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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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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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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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When the groove is good.

Each update made me more and more excited. Sometimes pictures are just not enough. We are building something. It feels like we’re taking something back from the earthquake’s devastation. Putting a foundation down. Literally, a foundation. A footprint that says Team Broken Earth and our amazing supporters like Columbus are here in Haiti to stay. This new building represents such a big part of our aspirations here.

I can’t help but draw similarities between the new building and our teams. Both started from an idea and have grown so far beyond what we expected or hoped.

Our team is now composed of over 500 people from across the country.  The building – a discussion with our good friend and tireless supporter, Brendan Paddick – is now up to the second floor.

The team is a cohesive working unit.  The building is now a design of working support structures all leaning on each other for support. The team will make an ever-lasting effect on patients… the building, on the face of Haiti.

The teams continue to grow as will the new infrastructure for this country. We can all be proud of that.

Of course it’s business as usual here. Well, Haiti’s version of usual, which means non-stop. The new ER doctor, Brook Saunders, has received his baptism by fire. The surgical team has not stopped with a full day of clinic in two hospitals.

It was good to watch as Dr. Rideout consulted with new patients. They all offered the smiles he’d soon make perfect. And that in turn made us all smile.

– Andrew

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Bangladesh, Day 2

It’s 3:30 in the AM and I can’t sleep.   I thought it was the time change, but I can’t stop thinking about the sites of today.

The city is intensely dense. At 20,000 people per square km, there isn’t a lot of room.  But the roads and infrastructure are good, and we feel safe.

We began the day by touring a facility for “pavement dwellers.”  These are people who literally lay on the street at night. No cover overhead, no blankets, no place to call home. In fact, they do not even exist in the eyes of the government (no name, no address, no citizenship).   I initially wondered why they were not referred to as the homeless until I saw the pictures.  People just putting their heads down directly on the pavement at the end of the day.  500,000 of them. 100,000 in Dhaka. One third of them are kids. Even typing this I can’t believe those numbers.

But there is hope. Our host has created an amazing institute to help some of these people, especially some of the kids.  We arrived to 100 singing kids wishing us well. They sang and danced and did a presentation. They were interactive, alive, engaged, like they had new life because of the help that was being provided for them.   Still, this institute only looks after around 11,000… there is still so much to do.

What I saw in the afternoon was what has been keeping me up. We visited a combination clinic and school.  The school was amazing and there were more pavement children there to get protection and education. But when we did clinic, we saw patient after patient who were young women in the sex trade, all of whom were asking to have the scars on their face revised, all had been cut in the same fashion on both cheeks. I had to bite down on my own outrage. Horrific, gut wrenching, sickening, sad, anger… I felt so many things at once that I can barely think of the words to describe it.

One girl was 12.

She had scars on both cheeks, and one across her neck.  12 years old… 4 years older than my Maggie.  She should be in grade 7. Instead, she is begging for us to help take the symbols off her face. She sat there in silence as we explained there was nothing we could really do for her. She sat still for a while with blank eyes. As she got up, you could see she was at least 6 months pregnant.

I gotta be honest. I didn’t see this coming and my heart truly hurts tonight. Just want to shake the planet and yell what the hell is wrong with us?

Gonna go see if the gym is open. I can’t sleep and I need to work off some frustration.

– Andrew

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