Disaster Relief in Haiti- A doctor's experience
A Doctor’s Story of Divine Help in Haiti
It was purely by Divine Grace that I had the opportunity to go to Haiti to serve for the week of 6–13 March 2010, just 5 weeks after a devastating earthquake in January. The call for duty was itself a miracle. One Friday night, at 8.30 pm, I was praying, “Lord, I signed up a month ago to volunteer in Haiti but have not received any reply. Unless you decide to shower your grace on me, I will not be able to go to Haiti and serve.” That same night, by some intuition, I checked my e-mail at 11.00 pm, which I never do on the weekend. Lo and behold, I had received an e-mail from Dr. Hari Conjeevaram, the coordinator of the Sathya Sai organization’s relief efforts in Haiti, asking me whether by any chance I could join the medical team in a week.
If the individual knows he is Divine and that all else are equally so, that Consciousness is the best bond for society; that bliss is the best atmosphere to sustain the society - Sathya Sai Baba, April 1973
For me, that was the divine telegram sent as an instantaneous answer to my prayer. I had only one week to get ready for the trip and had to change my “on call” schedule and collect medical supplies. With the help of our Sathya Sai Baba Center brothers and sisters, and other friends, I was ready for the trip within a week.
“I am always there to help”
When I boarded the plane from Des Moines, Iowa, to Miami, Florida, I had checked six bags weighing 50 lbs each, which I had to collect in Miami and recheck to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. How was I ever going to manage them? I did not have a clue! I was reading a book called the Sathya Sai Chalisa, and found Sai Baba’s words reassuring that he is always there to help. In Miami, as I walked toward the baggage claim, I wondered if I should get a cart to collect my six pieces of luggage.
When I reached the baggage claim area, I saw a person standing nearby with a big cart and approached him for help with my baggage. He smiled and said, “Of course. Don’t you touch any of the bags. I will collect everything and put it at the shuttle stop.” He dropped the baggage in the hotel shuttle area and left me to wait for 30 minutes. Another man approached me and asked if I were going to Haiti. He said, “You are blessed and chosen by God to do this work.” I was not really comfortable talking to a stranger late at night at the airport. But when my shuttle arrived, this same gentleman and another person helped me put all my baggage in the shuttle. I felt then the humbling lesson that Sai Baba had come to my aid in these different forms to help me with my luggage.
“Call me for every small thing”
When I reached the hotel, I had to struggle with my luggage, and it was a challenge to get all the pieces into the room. I knew this was a little test for me. The next morning as I got ready for the next leg of my trip, I prayed for guidance. I heard a voice within me, “Call me for every small thing.” From then on, I took every breath and every step with Sai, and my journey turned out to be a wonderful experience.
I reached Haiti on a Saturday afternoon and joined the rest of the Sai volunteers in that week’s group. Though I did not know anyone, it was amazing to see how quickly we all felt at home with each other. We knew we belonged to the same “Sai family,” And we were blessed with a wonderful home to stay in and a delicious abundance of food to eat. Each day, we started the morning with devotional singing and reciting 108 names of God, and we ended the day with devotional songs in the evening, followed by a team discussion of the medical and spiritual progress we were making.
During our entire medical camp, we all felt Sai Baba’s divine energy flow through us as we busied ourselves attending to the patients. On Wednesday of the week, I saw 101 patients and felt happy that I had been given the energy to see that many patients. During the Wednesday singing session, I experienced a vision of Sathya Sai Baba walking into the church and going around to the patients. He came to my table and stood in front of me. I got up from my chair, and He sat in the chair. Of course, I realized from this that it was He who was the Doer and attending to all the patients, and I was merely His instrument. I felt such bliss having that vision. When I shared this vision with the other team members, they were thrilled and happy too.
The next day at the clinic, I treated a baby having a seizure, but we were not fully equipped for such an emergency. I prayed fervently, “Please, Swami, come and rescue this baby.” As I chanted the Sai Gayatri (a Sanskrit prayer), I put my hand on the baby’s chest to check the heart rate. The baby’s seizure stopped! I felt so happy and energized by this event that I was able to attend to 124 patients that day!
