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Tag Archives: medical relief

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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Support for Nepal

If you’re looking for the place to donate online via Team Broken Earth for the medical relief effort in Nepal, please click the following link to our main web page.

Thank you for your generosity.

http://www.brokenearth.ca/nepal-medical-effort/

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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One too many mornings…

This is all too familiar. Early, early rise. Drive to the airport in the dark. The cold still biting. The city’s still asleep. The airport lit up like a greenhouse.

This can be the toughest part sometimes… times when I am not so psyched about the trip. To be honest, sometimes I am just exhausted. Dead tired. Worn down. Sometimes, it’s because of the bureaucratic weight of the teams and the organization and keeping everything in motion. Sometimes it’s just too many balls in the air and the tension of making sure nothing drops. Sometimes, I just want a break. Order a pizza. Binge-watch the latest season of House of Cards. Sleep late.

It’s bright inside the airport. Start seeing the familiar faces. The smiles are big. Even bigger are the smiles of the flight agents checking us in. They know all about the team and love to see us coming. There are hugs and coffee and laughs. There’s an energy. An indescribable excitement building with each team member arriving. And that is it. That’s the turning point. It’s the team. It’s the immediate sense of the team that makes those previous feelings fade instantly. Kevin Spacey will have to wait.

Another 30 people. Another 30 families and loved ones, giving up their vacation time to help. That gets me every time! Even though some of the trips become routine, standing here in the airport, watching people make this sacrifice, well, it’s humbling.

I’m a lucky guy. I’m blessed by the energy and support of my own family, who give more than I will ever know. I am inspired by each and every team member, and I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of humility from the support we have received from people across the country. I feel a responsibility to not let them down. To honour their generosity.

I know that there is a lot to do. A lot to accomplish. I know that there are lives to change… patients and our own. I’m ready. Let’s get this mission going!

– Andrew

PS. We all read your Tweets and posts and messages of support. That’s what fuels us for a week in Haiti. Thank you for that and please keep them coming!

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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No Snow. No Problem! Day One in Haiti.

I miss my family, my kids especially. I miss my friends. What I don’t miss? The never-ending WINTER in St. John’s! It was a long day’s travel yesterday, through Montreal and Miami but I gotta say, and don’t hate me for saying it, the hot breezes of Port-au-Prince were quite welcomed by our team!

Some last minute drama before we left… one of our doctors hurt her back and couldn’t come and we had to call up a spare in the last minutes.   Luckily, Dr. Noftall was able to offer his services literally just minutes before we left!   That’s this team’s dedication… true testament to the model we have created. Everyone’s ready to do what it takes.

No rest for the travel weary! We all hit the ground running with a busy trauma in the ER.  All hands were on deck and we all slip back into Haiti mode like true trauma veterans.

Last night set the precedent. Busy clinic again this morning and Art and Sonia haven’t stopped assessing a lot of patients.

Always a reminder of where we are… broken ventilators have slowed us down today. You forget sometimes that luxury of “just get another.” Not here.  But one thing Haiti has taught me is that there’s nothing teamwork can’t solve.   The MacGyver skills of Frank Noel and Heather O’Rielly are on it! Armed with only chewing gum and a Band-Aid, they could make rocket fuel.

Anthony Germain is getting his first taste of the pace here. Looking forward to hearing his first impressions.

Thanks for all the well wishes…keep that good karma comin’.

Got to go fix a femur!

– Andrew

 

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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Every stone’s throw created a ripple.

I’ve been lucky to meet some truly talented people. Outliers. Originals. The kind of people that inspire you by how they’ve made a difference simply by being themselves. Alan Doyle and Brendan Paddick spring to mind. And Andrew James O’Brien is one as well. Andrew is an award-winning musician with a big heart. He’s always been a huge supporter of Broken Earth and has joined us on our latest mission to Haiti to experience it first hand. That takes guts. But for an artist like Andrew, there is no other way.I asked Andrew to write a guest blog for us. Please, have a read.

– Andrew Furey

 

It’s 12:38am. I’m lying under a mosquito net listening to a child cry. Our bunk room is adjacent to the emergency room, which has been full of activity every day since we arrived here in Port au Prince. It’s tough to hear that sound and not want to get out of bed and help.  My personal qualifications are limited to say the least but the nurses that work the night shift are the best at what they do despite the heat, Mosquitos and the limited resources at their disposal. It’s a surreal thought to think that that child may not make it through the night but equally profound to know that he has a team of tireless and heroic people doing all they can to help him through to morning.

I have seen things here that have changed me in many ways. I’m still trying to make sense of everything down here. The poverty and day-to-day adversity that these people face is staggering. Mental, physical and spiritual duress is constant and seemingly unrelenting. Yet in the face of all this they are resilient, determined and stoic. Fathers stand over their children’s beds until nightfall then sleep uncovered in the open-air courtyard until morning when they return to the bedsides again. Unwavering love.

Patients don’t shout praise from the rooftops. They don’t thank surgeons on their hands and knees for the invaluable service they provide. Instead, they are quietly, deeply thankful. Their’s is a stoic appreciation. Their silence is intensely profound. They are tough and strong willed. They have to be.

I am grateful to the doctors and nurses. I, admittedly have taken for granted, living in Canada, how immensely crucial their services are and seeing them work here in Haiti with limited resources, less than ideal work spaces and literally thousands of patients who all deserve their attention, is absolutely incredible. They work with what they have and when they don’t have what they need they problem solve and push though.

This group consists of some of the most incredible and vital people in the world.

Inevitably, they’ll all return home to their regular jobs and, no doubt, their work will on some level be taken for granted by the ordinary public like myself. Perhaps that’s nobody’s fault. We live in a society where we come to expect their service without thinking or concerning ourselves with what that entails.

I know what it entails now. I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s branded on my brain.

I want to thank them. All of them. So does the man who’s femur was reinforced so he can walk for the first time in three months. So does the mother who’s infant’s heart can pump blood on its own again. So does the girl who had a cleft lip and was kept away from the rest of society. She smiles now.

Profound.

These doctors and nurses do this on their own time, for free, away from their families so that some of the millions of displaced Haitians can have a chance at life.

Dr. Greg Browne, General Surgeon said to me, “We can’t and won’t save everyone. Not even close. But maybe we’ll save the person who will have the answer to all these problems down here”.

Every stone’s throw created a ripple.

– Andrew O’Brien

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Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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