Families wandered the debris-ridden streets of four small fishing villages in southeast India, trying to piece together their lives. In the span of just one day – Dec. 26, 2004 – many people had lost everything in a tsunami that hit the shores of nearby Chennai, India.
Courtesy of Marie Babey
Dr. Ali Afdjei, an emergency doctor and disaster relief specialist from Paris, arrived on the scene with bedding for the homeless, rations of rice and dal – and a heavy bag of colorful toys and candy.
Despite their desolate surroundings, smiling children ran to him with outstretched arms. Ali tossed his gifts to the crowd for 15 full minutes and placed his remaining three candies in the palm of the last child.
“I’m not a doctor to be rich,” he said. “I’m rich to be a doctor.”
Ali, 50, is the brain behind Global Emergency Medical Net, a worldwide disaster relief organization that works with local rescuers and trained physicians to respond to emergencies within the first 24 hours of impact. It’s in these 24 hours that the fear is sometimes worse than the pain.
To calm these fears, Ali saves the world with a smile.
He developed a children’s book character named Yuki, a panda who breaks his arm and goes to the emergency room. The silly Dr. Baba takes an X-ray and puts a cast on Yuki’s paw, reminding him, “When we laugh, sometimes we forget we hurt,” a motto that expertly defines Ali’s own work.
Ali has begun to translate and distribute his short story to children and hospitals around the world, supporting corporate social responsibility by donating the proceeds from his books to emergency funds.
A doctor and a businessman, Ali worked on the global brand marketing of Yuki the Panda for his final research at Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees School of International Management (ENPC), the Fox School’s partner school in Paris.
Receiving recognition as the first class to earn the joint MBA from ENPC and Temple was especially emotional for the humble Ali, who so often sacrifices his own time and energy to make sure others are safe.
During one rescue mission in central India, Ali discovered a 5-year-old who had been burned making tea during an earthquake. The small girl was found lying helplessly on the ground among cows and insects ready to pounce at the first sign of death. Ali’s team took her to a hospital and witnessed her recovery over the course of a few months.
“We helped just one person inside a country with millions of people,” Ali said.
“But it’s enough for us.”
– Julie Achilles
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