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Look a little closer: keeping positive in the age of doubt.

It all kinda makes you want to stop looking at the news. The turmoil is undeniable. Recent world events have left some feeling down, disillusioned and even depressed. We appear to be on a path of applying a negative lens, and I fear it is becoming all-consuming. But look a little closer. Are we actually in tough times?

There is no question that 2016 and the beginning of 2017 have had some disheartening and questionable behaviors of not just a few, but many.  There is no doubt that these actions are a gigantic Trump-sized anchor weighing on our collective conscious and subconscious mind.

But there’s the trick, and the psychological fallacy we must overcome.

Just because there have been two or three or even 10 or 20 negative events, we cannot let our lens be anchored here. It is our duty and responsibility to be skeptical and at times fearful, but we cannot lose site of the overwhelming positivity around the world.

Hope and courage outweigh it all on a local, national and global stage every single day. It is easy to be sucked into the often-gigantic shadows of negativity, but we need to resist that move, and instead celebrate more frequently, more loudly, and with more enthusiasm the positive messages of hope.

Yes, 2016 was hard. But we must look at what goes into making the glass half full. In my profession, good news is there if you look for it. According to the UN child mortality rates are down everywhere around the world. The rate of deaths from malaria is down by 60%.  We’ve made great strides to eradicate Ebola. World hunger has reached some of its lowest levels in 25 years. The Paris agreement, albeit in current flux, has made the world take notice, recognize and act on climate change.

In St. John’s, Team Broken Earth launched our first refugee clinic drawing on local resources and talent to help care for new Canadians. Nationally, we grew to include 7 provinces, representing hundreds of Canadians united in making a difference in healthcare, and health education to those living in countries in desperate need. New teams from Quebec, Saskatoon and Barrie, Ontario joined the effort.

But by far the most impressive national team effort was lead by Dr. Barter to respond to Hurricane Matthew, drawing on volunteers from across Canada to unite and care for thousands of patients in the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster.

Internationally, we expanded to ensure there was more education with trauma, orthopedic, anesthesia and critical care courses in Haiti, even with our first volunteer from Australia. We also provided a trauma course in Bangladesh.  A team has even approached us from Massachusetts to carry the Broken Earth flag. We also expanded to begin to send teams to Guatemala and Nicaragua. Yes, look closer and see yourself in every part of these little wins, these reasons to smile.

Do we live in troubling times? Yes. But fear can be a motivator. We need to have the courage to resist the temptation of negativity, resist this anchor to our course, and reset our direction based on the good that is happening in the world.

The bright side so often eludes us. The tough stand on immigration in the States is all over the news but in Canada it was met with a continued commitment to embracing immigrants and refugees as the responsible, ethical, most Canadian thing we can do. Even more recently (and tragic) is the inexplicable murder of 6 people in Quebec, gunned down while they prayed at their Mosque. It’s such a dark and sorrowful moment that has been greeted with an outpouring of love and support across Canada and around the world.

Yes. Look closer and see it.

See where we can shift the dynamic from what is happening to us to how we react to it. Trust me, bridging that gap will make all the difference.

Best,

Andrew

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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The origins of inspiration and how it constantly redefines itself.

I get asked one question a lot: “where do you get your inspiration?”

I find it a little tough to answer. Maybe not so much answer but narrow down. I’ve been blessed to know, work with, learn from and listen to some truly inspiring people and organizations. Sometimes I just don’t have the words. It’s Thanksgiving in the States this week. I’m here with Allison and the kids visiting her parents on the West Coast. There’s a lot of love around. A lot to be thankful for these days. It’s good to pause and inventory our gratitude and inspirations.

In the wake of the devastating hurricane in Haiti, Team Broken Earth was immediately committed to respond and make a difference in the relief effort. But we didn’t know what that effort would look like or what would be involved. We were asked before the storm even landed to begin to assemble a team. I didn’t know what to expect or who we would need. Felt like déjà vu.

