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In the Company of Heroes

I don’t get to spend enough time in New Brunswick. This trip is a bit different. I’m a little anxious about it. I’m receiving an award for my work with Team Broken Earth. But that’s just it… it’s not just my work.

I know I’ve said this a million times and I’m not trying to create any false modesty, but this is really a team effort. There are many hands lifting, many hands on the oars. This is something I don’t take lightly. I know I represent everyone who has given of their time or talents. Those who support us at home and abroad. Those who have donated or attended an event. Everyone who has believed in and trusted us to make a difference.

Sitting in the awards hall today was one of the proudest days I have had in the journey of Team Broken Earth. I was sitting in the company of fellow Canadians receiving medals and recognition for bravery, humanitarian efforts, and volunteer service. Listening to the biographies of those winning awards reinforced to me that Canada is more than three oceans, the “second largest landmass, and the first nation of hockey.” Canada is its people. People define the maple leaf. People like those who are walking across the stage today.

Watching the Governor General pin medals of awards on the chests of Canadians, my heart was full of pride, not just for Team Broken Earth but that we are fortunate enough to live in a country where people sacrifice themselves for others, to make this place a better place to live. People like Leon, a fish plant worker from St Lawrence who risked his life saving the life of a man who had gone through the ice on his ATV. Leon pulled the man to safety, lighting a fire and giving the man his own clothes in the middle of a cold Newfoundland winter day.

Anne Michelle Curtis’ story brought tears to my eyes. She was a mother who lost her life rescuing her son and two boys. She swam with the boys on her back through heavy waves in Nova Scotia and she eventually was overcome by exhaustion. She made the ultimate sacrifice. She gave her life so all three boys could survive.

Or there was one of the brave soldiers at the scene of the attack at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa in 2014. He remained calm and was able to provide first aid to one of the soldiers injured in the attack.

For us on Team Broken Earth, it was our story in Haiti. While I was accepting the award, I felt the weight of representing my family, of representing Newfoundland and Labrador, of representing the thousands of Canadian volunteers, and the weight of the responsibility of ensuring we never give up on Haiti.

This year we are celebrating 150 years of Canada and reflecting on what it means to be Canadian. Is there a Canadian dream? There is. It’s one built on the principles of diversity, equality, freedom and social justice for all. Above everything else, empathy to our neighbours. Not just in Port aux Basques, Ottawa or Vancouver but around the world.

Whether it is the poor of Haiti, a child in danger in Nova Scotia or an attack our nation’s capital, what makes us Canadian is that we choose not to look away.

For me, when I reflect on Canada 150 and what it means to be Canadian, I look at the people around me at this ceremony. I look at this medal pinned to my lapel. I see Allison, mom and dad smiling from the audience. And I think of my boy someday asking me about all this. I’ll tell him the stories of the people in this room. I’ll tell him about the sacrifice and dedication of everyone involved on Team Broken Earth. That’s a lesson in what it means to be Canadian. That’s what it’s like to stand in the company of heroes.

– Andrew

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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The weight of expectations and how they never leave you.

I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.

– Michelle Obama


I’m not someone who takes things for granted. Yeah, I count my blessings. Everyone should. I know I’m lucky. I’ve grown up with loving, nurturing, caring parents who gave me the tools to get an education, create a career and start my own family. If that’s not lucky I don’t know what is.

Still, something baffles me. My parents. They never made crazy demands on me. Never pushed me or made heated demands that I push myself. They didn’t air any overwhelming disappointment if I failed. So let me ask you this: why is it that I felt their expectations daily? Where does that come from? Is it the same for everyone? Do we create those expectations in our heads? Do I now project unintentional or intentional expectations on my own kids? Is it a good thing?  Regardless of the source, it’s there. My parents. For me, these are giant shoulders to stand on. The largest shoes to fill.

I’ve talked about my dad before. He came from humble beginnings, without the warm embrace or guidance of an involved father. He not only survived, he flourished. From growing up in an orphanage, to skipping grades, graduating, becoming a teacher, then a lawyer, and eventually a Canadian parliamentarian. You can probably feel the pride I have radiating from these words. Yes, he’s my dad but living up to this legacy is a stage set for Shakespeare.

Why is this coming up now? Well, my parents are coming to visit Haiti for the first time. And I’m feeling things I don’t usually feel. Nervousness. Anxiety. I mean, they’ve heard my stories, read my blogs, and seen the pictures, but will the real thing live up to their expectations of me? All of sudden I’m ten years old bringing home a report card. Will I make them proud?

