I have had the same doctor for 15 years.  In that time he has take 2 extended leaves to volunteer overseas (I happened to give birth in both those time frames!).  Once he spent a year in Africa, he brought his 3 children (ages 10-15) with him to help out – what an amazing experience.  The second time he went to India for 6 months to teach in a medical university.

I respect my doctor immensely for doing this.   But the first thing I ask when he gets back is: how do you do it?  And I am not talking about how does he manage to move his whole life to a developing country for months.  How does he come back!?!?

When he works in Africa or India, the patients and doctors he works with desperately need his knowledge and experience.  He is saving lives everyday.  But when he returns to his cushy practice in urban Canada how can he face all the overweight, hypochondriacs that monopolize his time (and I hope I am not seen as one of them!)?

His answer surprised me.  He said it is easy to go to a developing country and see pain and suffering and reach out to help.  But most people, turn a blind eye to same pain and suffering in their own backyard.  In Canada, it seems, most people expect someone else to take care of our societal problems.

So many people I know, including myself, do this exact thing: fund raise and volunteer in exotic developing countries and feel really good about it.  But what do we do to help the homeless in our own town?  How do we reach out to the neglected children in our own neighborhood?  How do we contribute to our own community centres and associations?

Is this right?  Shouldn’t you take care of yourself and your own before reaching out to others?  Otherwise your foundation might crumble while you are looking away.  My doctor’s insight had a huge impact on the way I think.  I have always gravitated towards making an impact in my own backyard – I feel most comfortable when I can see the impact I have.  But his comments instilled that belief even deeper, because I don’t want to take my community for granted.