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The Shin Fujiyama Podcast | Social Entrepreneurship | Nonprofit Organizations | International Development Aid | NGOs

Shin Fujiyama is a CNN Hero and the Executive Director of Students Helping Honduras. He lives with 30 former street children in Honduras where he runs a school and international NGO out of a tree house. In each episode Shin will be interviewing a proven social entrepreneur or NGO leader in the nonprofit or international development aid industry-- including several CNN Heroes and bestselling authors. They’re going to deconstruct their journey to explain HOW they built up their organizations. They’ll also tell us about their greatest failures, lessons, regrets, and behind-the-scenes realities. We’ll talk about their tactics, philosophies, principles, tools, and motivations to give you inspiration and actionable advice. 1) Subscribe to this podcast. 2) Turn on automatic downloads. 3) Leave me a review. 4.) Enjoy every new interview for FREE during your commute or workout.
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The Shin Fujiyama Podcast | Social Entrepreneurship | Nonprofit Organizations | International Development Aid | NGOs
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Feb 22, 2017

WARNING: If you are involved or will be involved in the medical field, this episode may alter your future aspirations...

CNN Hero Dr. Ben LaBrot began working on fishing boats in California at age 11 and always knew that he was destined to live at sea. In 2009, he began refurbishing a 76-foot-long fishing boat and named it The Southern Wind. A year later, Dr. Ben and his penniless team left EVERYTHING behind and set sail to Haiti to cure the poor. “My high school counselor never told me that these kinds of jobs and solutions existed,” he said. So he created a nonprofit organization and called it the Floating Doctors

“I pushed all my chips in the center of the table. I was all in,” he said. Upon arrival, Dr. Ben LaBrot said to himself, “I’m about to find out if this works or if I just wasted a whole lot of everyone’s time, money, and resources.”

For years, they endured endless delays, storms, 18-hour workdays, not being able to afford the light bills, and living in poverty (eating baked bread was the highlight of their week) as they provided free healthcare for people in remote coastal regions. “I never envisioned that I’d be this poor for this long," he said. Yet for Dr. Ben, “if you do what you love and you have enough to eat and a roof over your head, you’ll be happy even if you’re poor. I’ve since tested that for the last ten years and found it to be true.”

Dr. Benjamin LaBrot is a physician, social entrepreneur, and true inspiration. He is a man who is living out his dream and destiny, each and every day of his life. When reflecting back on the experience, he says, “When you’re choosing your work, don’t think about what you’re going to get paid for it. Think about what you’re going to become because of it. And choose accordingly. Because remember, we only get one lifetime. Make it count.”

The Floating Doctors have treated more than 60,000 patients in Haiti and Central America. 

Best quotes:

“Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering about challenges and future. But I never worry about the big questions. I’ve never woken up to wonder if I’m just wasting my time. I’ve never had to ask myself, should I be doing something more meaningful? Should I follow my dream and get out of this cubicle instead?”

“Our lights are going to be turned off tomorrow because we don’t have any money.”

“It was a continual emergency. Day after day after day.”

“There is something to be said for doing your watch from 2-4am when it’s just you and a sleeping boat… and hopefully a calm ocean.”

“You have to maintain a culture aboard your ship of IF ONE OF US GOES DOWN, WE ALL GO DOWN.”

“The ocean doesn’t care what you WANT or INTENDED to do. The only thing the ocean respects is what you DID do.”

“I could be a plastic surgeon or be making more money doing general practice. But my commute even on a bad day is still better than sitting in traffic.”

“When was the last time you went on a giant, hollowed out tree to work?”

“Unfortunately, they say to themselves, I’ll do the dream later. Then they look back and realize they blew it. Their one chance. We get one lifetime. No more. No less. Just one.”

“If you do what you love and you have enough to eat and a roof over your head, you’ll be happy even if you’re poor. I’ve since tested that for the last ten years and found it to be true.”

“It sometimes turns out to have been a mistake to climb the mountain. But it is always a mistake to have never made the attempt.”

“My high school counselor never told me that these kinds of jobs and solutions existed.”

“Almost anything can be done in a way that allows you to still have a family and a life, even if it means you have to work very hard to figure out how to do that.”

