What’s your why?
It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon. That time when the last moments of summer find the chill in the air and you know the leaves are holding onto their colours for only a few more weeks. Instead of playing soccer in the front yard with my kids, I’m frantically packing the last few items and heading to the airport. As I look out the window, the kids are on the swings and the dog is running freely. It’s the kind of scene that fills my heart. But this time is different. Leaving does that.
I can’t help but think why? Why am I doing this? Many people have asked me how I do it. How do I balance a busy schedule? But the deeper, harder question is this: how do I leave the kids, Allison, the comfort and security of it all to go into the unknown? I suspect the answer to these questions is different for different people. Whether it is going to work or going overseas, the hardest question to answer is often the why?
This week, Team Broken Earth is back in Bangladesh. This is the third course we are teaching here and my fourth time in Dhaka. The thing that never ceases to amaze us over here is the density. Over 100,000 people per square mile. The density can feel overwhelming and even in a hotel room, you feel like trying to push the walls farther apart to give more space. But despite the density, the people are beautiful, with large hearts and open arms. We meet our hosts and even the hotel employees greet us with the kind of welcome reserved for friends.
This is our second year teaching women’s health. Led by Adam Gill and Jen Mercer, it is a team of Newfoundlanders wanting to make a difference. The course last year was so successful that this year there were over 200 applicants for 100 spots. We will take 120. The course teaches, through simulation, how to deliver babies and treat the complications associated with labour and delivery.
Why woman’s health? Bangladesh has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, over 100 times higher than in Canada. But this scale means we can make a difference. If even 60 of the participants take away new techniques that save lives, with a city of 20 million people and an excessively high birth rate, the impact will be felt immediately. We are also teaching on Intimate Partner Violence, a topic that knows no boundaries and affects women and children in particular everywhere in the world. But like most things, the burden is heavier in a developing country. So, beyond the suturing, beyond how to treat blood loss and hemorrhaging, we are trying to treat other causes of loss of life and opportunity for women
We also had an opportunity to visit a mental health institute today. Chatting with their director, I was surprised to learn that the incidents of some of the conditions we treat at home were the same for this country of almost 200 million people. They have problems with anxiety, depression, and suicide just as we do, yet here amongst the 200 million, there are only 200 psychiatrists. Literally 1 in a million.
That was on my mind as I made my way back to continue with the women’s health course. Here, the need seems endless but seeing the smiles on the participants as they deliver a simulated baby that was in trouble, saving mom and baby, I am reminded of the smiles on my kids’ faces and I am reminded of the answer to my original question. Why? This is why.
When a difference can be made, you have to take that step, no matter how hard it can be sometimes. And it can be anything. Buy someone a cup of coffee. Hug someone who needs it. Call your mom. Be a listener. Knock on a door and check in on a senior in your community. Volunteer. Big or small, choose to answer the why every day. For me, it goes beyond the swing sets, beyond the trees of my front lawn. Haiti. Bangladesh. My why is where. Where there’s need, there’s opportunity to make a difference. And I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who inspire me to keep doing so. Allison balances being a mom and being a doctor while never saying no to an opportunity to help. Alan Doyle and Brendan Paddick remind us that just A Dollar a Day can make a difference in mental health. Their why is how.
Tomorrow is a big day. I’m anxious. I’ve got a million thoughts running through my head. Tomorrow, we head to the refugee camp. Team Broken Earth has provided money and support to some refugees at the Myanmar/Bangladesh border. It is a human tragedy. Stories of genocide, rape, abandonment and the migration of 1.2 million broken homeless people. I’m not sure I am ready for it, but I know this: I will again have to redefine the why and I am not sure I am ready for that.
Wish me luck,