Dr. Jeff Goodman came to Kaua‘i in 1972 and practiced family medicine in Kilauea at his clinic for nearly 30 years. Yet Goodman’s interest in working in devastated areas due to war, disease or natural disasters began in 1986 after hearing Dan Rather’s report on Soviet-invaded Afghanistan.
At that time Goodman’s two children, ages 11 and 13, and his loving wife were difficult to leave for a war-torn country, but Goodman felt he “needed to do something about the plight of the Afghan people,” he said.
That first experience led to what Goodman defines as “an addiction — there is just an immediacy about helping people in such extreme moments, even though you may leave before it is resolved, you know you were there to do work that could save so many lives in the future.”
Goodman works with the global humanitarian organization International Medical Corps. Founded in 1984 by volunteer doctors and nurses, “IMC is a private, voluntary, nonpolitical, nonsectarian organization,” states the IMC Mission.
IMC has worked in 40 countries, responding to famine, war, natural disasters and man-made catastrophes. IMC not only provides medical care for the victims, but is dedicated to building long-term infrastructure for affected communities by constructing clinics and training local physicians and nurses.
Goodman’s work with IMC often included the educational and administrative aspects in building a self-sustainable medical future for the areas.
“By offering training and health care to local populations and medical assistance to people at highest risk, and with the flexibility to respond rapidly to emergency situations, IMC rehabilitates devastated health care systems and helps bring them back to self-reliance,” IMC’s mission statement declares.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Goodman was fly-fishing in Idaho with his kids.
After having been in Afghanistan in 1987 working with IMC as his first assignment, the attack on the World Trade Center and subsequent war sent Goodman back to the country within 72 hours.
His previous experience with the Taliban had prepared him for what he would find 14 years later.
“When 33 percent of the medical school curriculum under the Taliban was religious studies, I knew the suppression of women and loss of freedom would have put the clinics in bad shape by 2001. I stayed in the country for three months and spent six weeks in Kabul,” he said.
“It was mad. A bomb went through the roof at a children’s and women’s hospital, people crammed together in wards without proper supplies — we treat the immediate life-preserving concerns and then think about the longer term rebuilding that can be run by local care-givers,” Goodman said.
IMC focuses on primary health care, maternal and pediatric care, emergency, water and sanitation, HIV/AIDS, reproductive care, education, nutrition, micro-finance and gender based violence.
Goodman has served IMC as a director for specific missions and often goes into high-risk situations with only a few other nurses or physicians to respond to the first needs and assess longer-term care.
His work entails coordinating, meeting and planning with other NGO’s or humanitarian service agencies such as USAID or MEDiCAM, who also respond to crises.
During a mission to Liberia, Goodman was faced with the horrors of children soldiers trained to murder and torture fellow Liberians during the on-going civil war.
Goodman set up medical tents and made medical care available to those victims and young soldiers if they turned in their guns.
This type of work “makes you realize that human beings suffer in the same way everywhere — basic needs are always the same: medicine, food, water and security,” Goodman said.
In Sudan, Goodman and his small team faced extreme frustration just trying to get to the site where their help was needed.
“We faced government red tape because of the complex political situation. It was absurd that 48,000 people were displaced somewhere in the bush — we spent days just looking for the camp because the government had sent us in the wrong direction,” he said.
After setting up tents, they repaired a clinic and began to work. Later Goodman heard that the day after they left Darfur, the government swept through and tear-gassed the people, again scattering them.
In 2006 Goodman was sent to Lebanon — but how to get in?
“You couldn’t go through Syria and Israel had blocked the coast. The Canadians hired a cruise ship for dual citizens to get through, so I signed on as the ship’s doctor and hitched a ride,” said Goodman.
What he found was internally displaced people who had been chased from north and south and back again all over areas with unexploded bombs. The infrastructure and medical training already existed there, “in that situation it was most effective to support the existing clinics — they have very well trained doctors — it’s always a matter of figuring out how best to help in each specific situation,” said Goodman.
“Most of the time there is no one way to do it, no one way to get there, you just have to figure it out as you go. These are places where every system or ‘normal’ way has been eradicated,” Goodman described his ‘by-any-means-necessary’ method of getting to where the people need help.
After the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, IMC sent Goodman to Sumatra because aid groups were mostly focused on Banda Aceh. The only way to get down the coast was by boat, so Goodman sailed south and eventually body surfed to shore.
Soon he was able to collaborate with Doctors Without Borders to put clinics together and provide aid from a soccer-field-clinic that served as a helicopter landing pad.
“IMC is truly an amazing organization, with a commitment to make lasting improvements so that medical treatment can continue long-after we’ve left,” said Goodman.
Saving lives around the world has inspired Goodman to now focus on Kaua‘i’s emergency preparedness and medical contingency if a hurricane or other natural disaster were to hit.
“We’ve got to plan now — the Hawaiians used to have chants that described what to do during a devastating storm, everyone knew … we need some kind of system in place so that people have areas to evacuate to and that those areas already have water and medical supplies. The basics,” he said.
Though Goodman plans to stay put for the time being he said, “Almost always something happens after I’ve worked in a certain area to make me consider going back, or to somewhere new.”
Traveling from war zones to natural catastrophes, Goodman has seen senseless violence spread over the planet more intimately than most will ever witness.
“We are all the same. Suffering is suffering. We all need the same basic things. We are all people,” he said.
IMC continues to work on the frontlines of emergency medical situations around the world, including Iraq.
For more information on IMC’s work or to sign up for its newsletter visit: www.imc-la.com/index.shtml
• Keya Keita, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or firstname.lastname@example.org.