What makes a hero? A hero “is a person who performs extraordinary deeds for the benefit of others.”
“When something bad happens we have three choices – we let it define us, we let it destroy us or we let it strengthen us.” – Actor Frank Langella in the aftermath of the 2016 Orlando Pulse shootings
Tragedies and disasters bring out either the best or the worst in people. I prefer to focus on those ‘hidden heroes’ who find their courage in the aftermath of a tragedy, courage that they may not have even realized they possessed, and use their inner resources to help others. This week seemed an appropriate time, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, to focus on such people.
The Medicine Baba
Omkar Nath Sharma is a retired blood bank technician from Kailash Hospital in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India. On 19 October 2008, an under-construction Delhi Metro bridge collapsed in Laxmi Nagar, claiming two lives and injuring several construction workers and passers-by.
Mr. Sharma, 71 years old at the time, visited the site and was appalled to see people in pain, some dying, needing medicine but having no money. And the local hospital could not help, for they were understaffed and their resources, such as medicine, pitifully inadequate. “I was moved by the plight of the people who were running here and there searching desperately for medicine,” said Mr. Sharma in a 2012 interview. Though crippled since an accident when he was 12 years old, Mr. Sharma reminded himself that he could walk and he could talk, and he was moved to do something to help those in need. Then it struck him: maybe people had medicine in their homes that they no longer needed.
Mr. Sharma started walking through the streets like a street vendor, calling out to people in their homes from the street, “Do you have any medicines that are not of use to you?” And he collected castoffs to give to those who needed the medicine. Now, before you state the obvious, let me say that no, Mr. Sharma did not play medicine man and start doling out drugs willy-nilly, but rather he donated them to charitable clinics.
The 2008 tragedy is long past, but Mr. Sharma was hooked on helping, and even today continues to help people in need, convincing those who ‘have’ to help those who ‘have not’. He has become known as the Medicine Baba, and walks about three miles a day collecting unneeded vitamins, anti-biotics and painkillers to distribute to more than a dozen nongovernmental organizations, and a large portion of what he collects goes to the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, a government-run charitable hospital in Central Delhi.
According to the World Health Organization’s World Medicine Report in 2004, 649 million Indians did not have access to essential medicine. The Medicine Baba is performing a valuable service, say doctors who work at charitable clinics, and his contributions have become a formal part of their clinics’ operations. “He is a man of mission,” said Dr. Jaswant Singh
In the wake of such recent tragedies as the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the fire at Grenfell Tower in London, the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the London Bridge and Westminster terror attacks, heroes have emerged, some doing small things to help, others making huge differences. Today, Texas is in all the headlines after the assault by Hurricane Harvey last weekend and related flooding, and as with the other devastating tragedies, many are stepping up to the plate. Let us look at just a few …
Two Muslim youth groups are already out in force helping their neighbors. More than 100 members of Muslim Youth USA, and 40 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, can be seen passing out food, water, and other supplies in Houston.
Both youth groups were assisted by Humanity First, an Ahmadiyya Muslim charity dedicated to disaster relief. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spokesman Qasim Rashid said the groups had mobilised both their local and national chapters before hurricane Harvey even began, and started sending volunteers into Houston neighbourhoods as early as Sunday. According to Mr Rashid, the groups follow the teachings of Caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who preaches empathy for their fellow Americans. Mr Rashid said the Caliph told them …
“Your faith as Muslims and your identity as Americans needs to hold you accountable. Whenever your fellow Americans are in need, you need to be the first ones on the ground to help them.”
*Since this post is about good people, I will omit my usual snarky editorial comments, but leave you to draw what conclusions you will here.
And everyday, ordinary citizens came out to help:
This man is a local pastor in the Houston area checking every car to make sure no one was trapped inside. The water came up to his chest in some parts.
A news crew was about to leave a neighborhood when a woman flagged them down to rescue her elderly parents and their dogs.
Everyday Texans with working boats are risking everything to go out and help rescue others.
These Bay Area firefighters are driving down from Northern California to help in any way they can.
And from Louisiana, they came, the ‘Cajun Navy’, by the truckload, bringing boats, supplies, and able bodies.
Alexandra Jourde rescued four-year-old Ethan Colman from the floods on his paddleboat.
Dean Mize, an out-of-town businessman, drove to Houston from his home in Chandler, almost 200 miles away, to lend a hand with his boat and truck. With the help of a local propeller boat owner, Jason Legnon, he was able to rescue a mother and her 3-week-old baby from her flooded home. Mize went on to rescue several other people after that, including a man in a wheelchair.
And hundreds of volunteers turned up at shelters, giving of themselves and their time to help distribute clothing, food, water and supplies.
I have no doubt that we will see and hear more stories of humanity and compassion from ordinary people like you and me in the coming days. It doesn’t take a ton of money, you don’t have to be a certain religion, colour, or gender to make a difference, it only takes a kind heart. These people are my ‘hidden heroes’, for they are silent, unseen, until they are needed, but when the chips are down, they are the ones we can count on to not ask what’s in it for them, but to simply roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of doing good things.