Although practicing Urology in Florida for the past 13 years has been a wonderful experience, I could not help but feel as though something had been missing in my medical career. There are times that I had wished I could just treat patients without the worry of endless paperwork, dealing with insurance companies, and running a medical practice. When I heard about the organization, “People for Haiti” , I could not wait to sign up for a medical mission trip. Sure, my family and friends were apprehensive of my decision to travel to Haiti, but I was confident that my journey would help fill a large void in my life and career. At times I did doubt my decision to volunteer, (especially after going to the health department for my travel immunizations and malaria pills), but I was determined to go. After my wife Haley met Guiga, Robert, and Leo, she too felt confident that I would be safe on my mission trip. I packed all the comforts of home including 3 fans, 2 computers, batteries, and meals ready to eat, just in case I became homesick. Before I knew it, we were at the airline counter at 4:30 am in Tampa, ready to travel to Haiti!As the plane approached Port- Au- Prince, the island nation of Haiti appeared beautiful from the air. But the tranquility quickly changed into reality and chaos when we exited the airport into the streets. We piled into the back of a pickup truck on our way to the orphanage. Garbage lined the streets, people were washing their clothes and bathing in sewer water, buildings were crumbling, and the road was poorly paved. We stopped at the mass grave of those who perished in the earthquake; a place that made me cry inside and made me think of the despair and poverty in this island nation.
Arriving at the orphanage was a moment I will never forget. Children of all ages ran out chanting Guiga….Guiga….and at that moment I felt at ease. Our April 2011 group of 14 volunteers had great chemistry and I knew at that moment it would be an amazing experience.
Who knew that I would meet a remarkable Haitian boy named Cliford….a 14 year old who lived with his mother and 5 other siblings. He spoke Spanish, Creole, and French but was unable to complete his studies since his mother ran out of money. I decided to sponsor him to go to high school for the next four years hopeful that he will use his education to make a better life for himself, his family, and for Haiti.
Then there was Stanley, one of our translators, whose desire to go into nursing was evident by his passion while interviewing patients and assisting in surgery. Thanks to People for Haiti, he is going to 4 years of nursing school starting this summer.
Haiti is such a unique place. This little island nation is in such desperate need of our help! People wait for hours for medical care dressed in their best second hand clothes, and are so grateful to us for helping them. We saw close to 1200 patients in 3 clinic days and performed 8 surgeries this trip! Each member of our group left a lasting impression on me that I will carry with me forever. It was not until we landed back in Florida did I realize what a tremendous impact our small group made in a short period of time. I cannot wait to go back in November! I knew I would be returning to Haiti, since I left clothes, shoes, and other items locked up in the orphanage that I would use on my next mission trip there.
Now that I am home in Tampa, I realize how lucky we all are to live here and how much we take for granted. Someone told me that when the Americans are done with an item (car, clothes, etc) the Haitians are just starting. Items we discard, are treasured and desired by the Hatians. I laugh when I think of some of the old vehicles that we saw in Haiti with the logo “Ft. Meyes, Florida” or “Brooklyn, NY” in faded letters on the side of a truck.
While traveling back to work the Monday after our return, I could not help but wonder why Americans need to drive such expensive cars, live in big homes, and live lavish lives while other people in the world are desperate for basic humanitarian needs. Hopefully the new president in Haiti (starting May 15, 2011) will develop basic sanitation, education, medical care, and housing that the Haitian community desperately needs. Building a sustainable infrastructure is the first step in helping Haiti rise from being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It could be a beautiful country and destination spot with the proper development and infrastructure.
It has been almost 2 weeks since I have been back from our journey. Without a doubt this has been a life changing experience for me. I can’t wait to go back!