As the plane touches down in Haiti, I am eager to see Jerry. There are many rewards in joining People For Haiti on a mission trip. One is the children. When you stay at the orphanage you see about 50 kids living there, aged from a few months old to early teens. While all the kids are adorable, for most of us, there seems to be one special child you bond with. By the way, you don’t choose the child; they choose you. On my second trip to Haiti, we finished one clinic day early and had the good fortune to take some of the kids to the beach, a rare treat. That is where I was “chosen”. Jerry is 9 years old, but due to malnutrition, he looks 7. He has a great personality and was very patient with me as I do not speak Creole and his English is limited. We spent time splashing around and trying to keep afloat on an old, broken Playskool plastic slide, the only “beach toy” in sight. He has the biggest smile and loves to laugh. The last day of my last trip Jerry hugged me goodbye and asked me if I was coming back. I told him I would, then he thought for a second then smiled. So as the planes touches down in Haiti, I am eager to keep my promise….
Our van pulls into the orphanage and it is lunchtime. The children have meager bowls of food, but they do have food. They are, actually, the lucky ones. Approximately 200,000 people died instantly in Haiti’s earthquake. Another 100,000 have died from hunger and infections of all kinds. Many of them left children behind. Those that escaped neglect and child trafficking are cared for by family members, family friends and sometimes even neighbors. Often these people, also victims of the earthquake themselves, cannot continue to provide for the children and, literally, drop them off at the orphanage. I can’t imagine what goes through the childrens’ minds. In a matter of weeks or months, they go from having parents to being ‘passed off’ to relatives to being ‘dumped’ at an orphanage. The first time I went to the orphanage, I expected grim, hopeless faces. This could not be further from the truth. The children are energetic, playful and full of smiles. What they are starving for is attention. I don’t think I will ever get used to how the children just want to hold your hand. A group of kids can be playing 6 feet away, but this little 4 year old is perfectly content just standing next to me holding my hand. It is moving. And heartbreaking.
Our first day starts with a home visit; a man with quadriplegia who has been homebound for 15 years. Homebound should be more like ‘hut-bound’. There is no air conditioning, electricity or plumbing; just walls and a roof. He needs a toenail removal. We didn’t have the correct instruments with us, but later, Dr. Phelps and I returned and, with us kneeling on the ground with me holding the light and assisting, Dr. Phelps performed the procedure. We left medicines with him and headed to clinic….
Several hours later….Dr. Szostak is in the back performing surgeries. Thank God for Dr. Szostak. Him willing to donate his knowledge and surgical skills to help us deliver care has been invaluable. I didn’t want to overwork him on his first outing. But every time I ask if he wants to do ‘just one more case’, he replies, “I am here to work. I can sit around and talk at home”. He has my respect and admiration and gratitude of the people he has helped. My mother, a retired LPN, has been assisting in surgery all day long and handling crowd control at our clinics. She is the most senior member of our team at 69; she works like she is 29. She has done mission trips all over the world: Mexico over 40 times, China, Nigeria, Iraq twice, Russia and even Uzbekistan. She is tireless and eager to contribute. Guiga has already told me that I don’t have to come on every trip, but Lydia does and I’m sponsoring her. Dr. Szostak offered her a job back home…twice. She is that good. It was on my bucket list to do a mission trip with my mother. Check!
After a day of surgery, Dr. Szostak is cradling one of his surgery patients in his arms for a long time. He looks at me and says, “my kids are too big for this. I miss it.”. The child looks wonderfully content. For a second there, I am not sure who is helping who. Actually, I’m still not sure, but no one seems to mind so, whatever. 🙂
At the end of the first clinic, I look over my shoulder and Dr. Phelps is seeing the last patient. It is my third time in Haiti, for Dr. Szostak and Dr. Phelps it is their first. In 7 1/2 hours we have bought healthcare to 404 patients who would’ve had none. That is almost 54 patients per hour! Our brains are fried. Dr. Phelps was not sure what to expect. I told her at the end of the day we would be exhausted, sweaty and filthy, but smiling. As I look back at Dr. Phelps, she is smiling. I don’t even bother with “I told u so”; I’m smiling too. The feeling that we get after clinic ends is fantastic. Fred and Bill, two college student newcomers who have no medical training at all, have been our pharmacists. I am impressed at how they have kept up the pace, adapted to changing needs of the clinic and patient flow and kept effective communication going with the physicians about medicine quantity status. At one point, we have them crushing up pills to reconstitute in water to make additional antibiotic courses for children when we ran out of the pre-made liquid. They listen how to do it once and just keep plowing ahead. I am impressed by their versatility and ambition in, not only a foreign country, but a disaster area doing things that they have no training in and doing it well! Thank you both so much.
