Survivor of Haitian earthquake returns to help
On January 12, 2010, Lieutenant-Commander Shekhar Gothi was at work at the United Nations headquarters in Port au Prince. It was nearing the end of the work day and he wanted some fresh air. Seconds later he was buried beneath mounds of rubble as the UN building collapsed, one of thousands toppled throughout the city as the result of a devastating earthquake. He was one of the few survivors in that building.
Canada’s reliance on its citizen soldiers to help protect the country and to meet its obligations in foreign lands dates back to the beginnings of our country. During WWII, we were ably served by other navy reservists better known by the epithet “wavy Navy.” These gallant, dedicated men and women have continued to serve Canada when they were most needed. The tradition continues today with the Naval Reserve fully integrated into Canada’s Navy.
Our navy hero in this issue is such a person. A career reserve officer, LCdr Gothi came to Canada from India at the age of six and, with his parents, settled in Thunder Bay, Ontario. As a young man he joined the naval reserve at HMCS GRIFFON and trained to become a MARS officer. Well educated, he has served for the past 20 years in a variety of military jobs, both at home and abroad.
In 2008, he was part of a United Nations mission to the Sudan, serving on the staff of the Force Commander during the ongoing ceasefire negotiations between senior generals of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army and the Sudan Armed Forces. Following a short stint back in Canada, he was again sent abroad, this time to Haiti as part of Operation HAMLET, assisting in the stabilization of the country. Both were interesting and unusual jobs for a sailor. In Haiti he was executive assistant to Colonel Bernard Ouellette, the Canadian military chief of staff for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
As a result of his injuries that fateful afternoon, LCdr Gothi was initially treated at a makeshift casualty collection point near the UN headquarters. Although his injuries were not life-threatening, he did sustain contusions to his head and lacerations and heavy bruising to his shoulders, arms and legs. While at the temporary medical facility and in the midsts of all the chaos, he tried to help others but his own injuries required a medical evacuation to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic for further examination, treatment and subsequently repatriation to Toronto.
He immediately sought to return to Haiti. “I was examined by the Area Surgeon in Toronto and given the green light to redeploy,” he says. “My motivation to go back was very simple – to help the people of Haiti. So many Canadians were watching the news and wanted to help desperately. I had the opportunity to go and a duty to continue with my service on this tour of duty.”
Pronounced fit for duty, he eagerly returned to Haiti on January 21 to complete his job. Prior to the earthquake, LCdr Gothi was a frequent visitor to a local orphanage, bringing food and other necessities to local children. On January 24 he returned to the orphanage, where he was overjoyed to find that none of the children had suffered major injuries.
Continuing his work, he saw firsthand the beginnings of the long road to recovery for a devastated nation. “When I drive through the streets of Port-au-Prince, I see people getting on with their lives and trying to rebuild. Markets are open on a smaller scale and things are slowly starting to improve. People appear positive and the aid provided by countless military, civilian and NGO workers from myriad countries is definitely helping.”
LCdr Gothi has now returned to Canada and is back with his unit awaiting another assignment. His outstanding work in Haiti reflects great credit on him and all Canadians, military and others, who so ably represented our country in assisting the less fortunate.