Quickly the local team in Haiti, working 24-hr days, made an assessment of what the needs would be. We made some quick decisions. Figured out what skills were needed to go but had no idea if we could meet the last minute emergency demands. This was so stressful. In this hour of need, none of us wanted to let the people of Haiti down.

Turns out, in true Broken Earth fashion, all we had to do was ask. With one email to our national family, we had what we needed to set out and answer the call for help. Flying into the middle of a natural disaster was not going to be easy. But our members rose to the occasion and stood out as a force that was able to partner with others and see over 4000 patients.

These are the true heroes. The very best inspiration. Our volunteers from coast to coast, a true Canadian effort, were welcomed in the town of Jeremie, a devastated community on the South West coast of Haiti in the path of the eye of the hurricane. They were celebrated as being front and center in the relief effort. Our volunteers took a leap of faith, answering a call for help, walking into the unknown with one purpose: to help.

Heroes walk among us everyday. This is where I get my inspiration.

People like Jim Maher, who step up and leave work and his family on a moments notice, risking his own health and safety to help the people of Haiti. Why does he do it? It’s not because it is a part of his job, not because he is getting paid overtime, not for fame or accolades, but because he can. And he’s not alone.

Inspiration is all around us.

Amid all that’s going on, from the election in Haiti to continuing to organize our expansion team, I received a message from a parent at my children’s school. She asked it if it was ok if her daughter for her ninth birthday party could announce to her friends that, in lieu of gifts, could they please bring articles of clothing for Haiti. A random child turning nine. And she’s offering not just to help but to sacrifice her own birthday gifts to help those in need. Think to when you were nine. I know I would not have been so altruistic. This is beyond inspirational, this is a legacy that we may be creating. Helping to instil in our future generations the sense of social responsibility and appreciation that we are part of a global family. The hope of a little girl to change the world, that’s inspiration.

But that’s the funny thing about inspiration. It’s constantly changing. It continually redefines itself and what it means to you. I’m always curious what it’ll be next. Where I’ll see it. What it’ll mean. Just recently our team has expanded within the province of Newfoundland with our first team from the West Coast now on the ground in Haiti. I once thought that having teams from across the country would be our ultimate goal.

But inspiration knows no borders.

I was offered to come and speak at the University of Massachusetts. The common goal of global healthcare and medical care for those who need it most, knows no boundaries. It was exciting to be speaking with specialists, surgeons, anesthesia, gynecologists, and medical students about how we can collaborate, how we can work together to make a sustainable difference. A humbling, inspiring event using the podium of U Mass to launch a Broken Earth chapter south of the border. To think of how far we have come. To have people from other countries, from celebrated institutions interested in what we are doing and how they can be involved, that is inspiring.

Lastly, inspiration often comes from unsung heroes. People like our sponsors. They are always there for us, always offering, always asking how to help.

Keith Bradbury, when approached for help, immediately assumed the cost of rooms for our recent trip to Nicaragua. Although we do our best to thank them, it is hard to give them the thanks they deserve. Whether it is M5 , Columbus, Rogers, Air Canada, Stryker, Zimmer, Depuy, the Lions Club or many, many more. From restaurants (Blue, Raymond’s, Mallard Cottage, Tavola, Get Stuffed, and many more) to entertainment (Alan Doyle, Great Big Sea, The Once, The Fortunate Ones, Cory Tetford and many more) we have been lucky. The people in the background often get overlooked, those who move the machine at home so we can function on the ground away (Nakita, Susan, Meghan, Mary, Allison and many more). Where do we find our inspiration? From the companies and individuals that make a difference and many more.

I set out to answer the simple question of inspiration and motivation. Turns out it is easier than I thought: inspiration is everywhere.

Best,

Andrew

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Posted by on November 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Butterfly in a hurricane.

Been a long few days, hey? The pictures of the devastation in Haiti have been moving, the numbers staggering and the task at hand feels overwhelming. Feels like déjà vu.

