On this episode, we talk about the coronavirus' impact on international charity work and how people are figuring out how to hold onto hope when so many around the world are impacted.
On this episode, we talk about the coronavirus' impact on international charity work and how people are figuring out how to hold onto hope when so many around the world are impacted.
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Hi, everyone. This is Amy Eldridge with Love without Boundaries, welcoming you to another episode of our podcast series. Today I'm talking with one of the LWB team members Meredith Toering, just to touch base on what's been happening with us with LWB and the virus. Hi, Meredith. Thanks for jumping on a call with me today.
For anyone who doesn't know, Meredith joined the LWB team back in November after our board of directors decided they wanted to expand our cardiac outreach to even more kids around the world. And you and I had a lot of great discussions at the end of 2019 on some of our big dreams for helping more kids get the surgery they need. We actually did a podcast about it, if anyone's interested. So you and I, of course, working in China...we had begun hearing a lot about Covid-19 back in early January, when some of the orphanages and team members we work with started telling us about this new virus that was making people sick. Do you remember some of the texts and calls that you got about it?
Oh, my goodness. So vividly. Because it just seems like all of a sudden it was this unknown thing. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew what was happening, but it just started blowing up all of my Chinese social media accounts with people all of a sudden saying, "Stay home, stay home. " All of my Chinese friends and nannies that I had worked with started sending me messages on WeChat, saying "It's very important. Don't come back to China right now. It's too risky. There's a virus, but we don't know what's happening." And I remember with LWB, we started getting emails from our orphanages and our hospitals that we work with. They were saying , "Hey, we're starting to see this. We're not sure where this is going, but just be aware this is what's happening. " And then, of course, we all know how it began to spiral.
I think it was about mid January that we knew that it was starting to spread outside of Wuhan. And then we started hearing about the government regulations that you couldn't even go outside without a mask in China, which led to huge shortages. And I actually went back and looked at my phone, and it was on January 12th that I called my adult kids all around the country and said, "I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I want you to do me a favor, as your mom. I want you to go to Walmart or CVS and buy one box of disposable masks just in case it comes to the U. S. " And of course, they were thinking I was crazy. But I remember saying, "Just do this for me as your mom. I just want to know that you're safe because of the huge shortages that we are seeing in China right now."
Yes, we couldn't get masks anywhere in China, like it just it wasn't possible. I remember we had emails going back and forth trying to source these masks from anywhere, any supply company we could. And so it really was just this this critical shortage that came out.
Right, and then soon after that, pretty much the whole country of China went on lock down. You know, our healing homes for orphan children that have medical needs have been on lock down for 10 weeks now. But in the other countries where LWB works, it was pretty much business as usual. You know, our schools were running, the hot lunch program was running. We were still arranging surgeries. We were in the last stages of planning our next big cleft trip overseas to do 100 cleft surgeries. And so in February, you and I took separate trips to work on the cardiac initiative, and I went to Uganda, which at the time had no Coronavirus cases, and you headed to India, which was the same. And so I sat down and met with families and children that were born with complex heart issues to hear their really difficult stories. They knew that their kids would pass away if they didn't get heart surgery. But the other part of that is in Uganda you you can't get heart surgery for complex needs anywhere in the entire country. And so they knew that they were going to have to leave Uganda in order to save their children's lives. And so it was this concerted effort of, you know, the LWB team meeting children in Uganda, and then you making plans to fly to India to identify hospitals. So why don't you update everyone on what was supposed to happen after your trip in February.
Yeah, absolutely. It came right on the heels of your trip to Uganda and looking back in retrospect, now it all does just seem like so many perfect puzzle pieces that lined up so perfectly to get this all in place. But you had gone and identified these five children, that turned into six. And we were specifically looking for a center for to be able to do heart surgery for their pretty complex defects. I think all six of them are on the more complex range of the heart disease spectrum. And so I went over to India and met with four hospitals that were across the city of Kolkata. We were able to talk to the surgeons, visit the facilities - kind of to get a feel of what kinds of surgeries these hospitals could do, what kind of people they're helping. And we identified two hospitals and one in particular, that we really, really loved, that we would trust with these kids. And most importantly, the hospital itself said that yes, they would accept these children for care, as they had a good program in place to be able to help navigate the many logistical issues of getting a family from Uganda all the way to India for a pretty major medical procedure. So you had your trip to Uganda. We identified these kids. I traveled to India and presented all of these cases to the hospital where we were hoping to work. And during the time they're started to begin the process of making it a reality for these families to be able to travel for hope, for healing, for their hearts. And then once I returned to the States, we were full speed, doing everything we could to get all of the referrals sent through, get the medical visa letters and to get the families as ready as possible for travel, which we were hoping would have been as soon as possible. I remember we had a conversation right when I returned home from India and you just said to me, "Hey, I know that India is saying they have no cases right now. Uganda says they have no cases right now, but I just think we need to try to move
As fast as we possibly can.
