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Monthly Archives: May 2016

Small candles that burn in the darkest places.

It’s hard to fathom. I mean I’ve been to cities around the world but this is something immensely different. Dhaka is a city of 16-20 million people. It’s a mass of humanity that breathes and lives like one gigantic organism. There are areas with a density of 100,000 people per square kilometer. It continues to grow at an alarming rate of 4% per year with estimates of 25 million by 2025. It is considered to be the rickshaw capital of the world with approximately 400,000 rickshaws on the street every day. The city’s per capita income is about $3,100 per year, the lowest of the mega cities in the world.

Yet amongst the poverty and the density is a bright light. A candle of hope. Here, a modern day Mother Theresa exists… our hostess, Zahida.

They say one of the possible origins of the name Dhaka is from the hidden goddess Dhakeshwari. Well we may have found that hidden goddess in Zahida, the leader of our partner in Bangladesh, the SAJIDA Foundation. She welcomed us with open arms and beams with pride when she greets us at the airport and takes us for the tours of their operations.

We start with a visit with the low-income families SAJIDA provides business loans for. There are 10 families living in an area the size of two Tim Horton coffee shops.  A dozen or more woman are gathered in a small hut waiting for the finances and showing us products that they have made with funding from the business loan. It’s an impressive site. These are empowered women in a developing country.

We move then to the hospital and are greeted by familiar faces with big smiles. On the wall of the hospital is a big poster of Team Broken Earth and the SAJIDA Foundation working together during our last visit.

For a moment, it feels good to see how far we have come. But that lasts just a moment…

We move through the dense streets packed with cars, rickshaws and humanity piled on to each other. There is some order in this chaos. The traffic is so intense that it’s impossible to tell when you are moving and what direction you are inching in. Six lanes deep at times with not enough space to fit a playing card between the next vehicles. The temperature is north of 45 degrees with the humidity but we’re lucky to have some AC.

The final trip of the day is the most emotional. We went to visit the “pavement dwellers.” At best guess, there are over 40,000 of these unidentified, homeless, forgotten people. Many are children.  I have been to see them before, but this time is no easier. There is a lump in my throat that gets more intense as we walk into the building. On the first floor there are 20 or so adolescent males from 10-13 years old who are being taught basic life skills.  They wave and smile.  They are all orphans, and live on the streets with no government ID, no recognition that they even exist. In fact, if it wasn’t for our hosts, no one may know they exist at all.  They have no one and nothing to call their own, yet they smile and wave.  They will leave this building in an hour or so and go to the streets the same way any of our kids would head home after to school. These terrible streets are their homes. There’s a chill that comes with that realization.

We go upstairs to the next floor and there are dozens of 5-6 year olds who are all in one room, waiting for us. They have smiles as big as my 5-year-old son’s. They are there because they have been beaten, neglected, or abused. Some have single mothers who are working outside and will be back for them. Some of the young ones are able to stay over night. Others will have to leave and find a dry corner of pavement to lay their heads – if they’re lucky. Lucky. There’s that word again. There’s nothing lucky about this.

Five year olds. Orphaned. Abandoned and living on the street. Words cannot do justice to the feeling it creates deep inside of you. A combination of guilt, nervousness, anger, and grief. It’s just not right. We live in the shadow of such gigantic divides. We have to do better. I believe that we are all part of something bigger; we are all in this together. When a five year old lays her head on the pavement in Bangladesh at night, we should all feel it. When an adolescent boy cries for help and no one responds in the streets of Dhaka, we should hear it. Isn’t that what it means to be part of a global community?

The five year olds snap me out of it with a song. Five year olds are five year olds no matter where they are. Big smiles, and dancing carefree. It brings a smile to all of our faces. Despite the poverty, despite the fact that some will have to leave the building tonight and come back tomorrow they smile. There is something familiar about their smiles, their eyes. It’s more than childhood innocence. It’s hope. And in hope, they’re richer than any of us.

It has been six years since I first traveled to Haiti. Six years since a little girl’s smile changed my life. You may have heard me talk about her before. She was a girl of about twelve who lost her parents in the earthquake and was now the caregiver for her injured grandfather. She provided him with the care he needed. She walked him to the OR and waited patiently in the waiting areas while we fixed his hip. Then she shook my hand with a smile. She carried herself as someone way beyond her young years. It was that smile and the hope in her eyes that compelled me to act. You could see it in her eyes, hope. Hope that there would be better days. Hope that the world could and will be a better place. She would be a young woman now. I’m not sure much has changed, maybe it hasn’t. But more than anything, I want to believe she still has the courage to have that smile and, most importantly, that hope.