This week was a whirlwind of emotions. Any trip, especially one establishing new ground for Team Broken Earth, is always filled with adventure, uncertainty, challenges, and rewards. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This trip to Nicaragua was similar in its experience, but different in that the emotions were magnified with a background lens of hurricane Matthew and our friends in Haiti.

The clinic in Nicaragua was a huge success. We treated over 200 patients a day. The partnership with the Lions Club and the vision clinic changed lives at a rate of 100 per day. Attached to the clinic was an orphanage-style home for the blind children of Chinandega, where there were 10 full time children being taught how to use brail, play instruments, and given a safe place to live, learn and grow.

At the hospital, there was a special moment when an elderly lady came to have her eyes cared for with her daughter at her side. She had not seen her daughter clearly for years and after being assessed by the vision team, she was handed a pair of glasses and asked by her daughter if she could see. The woman cried, saying  through a translator, it was the first time she had seen her daughter clearly in years.  There was no need for translation, the tears of joy in each of them was enough for anyone in the room.

I remember someone once talking about the Butterfly Effect. I believe it’s about the origin of effect. That if a butterfly flaps its wing in Brazil, it can cause a Tornado across the globe. Or something. I’m the wrong kind of doctor for that question. But I wonder if the same can be said for the hope in the eyes of a patient? Can hope ripple across the globe? God I hope so.

The truth is a challenge for us all. The real tragedy in Haiti is that after the reporters leave and media reports settle, the real need will still be there. The news all day is all about the latest bombshell in the American election. Third story in on the news is how the death toll in Haiti is now over 900. I’m not sure what tiny thing sparked what would become hurricane Matthew. But the aftermath? I know it will be worse than I imagine.

As I sat in the sweltering, humid heat of Nicaragua, watching Broken Earth members place eye glasses on the face of a patient creating a smile, I could not help but think that this smile, this is hope, and that hope will, as Robert Kennedy suggested ripple throughout the world.  That despite the disaster in Haiti today, they will feel the ripple from the smile in Nicaragua for them well into the future.

The Haitian now struggling for food and water, battling cholera, and looking for shelter, needs that ripple to grow larger and quickly.  The family with nowhere to lay their heads tonight needs the ripple to hit them with greater force than Matthew. This is where we all can help.

Maybe the hurricane is a wakeup call. A reminder. Something that says we are all in this together. That yes, the need is again great. But the will to change it will always be greater.

-Andrew

Ps. Back on the ground now in St. John’s. Our team is scrambling to put an immediate mission together to go to Haiti. Can we count on your help? Please visit www.TeamBrokenEarth.com

 

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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When just a little is enough sometimes.

It has been a while since I have written a blog. To be honest, I had lost my appetite for it. It’s tough to admit but my motivation was and has been so challenged as of late.

Haiti. I despair that it’ll never catch a break. The lack of political stability there, although not making headlines anywhere, is so troubling. This is not a political blog. Won’t ever be. I believe Broken Earth is independent of political parties and elections, but we operate in an environment that is up to its neck in it. The patients we serve, as if they don’t have it hard enough, are drowning in it.

The sad truth for us is that we only move in this environment. We visit it a week at a time. I know this is a selfish view. Why? Because Haitians have to live with this every day. Haiti has not had a recognized election result this year.  Because of this, the country has been in a state of flux and without a democratically elected government for eight months now. Where’s the outrage? Can you imagine if Canada, the US, or other democratic governments in the international community were allowed to continue to control taxes, health care, and law and order this way? Somebody would say something for sure. But not here.

Of course this affects us very little at home. Other than the disruption of having to rearrange trips and move equipment, it is merely an inconvenience. But do we have a greater responsibility?  Are we not supposed to be advocates for our patients, for those in need? I had hoped the elections would come and go as they are supposed to and that the results would be sanctioned and that there would be no CNN headline, and no incident to warrant a report.

