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Compassion is his career

Provash Budden brings help to disaster-stricken areas of world
by: Cliff Newell, 
When disasters strike around the world, Lake Oswego’s Provash Budden is a key player in helping to bring relief.

When Provash Budden comes home to visit in Lake Oswego he likes to catch up with family and friends, indulge in a few fine microbrews, ski, raft, and ride his bike.

In short, enjoy Oregon in the summertime.

Then he goes back to saving the world. Or at least as much as he can.

When something goes wrong in the world - war, tsunami, earthquake - Budden, as a project officer for Catholic Relief Services, makes it his business to show up and make things better - overseeing the construction of new homes, water systems, health programs, and restoring community businesses.

'It's pretty engaging and challenging,' said Budden, whose parents still live in Lake Oswego.

'There are a lot of challenges, excitement and good fun. Most of all I get to help people suffering from natural disasters.'

Budden's most recent mercy excursion was to Meulaboh, Aceh on the west coast of the island of Sumatra, site of the worst devastation of the massive tsunami of December 2004, which killed more than 200,000 people.

As director of the CRS program at Meulaboh, Budden had all of the challenges he could possibly want in a massive reconstruction effort that included rebuilding 100,000 homes.

'That Asian Tsunami caused the largest humanitarian crisis since the birth of aid agencies,' Budden said. 'I was on a skiing trip with friends when I heard about it, then I jumped right on a plane to Sri Lanka and was there a week after the tsunami hit.

'It was amazing to see all of the beautiful beaches destroyed, rubble everywhere, trees torn up. The tsunami came in half a mile. It was an overwhelming disaster to address.'

Although he is a young man who has seen much more than his share of trouble spots, even Budden found the aftermath of the Asian Tsunami to be daunting. It was a test for him to control his emotions.

'It's easy to become overwhelmed or jaded,' Budden said. 'But team leaders are required to be optimistic, have vision and be upbeat with your team. You've got to make sure your people get joy from doing this kind of work. You want to restore the livelihood of these people as soon as possible.

'Sometimes you have to feel your way through where there isn't the clearest of options.'

If anyone was born to become a world relief specialist it must be Budden. He went to school at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, where he was student body president and seemed to major in volunteer and community service, such as organizing food drives and working at Baloney Joe's, a homeless shelter. He served at the Portland Rescue Mission, assisted the elderly and helped rural communities on a Crow Indian reservation.

'That combined with a lot of travel with my parents that exposed me to the world,' said Budden, who lived in Lake Oswego for 17 years. 'My family is originally from India, and I have family members who work for the United Nations.

'Both of my parents are physicians in Portland, and they've committed their lives to serving others.'

Budden comes from a long line of doctors, and he considered a career in medicine, and also the law. But the challenge of disaster relief intrigued him the most.

In 1993 he had his first experience in Malawi, an African nation. Budden worked in a refugee camp where he dug holes for wells and assisted women in starting businesses.

'You have to be on your toes,' Budden said with a laugh. 'You have to be ready for anything. The Malawi experience sparked my interest in a professional career. It was my first tangible access to overseas work.'

Nine years ago Budden joined Catholic Relief Services and he has seen the world - the Dominican Republic, Egypt (for three and a half years), Iraq, Turkey, South Asia, New Delhi.

Sometimes Budden has had to deal with a lot more than earthquakes and floods, such as the Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka, whose control of roads greatly increased the difficulty of providing aid in the wake of the tsunami.

More often, Budden has found inspiration. Like in Pakistan, where an earthquake struck in 2005.

'The earthquake hit the rural areas in northern Pakistan, which had lived years and years without government intervention,' Budden said. 'Often we see people with their hands out. But these Pakistani people were very proud and energetic. They did not want to waste time waiting for someone to help them.

'It was a very fun time. It was fantastic to see such strong community engagement. They knew how to build their houses, and we provided materials. There was a sense of energy and commitment that was so refreshing and rewarding.'

While not all of the people that Budden deals with are as self reliant as those of northern Pakistan, he does have a philosophy of his mission.

'In all the places I go I can't think of the people as victims but as key actors in improving their lives,' Budden said. 'I don't want to swoop down and be a super man. It's them who have to get the job done. We want to help them achieve their vision and restore their lives.'

At this time in his life, Budden wants to stop and take stock of things. His wife, who is Spanish, is also a relief agency officer, and some increased togetherness time is highly desirable.

'I've been running around the world for nine years,' he said. 'Some down time would be nice. My wife is developing her career, and I would like to be with her and support her. The world has a lot of things to do and see, so why limit yourself?'

But that decision will come later. As soon as Budden's sojourn in Lake Oswego ended, he hopped on a plane to Indonesia on another assignment.

Budden admits, 'I certainly enjoy this career.'