During his residency program, Dr. Leo Vieira had the opportunity to start his medical mission experience going to Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic/Haiti. After he started in his private medical office, he became busy with everyday life and the work involved with building a successful practice.
After seven and a half years, he felt like he needed to give back and never forgot his experiences abroad. He began discussing with his wife, Guiga, about doing some type of mission work. Then the 7.2 earthquake occurred in Haiti on January 12th 2010. Dr. Vieira instantly knew this was it.
At the same time his partner, Dr. Robert Ferreira, was also greatly moved by the devastation in Haiti and felt drawn to help. They started working together on finding ways to get to Haiti. Guiga immediately jumped into action and started asking friends, neighbors and anyone who would listen about their desire to help and accepted donations of money, medicines, medical supplies and clothing, whatever she could get, to help their cause. Within a week, Dr. Vieira had assembled a medical team and within two weeks was on the ground in Cabaret, Haiti, about an hour outside of Port-au-Prince, while aftershocks were still occurring.
He stayed a week and treated about 500 patients. As he was coming back to America, Dr. Ferreira was landing in Port-au-Prince to join another medical relief team. He also stayed a week and treated several hundred patients sometimes working out of the back of a truck, others working in a half-crumbled hospital. The impressions made on both doctors were deep and lasting. They saw devastation, desperation, filth and, most of all, need. The Haitian people badly needed medical care that they had no way to access. The doctors quickly realized they needed to go back.
They got overwhelming support for the medical mission they wanted to start; a long-term, ongoing commitment to provide healthcare to the Haitian community. People from all walks of life wanted to contribute and go on missions; homemakers, social workers, soccer moms, lawyers, nurses, etc. Dr. Vieira, trying to come up with a name that would properly describe this diversity of people that wanted to help, finally realized that, simply put, we were People For Haiti. The name stuck and soon Guiga was busy at work and, with the help of accountants and lawyers donating their time, created People For Haiti, a non-profit 501(c)3.
As of February 2013, People For Haiti has had over 100 volunteers, raised over $200,000, has made 19 trips, seen over 20,000 patients and performed over 50 surgeries. Our presence in Haiti continues to grow and so does our vision.
A typical mission trip experience: We fly to Miami then in to Port-au-Prince. We are greeted by missionaries and transported to the orphanage which has about 54 children aged from a few months to teen years. We have armed security anytime we are not at the orphanage. While we have NEVER had an issue, People For Haiti is proactive in this respect. We will usually see the children at the orphanage that first day and any orphanage workers that need care.
The next two days we will set out for our medical clinics. They range from being in local villages to mountain clinics that start from 8 to 9 a.m. People will walk for 2 hours, then wait for hours to be seen in our clinics. We do mostly basic primary care: scalp and skin infections, respiratory infections, musculoskeletal problems, gastroenterology issues, just about anything. We deliver babies and perform minor surgery. We will see about 400 patients a day.
As a volunteer, you may being doing triage, pharmacy, crowd control, photography, whatever is at your comfort level. You will be briefed by People For Haiti for whatever task you are given. You will never be asked to do anything outside of your comfort zone and you will never be alone. Physicians will be delivering basic primary care, will receive a primary care “primer” and always be with a veteran People For Haiti physician. After clinic ends, approximately 3 p.m., we will return to the orphanage to prepare for the next day’s adventure.
In the evening, it is free time to rest, enjoy spending time with the kids or share stories of the day. In Haiti, nothing is predictable and emergencies arise 24 hours a day. Be prepared to adapt to different situations and expect the unexpected. On Saturdays, we hold clinic at the orphanage and see the surrounding community. Often times, we get done a little early and can do a mountain hike, a soccer game with some of the kids or some other fun activity.
Sunday is a travel day and back home where you will share your amazing experience with your family, friends and pretty much everyone you know. Most of our volunteers sign up for another trip soon after coming home. My guess is, so will you.
Robert Ferreira, M.D.
Co-founder, People For Haiti