were for our mere presence. Even though they didn’t have enough food to eat they offered us lunch. The village was devastated by the earthquake, and it was clear that some villagers needed urgent medical attention, and probably had needed that attention at least a week ago.

After the interview with Mr. Pradhan is over, he thanks me for coming to this country and says that he wishes our organization the best of luck in establishing ourselves in Nepal. “The people of this country are grateful that the world cares for us” he tells me genuinely.

And in the end- isn’t that all we can ask for?

-Dr. N Joshi

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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Nepal Journal: The importance of seeming local.

Special guest blog by Dr. Nikhil Joshi, currently on the ground in Nepal for Team Broken Earth.

I just came down from the village of Tukucha. The village is utterly destroyed. There is not a single standing structure. Women had wept holding me, men quietly stifled their grief. The devastation was heartbreaking and real. We had spent the day talking to local people to determine what their needs are and what they are going to be. Shelter seems high on everyone’s list with monsoon season quickly approaching. There was some food in the village but it was being rationed carefully.

On the way back to the car we pass a military truck which parks next to us and begins to unload and walk up to the village. There are three of us, myself, my local partner Shyam, and Patrick Boyhan, an American businessman interested in helping Nepal. The military is astounded to see Patrick, who is white, so far from the city. I start speaking to them excitedly, telling them I’ve heard about all the help they’ve given.

Something’s wrong.

They’re not looking at me the same way they are Patrick. Two of the men behind the commanding officer I’m speaking to have their hands on their guns. I keep on talking to the officer, trying to appear amiable, but the officer himself is speaking slowly and looking back between myself and Shyam. Shyam tells them that he’s known me for years, that I’m part of an organization who is looking to help. The officer brightens a bit, but his fellow soldiers keep their hands comfortably on their weapons. Patrick looks at the situation and blurts out “He’s a Canadian!” The officers laugh and the guards take their hands off their weapons and give me a hug. I wanted to ask them who they thought I was or why I could have been a threat, but instead I just accepted the hugs, grabbed Patrick and headed to the cab.

I feel I just aged a year.

The true importance this experience has given to me is the importance of seeming local. There are many NGO’s all over the world who strive to do good. Being integrated in the local community, having local partners, and being liked by the people you are helping are simple things that create a huge impact on the success of the endeavor. Life is not always about dollars and cents- sometimes getting work done in a developing country is less about what you have and more about how much you are loved. I was reminded of that as I came home from another long journey.

The town of Nuwakot is 4.5 hours from Kathmandu through frankly dangerous terrain. The roads were awful. There had been landslides the night before after a monsoon rain. One route was completely blocked so we had to back up and try another one. We travelled there to meet to a group called “Eek Eek Paila” (translated roughly to Step-by-step). This is a local group of about 11 Nepalese physicians and dentists of various subspecialty’s with 40 volunteers who travel to remote villages and offer medical care. They collect all the medications, dressings and minor instruments before arriving to the village. I spent a day with them, learning about their organization and speaking about Team Broken Earth. It’s interesting to me how many like-minded people there are around the world. So many people do genuinely care. I find it helps counter the daily negativity we see in the world. Knowing people want to do good is what makes this life brighter.

We were finally on the way home. We looked at the stretch of road before us. Terribly muddy road with half of the right side cracked off. The driver started the journey, but we quickly became stuck. Really stuck. A few local villagers came with some tools and tried to dig us out while toiling in the blistering sun. We were digging with our hands at one point and trying to make a plan together while not fully speaking the same languages. Eventually more people from the village came and we actually pushed the scorching hot car through the mud to the other side. We were so thankful to them. We attempted to give them gifts, but they accepted only our thanks. They said they knew that we had come all that way to help them and they were happy they could do something for us in return.

I’m in my room with a touch of heat stroke, drinking water underneath a fan. And despite the day’s difficulties, I remain happily optimistic about this world. Because some people just choose to care about it.

– Nikhil

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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Nepal Journal: There was once nothing.

Special guest blog by Dr. Nikhil Joshi, currently on the ground in Nepal for Team Broken Earth.

I’m hyperventilating.