During our finishing prayer at the church that day, I had another vision of Sai Baba, in which he asked me if I felt I had seen enough patients, or if I needed to see more. I replied, “Swami, it is You who are seeing the patients. You can decide if You would like to see more patients. I am ready, if You want to see fewer patients. It is according to Your wish.”
During the evening singing, I had yet another vision; this time I was in Puttaparthi (location of Sai Baba’s main ashram), and Swami was coming toward me very happy and smiling. The next day I saw 120 patients, and during the evening group singing, I had a vision of myself touching Sai Baba’s feet, a rare honor. I treasure all of the amazing visions of Sai Baba I had during this time and felt it was His wonderful way of letting me know that He was with me throughout the entire trip.
Every day I used to get a kiss from at least one child. One day it was late in the afternoon and I had not received any kisses that day. I thought, “Swami, where is my kiss today? Are you not happy with my work today?” Within the next two minutes, I got a kiss on my left cheek as I was writing a prescription. I was so overjoyed and touched, feeling that Sai Baba answers our every small request, no matter how silly.
Simple lessons learned
He also teaches us simple lessons. Just before arriving in Port-au-Prince, I discovered I had lost my watch. By the end of the medical camp, I realized how Sai Baba had controlled time so that I could see more than 100 patients without feeling any tiredness or as if I were working under any pressure. Everybody in the team started teasing me about how much time I spent with each patient but also wondered how it was possible, since I was very thorough and wrote detailed prescriptions and lengthy dietary advice. Everybody felt it was beyond any time calculation. As they say, Swami is Kalateetaya, beyond the limits of time.
I had a wonderful translator, Emmanuel, who was a computer engineering student whose college had been destroyed during the earthquake and who had decided to volunteer to help his people. Even though he had not known previously about Sai Baba, he seemed to follow Swami’s teachings strictly. I was so blessed to work with him. On the last day, he gave me a rosary (mala) that he was wearing, confiding to me that it was precious to him. He said, “I felt Swami and Swami’s love in you, so please accept this.”
At first, I refused, but he put it around my neck. The other team members encouraged me to consider it as a gift from Baba. I did accept the mala, which is so precious to me now; I feel as if I had received it from Swami’s own hands.
At the end of the trip, all physicians were asked to write a medical report. I wrote about the number of cases I had seen, the diseases we treated, and the medicines used. I also wrote that by Divine Grace we were able to serve our fellow human beings. Later, while flying back home, I was reading Sai Baba’s biography, Sathyam Sivam Sundaram, Part I, when all of a sudden I heard Swami asking me, “What did you write in the medical report? I was in every patient of yours. Why did you write ‘fellow human being’? Did you not serve divinity?”
I was in tears. I called our team leader, Dr. Mahesh Goyal, and asked him to change the words in my report to “fellow divine being,” which he did immediately.
There were other little lessons on this trip to Haiti that are forever embedded in my heart. Even though one may not have basic amenities like electricity, Internet, phone, and water supply, one can still feel incredible bliss when keeping good company, engaging in selfless service, and working tirelessly for one’s fellow divine beings. I have become very grateful for all the simple and enjoyable things we take so much for granted - including hot showers, clean water, and a roof over our heads.
I am in everyone; You are serving me in everyone
I also learned that service is a gift to ourselves because we are blessed with the opportunity to serve the divinity embodied in fellow beings and be transformed and purified in that process.
Dr. Ramadevi Sankaran,
Sathya Sai Baba Center of Des Moines, IA
The author is a member of the Sai Center of Des Moines, Iowa. This story reflects a service project she undertook individually as part of an 18-month-long international disaster relief project organized by the Sri Sathya Sai World Foundation to provide medical and humanitarian services in response to the severe earthquake that rocked the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in January 2010. Though the medical services ended in 2011, humanitarian support to Haiti continues to be provided through the International Sai Organization.