And so we did. I mean, I don't think we could have possibly gone any faster, but unfortunately, the day that all of our families we got their medical letters, they all went in a rush to get new imaging and new echoes so that the hospital in India would have brand new information, just to know what they were expecting when these kids arrived. But the day that they all went to apply for their Indian visas, India actually closed their borders to foreigners and said that they were not going to be issuing any new visas.
It was devastating.
Yes devastating. It felt like we were at the very top of the mountain, and we had crossed all kinds of obstacles and barriers for it all to just reach a halt. .
Right, and it just happened so quickly, which is what everyone has found out about the virus. It's like every single day, things change so quickly, and it was just within a matter of a week after that, basically the entire world shut down.
Yep. Exactly. And in retrospect, I am grateful that they didn't travel and that we didn't somehow push them through because I think they would be stuck there right now, indefinitely. They would be out on lock down in India, and I don't know if they even would have continued with the surgical plan had they gone, So it definitely is disappointing, so devastating for the families. But they hold onto hope better than I do sometimes.
Their faith is incredible.
I know. It's so beautiful. I'm just so proud of them because I think if I were them, I would want to be like throwing a fit on the ground that things didn't work out.
Yeah, I know for my whole life I've always been the cheerleader, You know, the glass full type of person. And I think my kids always counted on me for that, that whenever anything bad happened, I was going to be the one that would try and find the bright side of the blessing from going through something hard. But then I started working for LWB and working with orphanages and children living in such truly devastating situations. And there have been a lot of times that my heart has just been completely shattered and broken. Children that we've been caring for have passed away or orphanages would take children back from our care. And one of the things that I found is that the hard part about working with hundreds of children at the exact same time is that at any given moment that something tragic or horrible is happening...then there is most likely another child in a different program who has something wonderful happening. For example, I remember this day that we had a young girl in Cambodia who had TB that we were trying to help so desperately, and then she became critically ill and passed away. And I just wanted to take the time to fully grieve and shut out everything and just grieve. But that very same day, I mean, sometimes it's within the same hour, a child in another country gets chosen for adoption or released from the hospital. Or they passed their college entrance exam, and and then those kids and their families are wanting to hear words of joy and excitement from us.
And I think that's been one of the most difficult parts of this work. Coming to terms with the reality that there are days where one hour you're broken and crying, and the next hour you get news that makes you start smiling and laughing, and it's like this constantly pingpong match of emotions if that makes sense. But I've come to see that joy and sorrow can sometimes exist in a place that's simultaneous. And I bring that up today just because I think there's probably a lot of people out there who are going through these same types of big emotional swings right now during the virus, and I think we all have to realize that it's okay. I can give one example from our house. My daughter Anna is back from university, of course, since everything's gone to remote learning. We've gotten into the routine where she does her her college class work all day while I do LWB work. And then from about 8 to 10 at night, we've been watching one or two episodes of TV like I think most of America is. And Anna has completely ruined me. I was not a reality TV watcher before the virus hit. But she has now taken me down this dark side. And so we started watching 90 day Fiance together, and it's such a hot mess of a show that we just completely forgot about the virus. We were laughing and yelling at the TV at the couples, and it was just this beautiful, fun moment of doing something completely mindless. And then the show ended, and I went to let our dog outside. And when I opened the door, that's when it washed over me completely again that the whole world's on lock down right now. And that people are in the ICU fighting for their lives, and people have lost their jobs, and all the medical teams around the world putting themselves at risk. And then that moment of joy, that great joy that we had just from being together, it just ran smack into a brick wall. I'm sure you're having moments like that as well.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it is something that like what you said, where the whole world is kind of feeling it, and many people haven't had to deal with that before or felt that before. It's almost a collective experience now where our entire world is trying to figure out, like, how do we still try to go about our daily life and have joy? I mean, we have to. You can't live as a functional human being and mope around and despair like it's not away in order to be able to live a healthy life. And so we're all trying to find these things that are like, "Okay, here's the joy. Here's the hope. Here is the golden thing to cling onto today", while also feeling that grief since there is so much pain happening right now. So much loss and people are literally fighting for their lives. And even the dumb things like, "Oh, I'm upset that this show I was supposed to go to next month is cancelled." Like even though in the grand scheme of things that is such a small loss, but it's still a loss. We're all feeling like we all have those kind of things that we thought would be our next few months, And that's all kind of now been shut down and it doesn't look like that at all anymore. And so I think the whole world is trying to figure out this works. How do we find light? How do we find hope? How do we keep walking forward? How do we keep holding on to joy in the midst of such sorrow? It is kind of unprecedented time.