Flashback to 2010. Post earthquake. When I first suggested I was going to go to help the medical relief effort, my father tried to talk me out of it. He said I should really think about my young family, maybe the time was not right for me, I should probably wait and do this kind of work when my career was established and my family was grown. To not take the risk, not just for my safety, but for my future. I’m not sure I would have provided different advice to my daughter Rachael if I was in my father’s shoes. He was always right. I always listened. But something in my heart told me this time was different. I took this step untethered and it was terrifying.

Seven years later. Will he see what I see? Will he see the despair and the faces of need? Most importantly, will he see the hope that I see? I’ve seen countless people come here and not see the progress. It’s bad here. But if you didn’t see it when it was hopeless, what are you gauging it against?

Of course they will see the tangible accomplishments: the new building and the ambulance. But will they see how far we have come? They will not get to witness the rubble on the streets or the tent ORs from 2010. They will not get to see the face of the little girl thanking us for helping her grandfather. They will not get to see the first total hip replacement patient, or the first time we fired up the new autoclave. They will not experience the little victories or the defeats that have become simple lines on all our faces.

Mom, dad, I hope I have set the scene.  Until now you’ve only had mine and Allison’s stories to reference. But this is real now. What our team has accomplished. How far we still have to go. It’s real and I am nervous that what you’ll see will not reflect what I see, what I have seen. Will this meet your expectations? Will I? Dad, will you think the decision I made to come here in the first place was right?

I guess I am about to find out.

Andrew

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Posted by on May 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Create a legacy by being the solution.

I’m not being naïve. I believe that every problem is just a solution waiting to happen. At the heart of it, this is what our team is doing in Haiti, in Bangladesh, in Nicaragua, in the places we will go next. We all believe that change is real and it can happen because we will make it happen, one surgery at a time if we have to.

But believe it or not I get challenged often about Team Broken Earth. About what we are doing. Specifically around our ability to make a difference. It’s often phrased as how can you possibly make a difference? The problem is too big. From others it’s often asking how can we make a sustainable difference, being too small to create and maintain capacity?

Honestly this sometimes feels like a kick in the guts. I do welcome all criticism. We need it. All organizations do. It’s a reality check and it’s a means of making us all better. But every now and then, well, it just stings.

As I am sitting in the back of a room of 2/3’s of the orthopaedic surgery residents of Haiti, one week after the Rock Op for Haiti in Newfoundland, a smile comes to my face. Across Canada we have created something really special. We have done more than create sustainability, we have created a legacy that will live long after many Team Broken Earth members have moved on.

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Yesterday, we toured the hospital we’ve been working in for years now. We walked through the OR we helped finish. We saw the new hospital ward full of patients and volunteer quarters we built (referred to by locals as the Canada tower or Broken Earth tower). The millions of dollars worth of equipment we have secured is on display and the staff are there to greet us with an embrace usually reserved for family members. The building and the relationships we have built are all part of the Team Broken Earth legacy. The team even saw a few patients yesterday, and looked at X-rays of the first bilateral total hip replacements done in Haiti with surgeons from Canada and Haiti working side by side.

Today, we are teaching residents from across the country in a series of lectures and in skills simulation labs for residents to practice. This is the third time we have hosted this course. And to watch the senior residents (who were junior before) teach the new junior residents, well, it just fills me with pride. It’s these young surgeons, full of energy and enthusiasm, who will change orthopaedic care in Haiti. And we are teaching them, year after year.

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So when I think about the criticisms, I have to say thank you.

Thank you for inspiring reflection and making sure that we are moving in the right direction. When people talk about making a difference for patients, I think about how many children Dr. Rideout has literally given the ability to smile to, or the patient with two new hips who would otherwise not have access to care. We, all of us on and supporting Team Broken Earth, made a difference for those patients. Capacity and sustainability? We got that. We’re establishing infrastructure, relationships and education. We are creating a legacy. A Canadian legacy here and abroad. I feel better about that. And to the critics I will say this: believe in solutions. The mountain is high but it can be climbed. The finish line is far but it will be crossed. Yes, always address the problem. But be the solution.

