Published On: Wed, Jun 12th, 2013

Curacaoan doctor in India

Today we’re going back to the India to get acquainted with David Verbist, who’s now back in India for the third time to do one significant work…

VerbistI met David and his (ex)girlfriend 2009 in Dharamsala – a city famous for the community of Tibetans in exile, where Dalai Lama´s residence is also located. Today David is 1.500km away from our meeting spot, in a place called Bodhgaya, which is famous as a religious site and a destination of Buddhist pilgrims. He hasn’t become a monk, like many people he’s amongst, but still has something really interesting to share with us. So let’s hear his story:

First of all, I would like to introduce myself. I am David and am originally from the Dutch Caribbean island Curacao. It’s a small island, but it has an immense mixture of all different kinds of cultures and influences. The Spanish people discovered the island, later on, the island was ruled by the Portuguese Kingdom and after that, by the Dutch Kingdom. The Spaniards virtually wiped out the natives. When the Dutch took over the island in 1634 they did finish the work, whipping all the original remaining inhabitants and importing slaves from Africa! So, making a long story short – my family’s roots and genes are from all over the world; a majority of them are originally from incredible India! From mother’s and father’s side ancestors emigrated from India to Suriname, ex-Dutch colony. Later they emigrated from Suriname to Curacao.

So, how does an island boy end up in India?

After 19 years living on the island, I too emigrated! I think it’s in our genes. Maybe we were nomads in our past lives! For the last 11 years, I have been living in the Netherlands.I studied medicine at the University of Maastricht.In 2009, I graduated as a licensed medical doctor.

After graduation of med. school, the journey started. Actually, it started 11 years ago, the day I left my small island! By now, I realized that my life is one big journey!

Immediately after my graduation, the journey continued with a 6-month road trip along the European Atlantic coast, France, Spain, Portugal, crossing all the way to Morocco and back. While meeting all the nice people and interesting cultures, the craving for a return to my island grew more and more. Where do I belong? Where is “home”?

So, just guess where the next adventure led me to! Back to the island! At least for the next 6 months.

With just a few weeks gap of ending my road trip and leaving to my island, I was sitting now in this big blue airplane ( KLM aka The Royal Dutch Kingdom Airline) wondering about life on the island. I had all these great expectations and questions.

o   Can I settle down in the island?

o   Will the inhabitants consider me as a black-dutchman*?

o   Who will my friends be? The social economic welfare group? A mix? Only dutch people?

o   What can I do to help the island with the knowledge which I have gained?

o   And not to forget, what will my (white) Dutch girlfriend think of the island?! This was big issue at that moment.

So after six months on the island, I realized that my beautiful rock in the ocean didn’t change a bit, but I have changed. Not in a negative or a positive way. After all those years living in Holland I have become this different person, with a different point of view about life, religion, family, boundaries, etc.

So I left…

With not a very pleasant feeling…

It’s a pity.

I left Curacao and returned to the Netherlands and later left for two months to India.

Why India? Maybe soul searching, or trying to understand the origin of my roots and of course to experience the next adventure.

India was incredible. Finally a great door has opened. For the first time I saw a glimpse of myself. India showed me humbleness, compassion, tolerance, sharing, acceptance, contradiction and not to forget – the big contrast of life. Of course you can experience this all over the world and even at home, but in India it was just in your face 24/7! Just closing your eyes or turning your back away won’t help, you’ll be smelling and hearing it!

After two months I was back in Holland with the craving of returning to India soon. Just after returning to Holland, my 3,5 year’s relationship with my girlfriend ended. What to do? If a relationship can withstand all these turbulences, then I would call it magical!

So, it was 2012 and I was back to India! Wow! Once again – Incredible!

I only had 3 weeks to visit India. Thanks to my 10 years of European integration I planned the whole 3 weeks upfront! Hahahaha, like a real Dutchman!

After two days in India I realized that I was still a little bit stressed, knowing that when you arrive to India you have to adjust for a few days. So, after meditating on this feeling/emotion I realized I had this 3 weeks schedule in my pocket. Again, so Westerner-like! Eventually, I decided not to follow the schedule and book a train to Bodhgaya.

After spending a few days in Bodhagaya I noticed that there was a Dutch group wondering in Bodhgaya. Knowing how Dutch tourists are (blabbering, complaining and complaining…), I kept it to myself that I’m also from Holland/Curacao, but suddenly one of these Dutchmen was sitting next to me asking me to borrow my newspaper and of course I couldn’t resist answering back in Dutch. He told me that he was the head of a NGO called The Marni Foundation, which provides schooling for local kids who could not afford any schooling and hence spent their time working with their parents in the fields or serving as servants in local households. Unfortunately, these children also suffer from health problems and are also at risk of developing a disease.

So, I thought to myself: He’s not just a “bla-bla” tourist! And the other Dutchmen were the sponsors! Oops!!

Then the big question came: “Do you want to help us? You’re a doctor, so please help us…..”

So, here I am, a year after meeting this Dutchman, in Bodhgaya working for this NGO.

At this moment there are about 250 children attending the Marni School. Given the limitation of health awareness we are obligated to provide any means of health care in the form of education and prevention to the children and their parents. There are one or two children who are in need of some medical attention every month.

I started an individual medical testing procedure 3 weeks ago, and as a result of my initial findings, we have found that (not so surprisingly…!!!) based on the results of the already tested students (from 8ththru 4thclass, a total of 90 students from age 17 to 11) that al students showed a lack of vitamin A, B and C intake, all were underweight, had signs of dizziness (especially noticeable during early morning assemblies), lack of energy, reduced eyesight/vision, skin problems, asthma, allergies, extreme bad oral hygiene – all as a result of nutritional deficiencies and lack/unawareness of self-care were evident.

Another interesting observation – we could not obtain any vaccination card amongst these older tested students, and so, we decided not to follow-up on this issue further.

I believe that the medical-test results amongst the younger students, i.e. from nursery/LKG/UKG/1, 2nd and 3rd classes, a total of 160 students from age 4 to 10 will show that the majority of these new students, which come from the extremely poor villages will show worse health conditions! We will also make it mandatory for each of these young students to produce a vaccination card and if not, we will take action to get vaccinated! (TBC).

As a result of these findings, we decided to take some direct action in trying to improve the general health of school children by introducing/ implementing the following nutritional/hygienic programs:

  1. A daily (6 mornings per week) lunch of a highly nutritional porridge with available seasonal fruits and vegetables and a juice.

  2. Each student will receive a separate package to be kept in their schoolbag, containing a toothbrush, paste and toilet roll (their toilet cleaning rituals are spare if not non-existent at all!).

At this moment, we are trying to keep on helping locally as much as possible. Finding Indian people with knowledge about health care in the form of education and prevention is very difficult, but during the first week of April, 2013 – we succeeded! We received an important medical cooperation agreement from the nearby medics from Roots Institute Medical Group that all Marni family members will receive special medical attention if/when needed. For instance, if a child becomes sick, feverish, or incurs an injury (which we cannot handle) during school time, Roots hospital will accept immediate admittance.

Their Indian staff will provide professional periodic medical and hygiene education sessions, especially on, for instance, an important, which is “taboo” for us to deal with, the growing group of “girl to women”.

At this present moment, I’m happy and enjoying my life as it is!


* Black-Dutchman: someone who’s originally from the island but has the Dutch white mentality.

The Dutch word for this is: zwarte makamba.

The native word for this is: makamba pretu.


[Interview by M.Borgarbúi]

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