Yesterday was the first time in a while since I have seen those eyes and that hope in someone else. Despite the adversity, the poverty, the abuse, the chaos, a smile and eyes filled with hope. It’s a testament to people like Zahida, determined to make a difference. To keep that candle of hope burning. We can see it from here. It’s like a lantern. It guides us. It’s carried in the hearts of everyone on Team Broken Earth as we move inch-by-inch closer to the change we all hope is possible in this world.

Best,

Andrew

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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What’s broken will be mended.

I’m back here in Port-au-Prince but to be honest, my heart is somewhere else right now. Caught some of the remarkable footage of the fires ravaging Fort Mac, as we call it back home. Images of people literally running for their lives. Hard to look for the positive in the face of such bold tragedy. But look closer. It’s there. It’s in the countless stories of the generosity and courage of the people and communities that have stepped up to help. And you can always count on Canadians from coast to coast to drop everything to say, “what can we do?”

When I was choosing my specialty in medical school, I was drawn to orthopaedics because, to put it simply, when something was broken, you built a construct to put it back together.

Be strong Fort Mac. We’re all behind you. What’s broken will be mended.

We had two teams in Port-au-Prince this week.  The first was a clinical-teaching team from Vancouver. In addition to providing tireless medical care, this group found time to teach two courses in critical care and anesthesia to over 80 participants.  Their passion, empathy and professionalism were an inspiration to watch. I’m lucky for this. Lucky to be a first-hand witness to the growth of Broken Earth. To look from the outside in as another team makes us all so proud.

The second team was comprised of surgeons from Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.  We even had our first TBE volunteer from Australia. We taught over 60 participants in how to treat broken bones. We also had the privilege of meeting the Canadian Ambassador, who came to the course and even participated.

The course was a huge success. The lectures were followed by practical labs, placing plates and screws on bones. The most special part of this was seeing how we have improved on the course from two years ago. Imagine it. Young residents who took that course in 2014 are now helping teach the course to their juniors. That’s the truest reward for us.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit with Rudy. He’s a young man Dr. Steve Hunt operated on just 6 months ago. Rudy went from being shunned, teased and ostracized to now going to school, learning and reading. Just a regular student now. You gotta think/hope/pray that someone like Rudy may be the one who changes Haiti.

The Team Broken Earth family keeps growing. Barrie Ontario is sending their first team here tomorrow, taking over from the Vancouver team who will depart the same day. The work continues. It is not nor ever will be a quick fix. It’s a process. A hope. A dream to make this place a little less broken.

Best,

Andrew

Ps. Help support Fort Mac by giving to the Red Cross here and don’t miss Alan Doyle’s fundraiser coming up on May 12th at The Factory.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

From the Hill You Can See All the Way to Haiti.

There’s no more iconic image of Canada than Parliament Hill. I’m sure I’ve been by here a hundred times and it still never fails to give me goose bumps. It’s something about the history, or just that kinship you feel in the heart of the nation. Standing in front of the flame with the peace tower in the background, it is hard not to feel your heart grow with pride.

As I walked the steps it struck me that this monumental building is something more. It’s a beacon of hope to the rest of the world. I know that sounds grand. But I really feel that it’s true.

For me, this trip also doubled as a twist on “take your kid to work day.” This time, I was the kid and loving it.   We rarely get to see people we love and care for working at their jobs.  We hear about them, hear from others how they perform, but rarely do we get to experience first hand at this time in our lives! So proud to be here with dad.

It was also equally thrilling to meet Team Broken Earth’s Ottawa team members, some of whom I only knew by email addresses.   It was like meeting lost family relatives!

But now it’s down to work. I am not going to lie to you, speaking on the hill was nerve racking. But the strength of the collaboration with our partners in Haiti made it easier.

Meeting with the Haitian Ambassador and seeing the passion and commitment he has for the partnership with Canada was inspiring.  The relationship between Haiti and Team Broken Earth has grown from a few individuals providing emergency relief to the people of Port au Prince, to a Canada-wide team of over 1000 volunteers, providing medical care and education to the people of Haiti.

On behalf of our entire team, from Vancouver to St. John’s, I assured the ambassador and our audience that Team Broken Earth would do whatever was asked, whatever was required.

Together, Canada and Haiti can be an example of how collaboration can not only change the face of a desperate patient, but in fact a people and indeed the world.

Best,

Andrew

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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