Hidden sacrifices. Balance. And being on the road.
From 2 people in a line at Jumping Bean to a room full of movers and shakers, I’ll take any opportunity to talk about Team Broken Earth. To get our message out there. To get more people involved. More support. And hopefully, inspire one or two people to want to make a difference where they are or around the world. It makes for a crazy schedule though and the last month and a half have been a blur. No time to think. No time to blog! There’s been so much going on and I wanted to share it with you.
Over the past six weeks, Team Broken Earth has experienced a lot of recognition for past work while building bridges to future expansions and directions. I get a chance to reflect on this during a drive to Bonavista to present to the local Chamber of Commerce. The road from the TransCanada highway to Bonavista is as convoluted as it is beautiful. Turning off the highway, you make a long journey towards the ocean and the beauty of Trinity and Bonavista Bay reveals itself to you along the way. It’s winding and long, traveling through communities and scenic villages. I’m reminded of the distances some of my patients often travel for a 5-minute appointment.
There is little radio or cell service, so it gives me time to think. I’m missing my daughter’s birthday for this. Right now her friends are gathering at our home for a sleepover. I can only imagine the laughter ringing through the place. For a second I have one of those what the hell am I doing? moments. I’m missing this to help spread the word on Haiti and Team Broken Earth. These are the sacrifices that are hidden, not just from the public but also from my family. I find myself downplaying the length of a trip or the significance of teaching trip to Allison and the kids, selfishly to lighten the burden of the guilt I feel. I know Allison understands and thank God she’s the most patient and caring person I know. With the kids, well, it’s just tough. Kids rarely understand the reason as much as they feel the absence. And that kills me. But these are the sacrifices. The presentation goes well. Through the applause and well wishes that follow, I keep thinking of home.
Home. A week after returning from Bonavista and I’m on the move again. I was invited to present to the oldest Orthopedic Surgery Residency program in the United Kingdom, and arguably the world… St. Barth’s Hospital at the Royal London Hospital. This place is legendary. So much history has occurred here. Over 600 years old. Henry VIII had his own private entrance here. And it’s home to the introduction of Sherlock Holmes to Watson! What an experience to stand in front of one of the oldest training programs in the world and tell the Canadian story, the Newfoundland story that is Broken Earth. I was overwhelmed by the compliments and interest in the team after and it looks like we are on our way to sending our first overseas team from London (UK) in the New Year.
Meanwhile, during that very week, we had our first surgical team on the ground in Guatemala, our first team from London (Ontario) in Haiti and our first educational trip in Nicaragua. Three different teams in three different countries. That was a huge first for us!
So it’s getting close to Christmas and I’m done with travel and presentations for this year. People often ask how do I keep it all balanced? Work. The team. My family. How do I reconcile it all? Well, it comes from a number of areas. From having a team around me that are the very guts of our successes. From having a wife and family that lift you up when you need it most. And from having hope. Hope that things can be better and that we can all make a difference.
During this fast pace month and a half, I was privileged to accept several accolades on behalf of Team Broken Earth from coast to coast. At one, in particular, I had to chance to share exactly what hope means to me. I wanted to share it with you as it resonates in this season of joy and giving…
Every time there is a new project like broken earth to balance the scales of inequity or injustice, the earth axis tilts slightly and the world becomes a better place. This takes courage of conviction and strength of determination. But it is that fortitude that helps balance the scales of injustice and poverty that are so often weighted in the wrong direction. This work reflects the principles of respect, human dignity and human rights. That all men and women deserve a chance to create a family, work in a meaningful job and contribute to the society in which we live.
This is the very genesis of hope.
Hope can be found in the strangest of locations and the darkest of places. It may be difficult at times to see, but it is there.
It’s often easier to see the imperfection of our society. The often unjust and unconscionable behaviour of a few can occupy more than its fair time in the media. It 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 applying a negative lens and it can become all-consuming. But look a little closer.
