Dr. Roy McGroarty, head of mission for UMCOR’s Afghanistan field office, is an internationally known expert in global public health and disasters.
Courtesy of Roy McGroarty
By Wickham Boyle*
June 28, 2012 —Dr. Roy McGroarty's resume is five pages long; the type is very small. Originally from Canada, he is an internationally known expert in global public health and disasters. He has navigated earthquakes, malaria, the AIDS virus, floods, tsunamis, and seemingly endless conflict zones. Since garnering his doctorate in Philosophy and Medicine from the University of Toronto in 1996, he has rarely lived in one place long enough to grow moss.
In his 23-year career, McGroarty has lived in or visited 99 countries, including developing nations, fragile states, and communities reeling from natural disasters. Many of these countries he has visited up to 11 times. “I can't seem to break 100!” McGroarty jokes one early morning on a Skype call.
“I don't have a list of where I want to go; I am not a traveler,” he continues, indicating that his only aim is to go where his services and expertise are most needed. “I Suppose I would like to visit Tuvalu in Micronesia, because the people there need access to good food and water, as they are a tribal nation and there is great need—and it would be my 100th.”
McGroarty has a slight Irish lilt to his speech and a passion that is sewn to him like a shadow. For a long while, until he was 50 and married Nancy, he lived alone. There were times when he barely visited his home in Canada.
“I had three bags, color coded, at the ready by my door: Cold, Temperate and Tropical. I could leave, and did many times, at a moment's notice. I was on the ground in Haiti 12 hours after the earthquake [in 2010]; we had to survey the damage from a helicopter and then dispatch disaster relief to where we saw the largest groups of people moving,” he says.
Earlier this year, McGroarty started in his current posting, as head of mission for UMCOR’s Afghanistan office in Kabul. The office opened there 10 years ago, shortly after the events of 9/11 and the start of the current war. McGroarty says, “The work is difficult in a conflict zone, and this one is really an ongoing war zone. In a disaster zone you are looking to restore a kind of order, but in a war zone, the puzzle keeps getting knocked over, and you have to start from scratch. And Afghanistan has been an active war zone for over 30 years.”
One would think that with a relatively recent marriage—Roy and Nancy were hitched in 2009—the McGroartys might look for a softer landing, but not so. Nancy teaches in Cairo, Egypt, and when I spoke with Roy, he was on his way to see her after a long hiatus. He said his Honey-Do list, as we call it in my house, included, “installing new cabinets and countertops, and cooking some amazing meals. I was the youngest in the family and I learned to cook, well and early."
Asked for the take-away for the American faithful reading about the unimaginable conditions and situation in Afghanistan, McGroarty reiterates this phrase. “Please do not forget that 99% of the people of Afghanistan are innocent victims. They are a fragile, peaceful population. In winter, the war wears down, as it is freezing cold and bleak, but as the weather heats up, so does the war. In April, we sustained the worst shelling I have ever been in.”
Noting Afghanistan’s appalling statistics for women who die in child birth and the fact that one out of every five children dies before the age of five, McGroarty says, “The need is great, the situation is dire. This means that every nickel and every dime counts to us here, to help ameliorate often short, hectic, conflict-filled lives."
Dr. Roy McGroarty possesses the kind of unwavering dedication that it takes to make the world, every corner of it, a better place.
You can help, with your gift to Afghanistan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #602225
*Wickham Boyle is a writer and regular contributor to www.umcor.org.