It is, and it's so complex, across every age spectrum, you know, from senior citizens who are very concerned understandably about getting the virus, to the young people who...and I've seen some really unkind things on social media when a young person says something about not being able to graduate from high school and walk down in their cap and gown, and and I've seen some really unkind things saying, " that's a small thing in the grand scheme of things." But it's not when you're 18 years old and....
no, it's not
and you've waited your whole life for that.
Exactly. And it's still worth being sad about, and it's still worth giving it the big grief it deserves since this didn't go like I hoped. And this isn't the way that I saw this panning out, but still having to try to find those things, like the mindless reality TV shows to get through.
Yes, and one thing that I really believe is that it's never right to say that one person has more of a right to grieve or to feel anxious or stress than another. I try and teach my kids that grief, sadness, trauma....it's not a competition. Like I said, I've just seen some really ugly and hateful posts calling out people and how they're dealing with the virus, and I just feel that everyone is allowed to feel exactly what they need to feel at any given time. Because we just don't know when it's gonna wash over you. I cried over a Winn Dixie commercial yesterday. A grocery commercial, right? Because they were showing how they're putting up the protective barriers so their cashiers don't get sick. And I just think it was a tipping point, where I have taken so much news in all day, and then this commercial came on and did me in. I think there's lots of people feeling that way around the world.
Definitely. And I've always felt like what you said. It's not a competition. We don't get to judge what is or what isn't worthy of grief, because we usually only know the very tip of the iceberg. We don't know that 90% is below what this person might also be dealing with. What they might also be holding in or what they might have faced in a different time or place that is either triggering them now or this is just the final thing. That makes them say, "You know what? I'm done." And so I just think there has to be so much grace for everyone right now, as everyone's trying to navigate.
Yes, we need to pour out grace. And I think that international charities right now are in kind of a strange place. Because suddenly, the needs in our own countries are so overwhelming. You know, so many people have lost their jobs and they don't know how they'll pay rent or buy groceries. And so I know with our team members, we've had discussions about how our hearts are grieving for those in our community, our supporters, and people who make our work possible, because so many of them are hurting right now.
We want to be so respectful of what's going on around the world, with families not knowing how they'll get through this. And you know, the hard part, then, is at the same time we have so many children in really impoverished tough places who depend on LWB full time for their care. You know, kids in our healing homes and in Foster care, and we have to meet all their needs for love and support during the virus. So it's this balancing act of not wanting to do public calls for fundraising except for some very specific need for the virus, right? And then just praying that charities all over the world who are doing such good work are going to come out of this on the other side. Still being able to help the most vulnerable.
Exactly. Exactly. I was thinking about that and even talking about it, um, last night with someone who was asking about LWB's programs. And she is a social worker at the hospital in D. C. And she has dealt with many, many children who have been adopted from China and actually come to her hospital center for medical care. And so she's been very invested in the work of charity overseas. She's commented several times how she has seen that kids who have come out of programs like LWB's in foster care have such a healthier transition once they're adopted into families. And that she as a social worker has seen that, But she was asking me kind of about international aid and what that looks like right now, because for the first time in my lifetime, we are in a place where the US is needing the same kind of aid that typically we've seen on an international scale. And, it was really interesting because for me, one of the questions that I think people have always asked me is, "Well, why do you want to work overseas? There's work that could be done in America." What my answer has always been is that it doesn't matter the country, it doesn't matter gender or religion or whatever it may be. There are people all over the world who need help, and there's people all over who need someone to show up for them. And I think that, like the whole world, the virus has become an equalizer, where we all realize, like we're all in need and there are people all over the world who are in the same boat of "How are we going to get through? "
It's something a shared humanity, more than most of us have ever seen in our entire life.
Exactly. And we're all in this same boat experiencing the same thing, and it's profound. It really is profound. But how do we as international charities weather the storm and trust that the children and the lives that we've been entrusted to care for are going to be able to continue. That the children can continue to be in our care and that we're going to be able to continue to provide the services for them. And I think that's something where we just have to really trust that the programs that have been so invested in, created and hoped for and prayed for will continue. And that people do still see the value in them and love them. And as soon as they are able, they're going to want to jump right back in.
