He was affectionately known as Kaka Murad (Uncle Murad) having gained the love and respect of many people in Afghanistan for his humanitarian work spanning three decades. Tetsu Nakamura was his name. Let us remember his legacy of courage and #celebrategoodness.
Dr Tetsu Nakamura’s career did not begin as a tireless humanitarian. After graduating from Kyushu University School of Medicine, he took a job in Pakistan thinking that he could indulge in his passion – collecting insects. With that in mind, he arrived in the region in 1984 as a volunteer with the Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service at the Mission Hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan to treat patients with leprosy as well as Afghan refugees who were fleeing the Soviet-Afghan War. Eventually, he set up clinics to treat locals and such Afghan refugees.
Subsequently, he opened a 70-bed hospital and several clinics to provide medical service in the Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. He soon began to realise the root cause of health issues in the region – malnutrition. From that moment onwards, he broadened the scope of his work and ventured into agriculture and irrigation, focusing on building canal projects in eastern Afghanistan.
It was the experience in Nangarhar that changed his life forever. He witnessed the flood of refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, fleeing the war brought on by the Soviet invasion and a severe drought in 2000 with multiplication of diseases, malnutrition and the lack of water. In fact, twelve million people, more than half the population of Afghanistan, are on the verge of starvation and one million might starve to death in the near future.
Thanks to the adaptation of old Japanese techniques that required little technology from his native Fukuoka more than 200 years ago, Dr Nakamura helped villagers displaced by drought build a network of canals which has since transformed an area of nearly a million residents #wow.
“One irrigation canal will do more good than 100 doctors”, he said passionately to Japanese broadcaster NHK back then in one of his last interviews. “A hospital treats patients one by one, but this helps an entire village. I love seeing a village that’s been brought back to life,” he added.
It was 2003 when Dr Nakamura stated building the Marwarid Canal. The canal gets water from the Kunar River and has a length of 25.5km. He built and restored eight additional canals, irrigating 16,000 hectares and supporting the livelihood of 600,000 people in the Gamberi desert on the outskirts of Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province. He also built eleven dams on the Kunar River.
“The big challenge we face in Afghanistan is how to benefit the maximum number of people with a minimum amount of money. That is why it is very important for us to identify the real local needs and come up with proper arrangements so what we do will truly benefit the deprived people. Weapons and tanks don’t solve problems. The revival of farming is the cornerstone of Afghanistan’s recovery,” he declared.
Dr Nakamura dedicated his life to achieve his calling. He once narrowly escaped machine-gunning fire from a U.S. military helicopter. Another occasion saw him rush to protect levees from a dangerously overflowing river. To this man, fighting battles like these were just part and parcel of another ordinary day.
In 2003, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, an honour regarded as a Nobel prize equivalent in Asian countries, for his humanitarian work. He was also granted honorary Afghan citizenship in October 2019 by the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani.
Looking back at Dr Nakamura’s life, it makes one realise there are people born in countries who are deprived of education due to poverty, others who are forced to survive without sufficient water, and even children who die due to water pollution or fatigue as they have to help out around the house. And guess what, they did not choose to be born in such environments.
Dr Nakamura’s work is simply a reflection of how one person living life true to himself can make an impact in the world. Although his family was worried about him they were supportive as he was willing to risk everything for what he what he believed. After all, isn’t more rewarding to lead life to the fullest, even at the cost of a comfortable life? Granted, not everyone can live like Dr Nakamura, we have a choice to lend a helping hand even in a small way to make the world a better place for all.
Undoubtedly, Dr Nakamura’s life and legacy is nothing less than extraordinary. And as we end this article with a sad note to mourn the loss of this wonderful man, we are filled with gratitude and humility to celebrate this man’s life as what we call a “kaleidoscope of the heart” – a gentle reminder to help others any way we can and to live life to the fullest.
Domo arigato gozaimasu Dr Tetsu Nakamura. May his soul rest in peace.
*Featured image sourced from Nikkei Asian Review