I hope that you and your children are doing well. My son and I are doing well. He just spent 2 weeks with family while I engaged in a research and medical service trip to Haiti. I believe that international travel enriches the whole family, even at those times when your children are not able to travel with you. When I returned and shared my stories with him, his eyes lit up like he lived every experience. Today, I would like to share some of those experiences with you.
For the past two weeks, my home has been at New Life Children’s Home, an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The breeze there was amazing and the children were all so joyous. On my first walk around the grounds, I saw mango trees, moringa trees, an abundant garden, tilapia tanks, roosters, hens, guinea pigs, puppies, rabbits, and turkeys. Our university group of 20 students was pretty tired, so we ate a delicious Haitian dinner and tucked ourselves under mosquito nets for a good night’s sleep.
During the first week, we engaged in training a group of Haitians who spoke English, French, and Kreyol, to interview other Haitians, who mostly spoke only French and Kreyol, about their experiences during the earthquake and surrounding it. We had already raised funds to pay the interviewers, so this was a source of employment for them and a tool for improving mental health for the interviewees. Studies have shown that telling your story is an effective method for enhancing mental health. Also, we were able to begin collecting authentic narratives for archival (survivortosurvivorstories.com). All too often, Haitians’ personal stories are interpreted through a foreign worldview before being released to the public. This practice does a disservice to everyone involved. During any free time that we had in the mornings, we volunteer taught conversational English to a group of high school students. After our lessons, my students volunteered to teach me some Kreyol! I was thankful for the exchange.
In the afternoons during the first week, we held health forums with nursing school students in Delmas. Our goal was to learn from each other. We discussed physical and mental health challenges that are becoming more common in Haiti and different methods for treating said challenges. We left no methodology unaddressed – including prevention, herbs, Western medications, nutrition, prayer, and faith. The nursing students brought herbs from home to show us how they treated certain ailments and even gave us some to try out if we needed it.
Over the weekend, we visited the national museum and the beach to learn and relax. On Sunday, we began sorting donated medications to set up temporary clinics in 3 towns. Monday, we headed out bright and early to Onaville, a town of about 125,000 inhabitants in the mountains. The town only held 1,000 people before the 2010 earthquake; so, many of the pop-up houses are akin to lean to’s. There is no clean drinking water supply unless you have money to buy water. Most people do not. Thus, many had intestinal worms and various infections.
Another student and I ran the “deworming station” where we distributed Azol, a deworming med, made sure patients chewed it, gave them a little bread with peanut butter to cut the nasty taste, and a cup of water to wash it down. This was easy with the adults and difficult with the children. I had to use various methods from singing lullabies to tempting with Dum Dums to get children to take the medicine. A 14 month old who we saw Monday was brought in the next morning because he sneezed a six inch worm out of his nose as a response to the medication. I was thankful to see that the meds made a difference and that the boy was feeling so much better with the parasite out of his body. The medication lasts 1-3 months once consumed, so Mission Discovery aims to recruit a group of volunteers 5-6 times per year.
By the end of our three days in Onaville, many people who were ill before were smiling, laughing, and even singing. It was beautiful to see how a little of our time could make a difference. Also, the partnering organization, Mission Discovery, is currently digging a well in Onaville to help solve the water problem long term. I appreciate initiatives that have the future in mind!
After Onaville, we set up an outdoor clinic in Capva. Capva is an earthquake response city of patchwork tents. The tents were donated by corporations after the 2010 earthquake to serve as a temporary solution. There was no long term plan.
I could see myself living in a tent for 2 nights, a weekend adventure, an outdoor experience. Roughing it. I would pack bottled water, ice, toilet paper, snacks, and comfortable sleeping bags. In my backpack, there would be an mp3 player and a large can of OFF to keep mosquitoes away. Maybe I would even pack marshmallows to roast while singing songs and listening to the crickets. After I was tired of singing songs and swatting flies, I would pack up and go home. There is always home. For the children of Capva, home is in tents sometimes only 4 feet by 4 feet with average family sizes of 5 people.
I met many children that were hungry in Capva and many that were without clothing, but not a single child that was sad. That’s what touched my heart. While taking turns at the treatment stations, we played games such as pattycake and Miss Sally Walker with the children, threw around a frisbee, and kicked a soccer ball. From the first moment, they loved on me like I had been there for their whole lives.
After Capva, we set up our last temporary clinic at Madame LaFleur’s orphanage in a town within Port-Au-Prince. The children there were so nice, smart, and loving, even with the challenge of not having parents. My time with the children of Haiti opened my heart to gratitude and my mind to love as action on levels that I could never have gained otherwise.
How you can help:
- If you would like to sponsor a Haitian child’s education, please visit http://www.holdthechildren.org
- If you would like to donate to Mission Discovery or travel with a brigade, please visit http://missiondiscovery.org/
- If you would like to donate to New Life Children’s Home, sponsor a child there, or travel there to volunteer, please visit http://www.newlife4kids.org/
In either case, your help is much needed and appreciated. If you are planning to take your children to Haiti, it is very safe to bed and volunteer at New Life. All meals (three per day, buffet style) are provided with the cost for accommodation ($45/night). Thank you for taking the time to share my experiences and I hope that your weekend is filled with love and light!