And I mean, we always say everyone that's doing true charitable work for the right reasons, you know, which is just straight from their heart, we're all on the same side. And so if it's helping a child in America or Uganda or India or Cambodia... anywhere in the entire world....just to know that people are stepping up to help, that is such a blessing.
Right? Exactly. It's not a competition, just like with the grief. It's not like, "Oh, we're doing better work than you or they're doing better work than this." There's a world of hurt right now, and whoever can step forward to do anything to alleviate that for anyone who is suffering or in need is essential.
So one of the topics that I'm really interested in as a charity worker is something called compassion fatigue, which is basically when nurses or social workers or nonprofit people give so much of themselves to help others that they don't have anything left at the end of the day for themselves. In doing that, they not only face burn out, but actually they can have emotional harm. And I try and read everything I can about it because I always worry so much about our our team around the world, who see some truly horrible things and just all the time are loving till it hurts. What I was thinking this morning is that so much of what is recommended for people who have compassion fatigue applies to the whole world right now trying to come to terms with with COVID-19. So what are you doing to try and keep yourself in a good spot?
Yeah, for me, the way that my brain works and my personality works is that I want to understand things. And I think that once I kind of have a good handle on what is happening, what is causing this. What are the logistics and the knowledge behind it. And so I have found myself devouring news about Covid-19, which in some ways may not be the most healthy thing, because then you're just inundated with all of the stories, but in other ways, it helps me feel like "Okay, I understand what the US is trying to do to get on top of this. Here are the ways that we have seen that social distancing really, truly it's the best way to make sure that we're keeping people safe." So for me, I love to read; I love to be up and knowing what's going on while also making sure that I am taking the time to go get a cup of coffee. And taking the time to, like, get away from it and take an hour and face time with friends that I haven't talked to in awhile. And it has been neat because in this time of everything kind of slowing down a bit and everyone being stuck in their homes, I have talked to people that I haven't talked to in months and months because we're both home. I'll be texting and I'm like, "You know what? I could just face time with this person." I can actually get to see them and have a conversation in a way where before our lives were too on the go and busy, and it never really would have worked to sit there and have a face to face.
I agree. As you know, I have five sons and two of my sons are awful about calling their mom. I'm calling them out right now. Because before you know, a month would go by and I wouldn't hear from them because they're both so busy with their jobs. And right now it's really interesting because I've now heard from them more in the last month than I had in the whole year combined because they're now working at home and have time. They can now call their mom, so that's like one of the only bright spots for me. I agree it's very important, like you just said, to have scheduled time just for you, even if it's just in the other room. And you know I'm like you. I've been following this since it started in China in January, and I've realized that there are times that you just have to turn it off. You have to check out from the news because it just does become so overwhelming. And I love what you said about reaching out to other people. I've had the same thing that I've been talking to people I haven't talked to in so long. So do you have anything else that you would like to say or send out today before we close?
Just that I think that we're all rooting for each other. I don't know about you, but I keep seeing the video circulating on social media of New York, all clapping together for their medical workers. And we saw the same ones coming out of China, which every time I saw the video of all the people in the apartment complexes shouting "Go Wuhan," they made me cry. Because I don't think I've ever seen. I mean, I had gone to sporting events or things in the past where you're like cheering collectively with people. But it's for a soccer game or it's for a football game. And
Yes, it's like all the people singing from their balconies together in Italy.
Yes the songs in Italy, and it's amazing that we're just all coming together to collectively cheer on humanity and making decisions collectively to stay home, to protect our most vulnerable. In some ways, a lot of times I think society kind of does forget that group of people or quickly moves past them. And now our entire focus is to stay home and protect them.
It's so worth it, and it's so hard. But it I think that we're going to be a more compassionate and empathetic and hopeful people. On the other side of this, I really do hope that that somehow through all of this craziness that it's going to make us as humans better on.
I was talking to my youngest son since he's doing his schoolwork at home now and looking at his history book. And I said, It's unbelievable to think that we're the ones...our generation right now are the ones.....that are going to be in history books 100 years from now, and how we survived the virus. And what I hope sincerely is that in those history books that it will talk about what you just said, that we came together all around the world to make sure that as many people as possible could get through it.
Thank you so much Meredith for talking to me today.
Of course, it was so good to connect. Thank you.
So that's our show for today. I hope wherever you're listening from, you and your family are staying safe and healthy. We'll be back soon with enough episode.