I was equally gutted with the deliberate, horrific attacks in Bangladesh and Istanbul. Broken Earth had recently stayed for a full week only a kilometer from where the Dhaka terror attack had happened. Dhaka is an immense city, a mega city, and despite its size and the mass of humanity, I had never felt unsafe. Crowded, yes, suffocated, yes, but never unsafe. The people of Dhaka, despite the hand they have been dealt, have gigantic hearts, and are some of the kindest people I have ever met.

The attack in Dhaka struck me hard. The attack on an airport in Turkey also caused me to pause and reflect on the madness that exists, the evil that is lurking. En route to Dhaka, we spend full days in that very international Turkish terminal, waiting for a connecting flight. The images on the TV were geographically familiar. Frightening and troubling but again seen through a selfish lens as I write this in the comfort of my home.

All of these near misses made me reflect and pause for thought.

I thought about stopping. I thought about quitting.

I thought about forgetting about it all and going back to just practicing orthopedic surgery in the comfort of St. John’s. But I can’t. Too many images in my head that together pick me up and carry me forward. The faces of the patient in the corridor in Haiti. The eyes of the young boy smiling in the streets of Dhaka.

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I won’t let this attitude defeat me. I can’t.

I think each of us carries a candle inside. Sometimes it flickers, grows weak. We all have to tend that light. It’s what keeps us going. If we’re lucky, it’ll burn bright enough for others. And they can see a little bit of hope. Just a little is enough sometimes.

Again and again I come back to the team for inspiration. Broken Earth is planning a full slate of missions for the fall in Haiti. We have had to postpone two and reroute one.  The one team I am a part of will be heading to Nicaragua instead of Port au Prince and hopefully light the flame of hope there as well.

We are also expanding our reach to Guatemala. I will be travelling there in September to hopefully set up a clinic, help lay the foundation to build a clinic, and establish the potential for future non-medical education to the impoverished people outside of Guatemala City.

In addition we are concentrating our efforts at home as well. We created what I hope is our first of many clinics to help new Canadians, starting with a free vision and hearing clinic. This will help our organization, our community and our country grow healthier and stronger together.

So although I have felt the squeeze of our troubled times, and though it may have exhausted my will, the exhaustion was short lived. Got a lot good people around me. A chorus of positive energy as a soft as a whisper but it’s all I need sometimes.

Best,

Andrew

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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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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Where we are going.

So my four year-old son, Mark, asks in the car last week, “how do people know where they are going?”

We tried to explain that there are maps, and he says: “no, how do they know where they are going?”

We try to explain there are schedules, and he says: “no, how do they know where they are going?”

There are routines, memories of direction, things to do?  No matter what answer we provided, he responded the same.  Frankly, his question stumped us.

So how do we know where we are going?

This week, we completed something I would have thought impossible two years ago, let alone five years after the earthquake… we conducted a full trauma simulation course in Port-au-Prince, one with all of the trimmings and expertise of any trauma course held anywhere in the world.

Team Broken Earth Experts from across Canada, teaching in a combination of didactic and simulation scenarios, the basic approach to trauma care and resuscitating trauma patients.

Trauma is the leading cause of years of life lost in the world, it dwarfs illnesses like HIV and TB combined.  It takes a perfectly healthy individual and within milliseconds with an incorrect turn in a car or a slip from a ladder, and changes their lives forever. The effects and impact of critically wounded patients is amplified in low and middle income countries, to the point where the World Health Organization and the UN are focusing on trauma in these countries.

We have scene first hand young men, women, and children die because there was inadequate treatment, supplies and skills.   Of course we take steps to correct that with each trip, but this trip is a huge leap in progress.

80 participants. Nurses and doctors, who need and want the skills to save lives, in a room listening intently and then so enthusiastic to get started. This will change the way hospitals here practice.  This one course will be a legacy of changing lives forever.

So I guess my answer to Mark and to all of you who have supported us, is this: I don’t know exactly where we are going, none of us can, but we are making a difference at stops along the way, and if the journey is more important than the destination, perhaps that is the purpose.

– Andrew

 
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Posted by on November 24, 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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