"We All Need To Do Our Part, To Help"
It was 1998.
Rahul Singh was working as a paramedic and had recently been through a divorce, when he decided to take some time off. He headed off to Nepal, where he planned to take some time to clear his head and refocus. Then, as it often does, fate intervened.
One day while out hiking in Nepal, Rahul crossed paths with a group of people who ran a field hospital and a rescue unit in a remote village.
He was hooked.
Rahul began volunteering with the group, training the medics and teaching them the life-saving skills he learned on the job in Toronto.
After deploying with the group through several emergencies, setting up pop up field hospitals and providing medical care, he realized he had a knack for this.
A few months later, Rahul’s best friend, David McAntony Gibson, died of complications following a liver transplant and he decided it was time to go home.
In David’s honour, Rahul founded a humanitarian relief organization called GlobalMedic (now known as the David McAntony Gibson Foundation), providing assistance in places affected by natural disasters or complex emergencies all over the world.
GlobalMedic’s mandate is to “serve the global community” and “save lives by providing short-term, rapid response in the wake of disasters and crises, both here in Canada and abroad.”
“We want to get the right aid to the right people at the right time,” says Rahul.
To date, GlobalMedic has led 240 humanitarian operations in more than 80 countries, including Haiti, helping to set up field hospitals and provide clean water and medical aid to more than 7,000 people after the massive earthquake in 2010.
GlobalMedic’s support also includes: training and equipping local healthcare and medical staff, supporting landmine clearance and water purification projects and distributing drugs and equipment (including collecting and sending pulse oximeters to many communities in rural India, during Covid).
His team of trained volunteers help to bridge the gap, deploying in the hours after emergencies strike and staying until international aid agencies arrive.
“We’re an agency with a grassroots mentality,” Rahul told the Toronto Star in 2012. “It keeps the adrenalin going.”
Rahul, who is as humble as they come and generally shuns the spotlight, has been widely recognized for his work. Named in 2010 to Time Magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people, he is also a recipient of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 and has made the list of The Globe and Mail’s “Canadians changing the world.”
Now, 20 years after founding GlobalMedic, Rahul’s organization - which is powered by an army of volunteers - has helped millions of people through their worst moments and saved countless lives.
Rahul remains a volunteer himself - he still works as a full-time paramedic - and is happily married.
Read our Q&A with Rahul, below, about what kindness means to him.
Rahul, can you believe it’s been 20 years since you first founded GlobalMedic? Looking back, what has this experience meant to you?
It’s hard to imagine that it's been 20 years. We’ve done more than 240 operations in 80 countries, there have been millions of beneficiaries and we’ve worked with great humanitarian workers and thousands of volunteers.
All of these forces combine to meet increased humanitarian needs head on. Tragically, humanitarian needs are up 50 per cent due to COVID-19 and have tripled in the last decade. More people need our help, now more than ever. Our world has the highest number of people in history fleeing violence. But, together we'll keep innovating and helping people in their time of need. We’ll keep pushing, keep rolling aid out, keep helping. There is no other way.
Can you give us a few examples of kindnesses that you have witnessed first-hand in your travels?
I think the generosity that people who have lost everything is amazing. I can be out delivering aid to refugees in a camp in northern Iraq. ISIS pillaged their communities and they fled. The camps are great and the conditions are rough but they smile and want to chat and learn about where I come from while offering a cup of tea. This is not unique.
I remember being in a makeshift camp in the mountains of Pakistan in 2005. An earthquake wiped out so many villages and displaced families. They ended up in cold tents in makeshift camps. Our teams were setting up hospitals with inflatable field shelters. Many displaced folks would come and help us deploy them. Despite having lost everything, they always wanted to offer chai and biscuits and talk.
What motivates you to want to make a difference in people’s lives? And what do you get out of it personally?
I hate to say it but I am driven by rage. It makes me so angry to see people suffer and lose. Whether it is a war or a disaster, I hate seeing the injustice. The poor, the elderly, the young all have a higher propensity to be negatively affected and lack the resilience to rebound. It is heartbreaking to see.
People are victims of bad policy or tyrants or natural disasters or angry young men with guns. That rage and hatred of the injustice drives me to help. I am proud of what we do and how we help. But to be frank, there is so much need that our teams keep pushing and don’t really take the time to understand the impact. We keep pushing aid out to folks who need it.
You have been to so many parts of the world where people have experienced heartache and challenging times. What keeps you going after seeing such devastation?
I don’t like what I see and just try to develop systems and ways to help vulnerable families in need. The key is to scale up the solutions. We have a motto that we live by: we try and get the right aid to the Right People at the Right Time. Knowing we deliver on our mission and actually help people drives us and keeps us upbeat.
What can we all do to be kinder to one another, and become more involved in our communities?
I think we all need to do our part to help. So if you are an airline—fly cargo to the countries that need aid. If you are a drug company, make the antibiotics that people need. If you are a person, do your part whether that is raising funds through a bake sale or lemonade stand to spending time packing aid or joining our Rapid Response Team to deploy and help distribute aid. We are pretty lucky to live in Canada and really need to do our part to help our neighbours whether they live across the street or around the world.
GlobalMedic website (The David McAntony Gibson Foundation)
TEDx Humber College - Rahul talking about GlobalMedic's mission in Haiti, 2010 (video)
Time Magazine - "Rahul Singh: First Responder For the World"