Best,

Andrew

PS. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came, supported, donated, organized, cooked, sang, and danced with us at the Rock Op over a week ago. Truly amazing night. As always, we will honour your generosity by continuing helping those who need it most.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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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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Long way from home

Seems strange to write a blog at a time when our nation has been shaken to its core. The terror and hysteria that must have evolved in Ottawa on Wednesday was felt by every Canadian around the world and Team Broken Earth in Haiti was no different.

Everyone was glued to the TV at the United Nations watching coverage on CNN.  Receiving texts and updates on Twitter, team members were somber and reflective.  All thoughts and prayers were directed to our nations capital.  We will all remember where we were as a team on October 22, 2014

The pace of the day was the only thing that kept us going.

The nurses in pediatrics visited an orphanage yesterday. One of the babies they checked on was a new arrival… he was found abandoned in a garbage pile the day before they arrived. The incredible people at the orphanage, devoting their lives to this cause, took the unclothed and malnourished baby in and began to provide immediate care. The nurses realized how sick the child was and today the baby arrived at our hospital for our team to help resuscitate and give him a starting chance at life.

Yesterday I witnessed poverty that I had never quite seen before and will never understand.  Travelling through the interior of Haiti, on what can only be described as donkey paths, I saw multiple children, of all ages, living in dirt huts with no clothing.  Naked children walking along the path.  Don’t get me wrong Port-au-Prince is poor, but being in place that’s even poorer, as in can’t even afford some clothing poor, is a level I have yet to experience.  It was tough to watch as we drove by in an air-conditioned truck.  Why them and not me? Take a minute to count your blessings. I did. I do that here often.

The good work continued on into the night for the OR team.  Trauma has been busy.  Busy is what keeps the focus away from the act of insanity at home. Thank God for the good people in the world.  I have to believe that although one madman can impact our world, so to can altruism, and altruism is more frequently found than madness.

Altruism can change the world.

– Andrew

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Switchbacks and the journey

Yesterday I left Port-au-Prince to investigate other potential hospitals and sites for Team Broken Earth. It involved 6 hours in a car driving through winding bumpy roads. The horn, I have come to realize, is more important than the brakes or transmission in a car in Haiti.  Everyone communicates with the horn. It’s an amazing language they have developed and is extremely dangerous to travel without. Of course the constant honking meant no sleep but it gave an opportunity to reflect on our work here.

The trip involved going from the seaside of Port-au-Prince straight up the mountains and then over the top and down to Cap-Haitien. A harrowing, adventurous drive over dirt roads, through switchback after switchback climbing up the hill (a switchback is a 180° bend in a road or path leading up the side of a mountain). At every turn in a switchback, the horn would blow to make sure there wasn’t another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction coming down the hill. Occasionally entertaining but more often a white-knuckled experience.

As we were driving, at least 20 minutes from the last house I saw, there was a single little girl walking alone in a pink dress with a white shirt and a big smile.  There was no evidence of a house for almost the last half hour of the drive but there she was, walking, alone.   Where did she come from?  Where was she going? This lone young girl in the middle of nowhere… it caused me to suddenly reflect on where we had come from as a team and where we were going.

The idea that started with three or four people after the earthquake has now grown into over 500 volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, there have been harrowing switchbacks but we all climbed the hill together. As for where we are going… as we get larger and provide more care, education becomes more of the focus so that Haitians can begin to teach themselves.

But I think, more than the destination, perhaps like the smiling girl, it is about the journey, our collective personal journeys that make Team Broken Earth work.  People volunteer their time (often their vacation time), without pay, away from home and loved ones, to make a difference in the world.  And maybe that is the whole point. All we do, where we are going, is all about the journey towards education and helping people along the way.

We visited two sites when we got to our destination and both were struggling with a lack of equipment and funds.  But we did find one opportunity for a maternal team that may work for the delivery and caring for newborns, and of course made connections to teach in the future.

I’m anxious to return to the rest of the team to hear about their progress. They visited an orphanage today and the stories from there are always gut wrenching (apparently there was a new baby there brought in off the streets). Yeah. Believe me, those stories are hard on the heart.

Grant Boland and Michelle Murphy are headed to a school today to do an art class and Skype with some classes from home. Extending our reach towards the community is important!

So where are we going?  Honestly, I am not 100% certain. But I am 100% certain we are headed in the right direction by helping to change the face of a developing country. So grab a seat in the car and I will blow the horn to make the next turn in the switchback heading up the hill.  Together, we will get there.

– Andrew

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Posted by on October 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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