Are we actually in tough times? Is all hope lost?
There is no question that 2017 has had some disheartening and questionable behaviors of not just a few, but many. There is no doubt that these actions are a gigantic 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 sight of the overwhelming positivity around the world. Hope and courage outweigh it all on a local, national and global stage every single day. It’s easy to be blinded by 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.
Let’s make fear 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. There still exists in North America and around the world, social and ethnic tensions, despite our knowledge of its gruesome history. This attitude can only be based in hate and ignorance. How can we overcome it? The challenge is complex and daunting but it starts at home.
The world is not evil, it is not divided by hate, and hate cannot win.
The world does not have to be divided on race, religion, or sexual orientation.
We do not have to go any further than our own backyard to see the hope for this.
When thinking of these social tensions I cannot help but draw some comparisons to my recent trip to Bangladesh. They suffer from incredible poverty and have gigantic challenges in health, environment and industry. They’re also divided by religious lines, 90% Muslim and 10% Hindu. Yet they live and work side by side peacefully tolerant of each other’s views and beliefs. This is a shining example of how tolerance can win.
Yes, Bangladesh still has a long way to go but they are moving in a positive direction. They have made incredible strides in health care and maternal medicine in particular.
In the 1980’s, there was a 600/100,000 maternal death rate, an incredibly high number, 100 times higher than Canada’s. Yet with the belief, courage and help of other countries the rate today is approximately 100/100,000.
Positive progress is out there. You just need to look.
I firmly believe that there’s no problem too difficult to tackle, too complex to understand. Bangladesh reaffirmed that for me. Tolerance and acceptance are alive and well but they need our help to thrive and survive. To celebrate difference, not fear it. To answer those who would attempt to divide us. To shout louder than those voices screaming hate and ignoring basic human dignity.
This is how we build hope. By inspiring others.
Also in these times of bullet news, where one major news story lasts only seconds on the stage… the plight of the poor is often neglected and rarely occupies our attention for longer than a minute or two.
The Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. Victims of floods, hurricanes, and unbelievable acts of random violence. The attention is intense but always fleeting. This is a challenge for us.
All of us here today are also the guardians of hope.
We need to constantly lift up those around us to see past the mess and know that things can change.
Things can get better.
We are all so extremely lucky to have been born where we were born and live where we live. We shouldn’t feel guilty for that. But rather it should reinforce our empathy for those less fortunate. We need to create hope from despair and create possibilities where none exist.
Hope is energizing. Hope is inspiring.
All of us here tonight can be the messengers, the doers, the ones committed 100% to making a difference.
On my first trip to Haiti, I treated a man who had suffered a hip fracture at the time of the earthquake. He had been lying in a “Doctors Without Borders” tent in traction for 20 weeks, waiting for surgery. He was transferred on our second day and his caring companion was his orphaned 11-year old granddaughter. She did not leave his side. She provided meals, gave him his medication, walked with him to the OR, and waited patiently for him to come out of surgery. And as we were discharging her grandfather, this young girl shook my hand in thanks with the maturity of an adult. She was mature well beyond her years. The courage and hope in her eyes instilled in me that things can change in Haiti. There is hope even in the most desolate or desperate of times.
No, we are not helpless.
We are not helpless in setting our own course, in changing our trajectory, in bending the course of our own history. Each act of kindness, each act to enhance social justice and freedom of equality creates hope and its sum effect will change the world. We must shine a light in the darkest of spaces, to give hope in those who need it most.
To quote Robert Kennedy:
“We must do this not because it is economically advantageous, although it is. Not because the laws of God command it, although they do, not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”
The right thing to do. At this time of year, in particular, I see the faces of people who have taken “the right thing to do” to a spiritual level.
You are the difference-makers.
The agents of change.
The guardians of hope.
I wish you all the happiest of Christmas seasons, may you be warmed by the embrace of your family, and guided by hope and peace in 2018.
All the best,