Reading List by Dr. Ben LaBrot

Anything written by Neil Gaiman

Anything written by Paul Farmer

Dr. Tom Dooley's Three Great Books 

Show Notes for Dr. Ben LaBrot

For Dr. Ben Labrot, getting stuck in a life-threatening storm at sea is “just another day.”

“It’s still better than getting stuck in traffic in L.A.”

Running into Hurricane Richard in Honduras was the scariest moment for Dr. Ben

Dr. Ben’s boat has also gotten stuck in the reefs

Having a strong team allows the organization to handle crazy situations, like hurricanes

Medical training in Ireland is different and more practical to use in developing countries where doctors have less access to technology and resources

Dr. Ben visited a small Masai village in rural Tanzania and the everyone in the entire village asked him to help with their medical needs

He ran out of supplies very quickly and had to work with the little he had

The experience in the village sparked his passion to provide medical care in the developing world, though he realized he needed a bigger backpack and more supplies

For an entire year, Dr. Ben couldn’t think of anything else except for his dream to create an organization

On his honeymoon, Dr. Ben and his wife went back to the exact same Masai village but with a larger backpack

The villagers couldn’t believe Dr. Ben came back

Dr. Ben and his wife treated 140 people together and dewormed the entire village

The villagers married the two in a Masai celebration where the families gave their rings to the couple and even sacrificed a goat--Dr. Ben’s highlight in his honeymoon

Dr. Ben stays in touch through phone calls to provide medical advice to the same village

The first step towards the vision was to design a boat that would be used for something that has never been done before

During the 2004 Asian Tsunami, Dr. Ben noticed that recreational sailing cruisers were of significant help in the humanitarian aid

Dr. Ben wanted to be a doctor and a marine biologist since his early childhood

The “sea mist” that comes in the from ocean in California has a strong, salty smell. The sound and the smell of the sea perhaps shaped Dr. Ben’s future at sea

Dr. Ben loved going to aquariums as a child

At age 11 he began working on fishing boats and continued to work on boats throughout his youth

Sail boats are more cost-efficient than fuel-powered boats

Dr. Ben found an old boat for sale in Florida that hadn’t been used for 8 years

It took over a year to repair the boat, and the help of many friends who learned on the fly

His friends who joined had different expectations. Some wanted to heal through the process. Everyone bonded. Their destinies changed.

“Everyone changed through the process of rebuilding the ship.”

Some people got married to someone they met in the project or changed careers

They worked 18-hour days, seven days a week

“It was an endurance match. We kept pushing back our leaving date.”

“Our lights are going to be turned off tomorrow because we don’t have any money.”

The amount of stress Dr. Ben was going through during that first year was enough to kill the average human

The day before their final departure, they had no money and owed the marine yard $1,100 for the yard fee

Suddenly, a random guy hands them a gallon of Red Bull and $1,100 so they could go!!

A lot of retired boat experts volunteered their time for free

“We arrived at Haiti without a penny. And the next day we started working.”

Upon arrival at Haiti, Dr. Ben thinks to himself: “I’m about to find out if this works or if I just wasted a whole lot of everyone’s time, money, and resources.”

Dr. Ben spent hours fixing the boat’s engine

“It was a continual emergency. Day after day after day.”

The boat could fit 14-15 people

Floating Doctors built a facility in the jungles of Panama to serve as a base. They are able to provide permanent health care. They want to replicate this project in other countries.

“If you can actually stay longer or set up something ongoing, you can achieve so much more.”

You’re working all day at the clinic and work 2-4am night shifts on the boat

“There is something to be said for doing your watch from 2-4am when it’s just you and a sleeping boat… and hopefully a calm ocean.”

“I would often volunteer for the 2-4am shift because I loved that private time with the ocean.”

People can get hurt feelings, feel overworked, if you don’t look out for everyone

“You have to maintain a culture aboard your ship of IF ONE OF US GOES DOWN, WE ALL GO DOWN.”

Dr. Ben once received a strange piece of advice: “When people are having a shitty week, BAKE BREAD. The smell will make everyone feel better.”

“I worked my crew very hard. But I always give them context. The why.”

Dr. Ben is always thinking of and organizing experiences for his team that would boost morale, like seeing dolphins. He does this all on a shoestring budget.

“My crew really looks out for me.”

