Tag Archives: education

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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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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If someone asks for help

I didn’t want to come here. Bangladesh. I had a lot on my plate between work and Haiti and finding time in between to be a husband and a dad. A friend of mine had approached me a while back to come and assess their charity and explore where they can improve and how Broken Earth could use its skills to help improve theirs.

I was being selfish.

I justified it to myself that I was trying to protect the resources we have for Haiti. But as quick as I said no, it struck me why we went to Haiti in the first place…

if someone asks for help and you are able, you should.

I thought about the opportunities that could exist with Broken Earth in a different country without changing our focus from Haiti.  It struck me that we could offer to support teaching and education while not diluting our efforts to the people of Haiti.

Frankly if I had stopped and thought about the work, the risks and the sacrifices prior to going to Haiti, I don’t know if I would have gone in the first place. But I did. I’m glad I did. I’m proud of how many of us have now chosen to go.

I have often dreamed what mountains lie beyond Haiti, what tasks and opportunities would present themselves next. I never dreamed it would be Bangladesh, but then again, I had never dreamed of Haiti either.

Please stay tuned as this journey begins. Like that first trip to Port-au-Prince in 2010, I have no doubt that it will be an eye-opener and I really want to share the experience with you.



Five years of change

Five years ago today, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and so many more were injured and irrevocably changed after the earthquake that levelled Port-au-Prince in Haiti. It only took a few minutes but families and communities were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.  I remember the aftermath so clearly and that odd feeling of being fortunate to not have been there when it happened. It’s hard to believe that was five years ago. I try not focus on what was lost. Instead, I choose to remember how I’ve witnessed the courage it has taken for Haitians to survive, to find hope again and rebuild.

Five years ago, the world mobilized and people from all walks of life, all across the world came to support the Haitian people.  We see this too often… immediate response that quickly loses its momentum. For some, Haiti has faded from hearts and minds.   But for others, the fight to make it a better place is still alive and well.

Most ask how Haiti has changed since 2010. Well, I have seen the streets reappear from the rubble. Buildings begin peeking up over the landscape again. And slowly but surely the infrastructure has been buzzing back to life.

The biggest change, the one with the most lasting effect, has been the changing relationships.  Working not in front of, or behind, but along side of the Haitian medical staff to improve techniques and create a focus on education. That has been a tremendous accomplishment.

There’s no question about it, Haiti changed everyone on our team in some way. For me, I am a better surgeon because of Haiti. I truly believe I am a better teacher, a better father and a better husband because of Haiti. I have taken more than I could ever possibly give to Haiti. And I am committed to trying to repay that debt.

And for all our supporters, those who have donated, attended fundraisers, sent encouraging messages to teams on the ground… the change we’ve made was only possible because of you.  I can’t thank you enough for that.

Haiti has changed.

Haiti is changing.

I hope that we can continue to be a part of it for as long as we are needed.

– Andrew

It’s like it’s a flooding river.

“Help me! My baby fell off a tap-tap and his leg is broken!”

The story – a common one in Haiti – is, this time, not real.

The “baby” is a plastic mannequin of a toddler wearing navy blue sweatpants three sizes too big and missing an arm; his “mother,” a tall blond Canadian pediatric nurse. The “nurses” hurrying to help are Haitian nursing students demonstrating how they’d respond when a mother arrives in emergency with her injured child.

Though the story line is make-believe, the benefits are real – Haitian nurses will be better trained to deal with this kind of emergency when it happens because they’re learning through hands-on simulation training.

This kind of teaching is the key reason that Team Broken Earth’s nurses and doctors come to Port-au-Prince.

Four years ago, when Team Broken Earth was founded in the aftermath of the earthquake, Haitians needed surgeons, doctors, nurses and physiotherapists from other countries to fill the enormous gaps in the beleaguered Haitian medical system.

But, today, efforts are increasingly focused on building the local medical system local healthcare workers. For Team Broken Earth, that’s meant a shift from practicing medicine here to teaching it.

Over the last four days, Canadian nurses and doctors have taught nursing students and nurses, medical students, surgery residents and local physicians. Sometimes, they squeeze into tiny single rooms on the hospital ground, or take students across the street to the vacated building across the street. They’ve taught outside under tents, in hot sweaty ORs and in the frenzy of tbe emergency department.

Suzanne Westcott, a nurse who has been down to Haiti three times with Team Broken Earth, said she’s spend more hours teaching on this trip than any before. This last one has been the most rewarding – “and it’s because of the teaching.”

“I feel like I’m not just filling a role; I’m really giving back. It’s like it’s a flooding river. When you come here just to do clinical work, you’re plugging a hole somewhere. But when you teach, I feel like you slow down the flood.”

– Christina

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