I need At least 10 translators. They need excellent English skills, and then have to be able to speak at least 3 of Nepal’s 40 or so dialects. They have to be available, affordable and willing to work the long hours our team will.

But that’s not all. I need space. I need clinic space, enough for at least 8 nurses and physicians. Separate rooms to allow people to be examined without loss of their dignity- which is something critically important to preserve as these people have gone through so much.

What about lab equipment? A laboratory tech? Clean disposal of needles? Supplies of dressings, antibiotics, anti-tuberculosis medications? The list goes on and on.

I sit down. I feel defeated. The day hasn’t even earnestly begun and I’m overwhelmed with the sheer complexity that comes when trying to start an endeavor of this magnitude.

But I remind myself that even Team Broken Earth had a beginning. Few people think about that now. We often focus on the excellent work multiple teams from across Canada have done. But before there were two story buildings and Haitian patients walking on rebuilt femurs, there was people like Dr. Furey sleeping on the floor in some random house as patients slept in nearby tents.

There was once nothing. And now Team Broken Earth has launched a multitude of teams and initiatives and are regarded as ‘local’ partners rather than sporadic visitors. The teaching our organization has done in treating patients with trauma was so popular and timely that it captured the gratitude of Haiti’s press and President. From a humble tent on the ground, there is now a stable two story building where people receive aid, are taught and can come for help. There is a foundation laid in the city that people can see. A place that says our commitment to the country is not transient, is not dependent on media coverage, but grounded in a shared vision and hope. Consistent work and focus over a long time will yield results.

Foundations. That is what I need to lay. I need to talk to people, as many people as I possibly can. I need to find who needs help and what help they need. I need to accept that I can’t help everyone but realize I can help someone. I just need to find other local partners whose core needs match our core competencies. I just need to find people who need help and those who can help us.

My mother taught me when I was young that if a problem seems too big to break it down and down into manageable pieces.

So today I’m going to try and find us some translators.

Wish me luck
-Nikhil Joshi

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Posted by on June 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Nepal Journal: Have you ever felt called?

Special guest blog by Dr. Nikhil Joshi currently on the ground in Nepal for Team Broken Earth.

It was April 25th. I had just gotten off the phone with my friends in Nepal. It was hours before the earthquake. I laughed to myself and went to sleep. In the morning I saw that I had missed another phone call several hours after we talked. I didn’t think much of it.

But then I saw the headlines the next morning. I urgently called back. Nothing. Every phone number I had, every email address, every social media account- nothing. Every second went by without an answer was agony. And then something just flicked on and I realized something.

We’re all called. We’re all called to live compassionate lives where we care about others. That’s what makes us strive in our own lives for a better world. And as a result, I was going to Nepal because I just had to.

The next lesson happened when I told Dr. Barter about my plans to go to Nepal and do some clinical work. He was supportive, but shared some perspective that he had gained in Haiti. “Trying to make a difference in Nepal seeing patients for a month is like trying to knock down a wall by kicking it with a pair of flip flops”. The ridiculousness of the imagery was jarring and accurate.

Teamwork does make sense. Individual efforts while laudable become infinitely more powerful when amplified by the energy of likeminded people. That’s how it felt to be in the cafeteria with Drs Furey and Pridham. It took 3 minutes for me to make up my mind to be part of Team Broken Earth’s efforts in Nepal.

The goal is simple, to find out what the situation is on the ground in Kathmandu and the surrounding countryside. To see what people need, who is offering it to them, and ask is there a way Team Broken Earth can be of service to Nepal and its people in the long term.

Team Broken Earth’s core strengths lies in the fact that it is an organization comprised of hundreds of compassionate members with unique skills and stories. And those people all share something in common: a calling. An indescribable feeling that tells us that hope isn’t dead, that altruism is noble and that caring about the world isn’t an exercise in futility but an action befitting humanity.

And so I’m on this flight heading in to Kathmandu. I have no idea what I’ll find when I land. I don’t know what’s happened to my home away from home, I have no clue what the air feels like or what is the humanitarian situation on the ground. I just know that whenever I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of these problems, I tell myself that I’m not alone because many others also feel called. And we’ll find a way through this together.

-Dr. Nikhil Joshi

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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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