Floating Doctors has had thousands of volunteers

Dr. Ben chokes up when he thinks of the group cohesion and bonding of his team. They have survived it all together.

“The ocean doesn’t care what you WANT or INTENDED to do. The only thing the ocean respects is what you DID do.”

The sea demands professionalism. You have to be on top of your game, all the time

“I could be a plastic surgeon or be making more money doing general practice. But my commute even on a bad day is still better than sitting in traffic.”

“I’m in awe and admire every single one of my co-workers. Most people don’t get to say that.”

A World War II veteran was once asked by his granddaughter if he was a hero in the world. He said, “No. But I served in the company of heroes.” Dr. Ben feels the same about his work where he watches daily acts of heroism, of people rising above what they even knew what they had in them, to deliver something for someone else. That’s a special thing to be able to experience day after day after day.”

“Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering about challenges and future. But I never worry about the big questions. I’ve never woken up to wonder if I’m just wasting my time. I’ve never had to ask myself, should I be doing something more meaningful? Should I follow my dream and get out of this cubicle instead?”

“I pushed all my chips in the center of the table. I was all in.”

Floating Doctors spent 10 months in Honduras, working near Roatan with Clinica Esperanza

The Floating Doctors are planning to expand to Haiti next, then maybe at 57 countries by the time Dr. Ben dies

The Floating Doctors retired the Southern Wind in 2016 and now travel in smaller boats, including a 47-foot, wooden canoe

“When was the last time you went on a giant, hollowed out tree to work?”

In Honduras, Dr. Ben saw drug-related crime and the child sex trade. A lot of darkness.

Dr. Ben also saw a lot of acts of extraordinary courage and humanity, which gives him hope and faith in humanity

“Some of the things you see can really make you want to throw up your hands and put your head under the pillow and not get out of bed ever again.”

Dr. Ben was a high school biology teacher in his early twenties

“Most people have dreams. And most people end up not following that with all of their heart. They end up following something that seems more sure and maybe fulfilling, but not necessarily what their dream was.”

“Unfortunately, they say to themselves, I’ll do the dream later. Then they look back and realize they blew it. Their one chance. We get one lifetime. No more. No less. Just one.”

“If you do what you love and you have enough to eat and a roof over your head, you’ll be happy even if you’re poor. I’ve since tested that for the last ten years and found it to be true.”

“I never envisioned that I’d be this poor for this long.”

“I had faith that I’d find a way.”

Dr. Ben teaches part-time for the USC School for Global Health in Panama

“By not making security the focus of my search, I’m now in a position that I’ll have security. Opportunities were created because of what I did.”

“You might be worried about the lighting bill, but you won’t worry about the big stuff, like am I wasting my life?”

In their 40s, people go through a midlife crisis because they realize they didn’t follow their dream

Dr. Ben recommends Neil Gaiman’s books

“It sometimes turns out to have been a mistake to climb the mountain. But it is always a mistake to have never made the attempt.”

“Is it that bad to fall? To fail? Is it really that bad?”

“Millennials are usually told what is not possible.”

Floating Doctors used to get hate mails in the beginning, doubting their project. Those messages stopped when they actually did it.

Chinese proverb: “Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

Dr. Ben’s wife is the Director of Operations for Floating Doctors

“My high school counselor never told me that these kinds of jobs and solutions existed.”

“Almost anything can be done in a way that allows you to still have a family and a life, even if it means you have to work very hard to figure out how to do that.”

Dr. Ben LaBrot can’t remember a time where he had a big fight with his sister, one of the founding members. They have been a united fight the entire time.

“Working with family and friends is a double edged sword.”

He’s very fortunate for his sister and his wife. He calls them the “heroes I get to work with every day.”

“Everything that is valuable in medicine can be found inside a primary care consult.”

Dr. Ben’s favorite part of his work is going on a house call to treat patients

“You don’t save anyone as a doctor but by just doing your job, you get to be the instrument by which someone’s life can be changed forever.”

Dr. Ben LaBrot was told that “I cannot do everything, but I will do something.”

“When you’re choosing your work, don’t think about what you’re going to get paid for it. Think about what you’re going to become because of it. And choose accordingly. Because remember, we only get one lifetime. Make it count.”

Dr. Ben LaBrot is most grateful for a 22-year-old staff member, Kira, this week

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