We finish the day knowing we have made a difference. No, we have not solved all of Haiti’s problems, but there 404 fellow human beings that are grateful that we left our jobs, our families and, just, for a few days, sacrificed our own comforts to come help them.
Evenings at the orphanage are mostly down time for us. We share different aspects of our experiences of that day, talk about our families, laugh and joke around and get to know eachN other in a way that is only achieved through total immersion of a small group in a foreign country. At one point, my mother is telling stories of my antics as a child. I felt thankful we weren’t home, because I’m sure my naked baby pictures would have come out next! One of my favorite moments was when Guiga got ALL of us addicted to Nutella. One by one we said, ‘oh, ok, I’ll try it” and one by one she converted us. It became the after-dinner joke. “So….anybody seen the Nutella???”. LOL. Even beyond her love for Nutella, Guiga is an amazing woman. Doctors are crucial for these trips to happen. Without the docs, there are no trips. As one of the physicians that head our mission trips, I disagree. GUIGA is the entire reason these trips happen. Her drive, commitment, ambition and selfless donation of personal time leave me humbled. Guiga spends dozens and dozens of hours preparing for each trip. She coordinates with the doctors about what meds to buy; hosts ‘pill counting’ parties [thank you all so much for counting and sorting! 🙂 ]; arranges our accommodations/travel/meals/translators; makes sure we stay hydrated during clinics and, in short, takes care of EVERYTHING!! She is fantastic! For those of us that just want to go and help and not deal with the little details that can become huge issues, PFH is perfect. Guiga excels at taking care of people and she takes great care of our teams.
One of our clinic days that Guiga has arranged is spent at Obama village. No, the president didn’t go there. The people there just like him. It is not really a village. It is a collection of tents…well, not even tents. Mostly tarps and sheets of plastic held up by trimmed branches is more accurate. A sheet draped over the bare ground is the usual bed and cooking over a campfire is the only way to heat food. There is no real infrastructure or security. People congregated there soon after the earthquake because the UN set up five outhouses and a single fresh water well. Eight thousand people live in the village….five outhouses…one water source. Let that sink in for second………. With a rather effective reality check now in place, we set up clinic in a real tent complete with triage, waiting area and pharmacy. We see another 268 patients that day. We schedule more surgeries for Dr. Szostak and send one poor girl, a teenager, to the hospital for such a severe infection, she has an altered mental status. She is beyond what we can do for her. Our transport went back to the orphanage so Guiga went to the main road and flagged down passing cars (not the safest strategy) and got a guy to take her and her boyfriend to the hospital. It is so frustrating. In the US, we could stabilize her in the ICU in a few hours, but in Haiti……she may not live. Hospitals in Haiti are overcrowded, some partially demolished and frequently turn people away no matter how sick they are. We refocus and press on for those we can help.
Tireless in their roles in our clinics are Mike and Nel. Mike is a CNA applying to medical school (and one exceptional person, in my humble opinion. This is the kind of guy you want as your #1 best friend as he has a the heart the size of his home state, Wisconsin). He is SSSOOOOOO patient with the children and shows more empathy and love than someone his age should be mature enough to show in a few lifetimes! Nel is a retired registered nurse who has a HUGE heart. She instantly loves all the children and is quick to hug them up and literally rock them to sleep on her lap. (Thank you both so much for coming and contributing as only you can!)
Later in the day, we make a home visit to Patricia. Patricia was a patient of the March PFH team and underwent surgery. She has seven children and every time we go back, Guiga makes it a point to check in on her and pay for her childrens’ schooling. She is doing well and we check her kids out for minor medical needs and head home.
Back at the orphanage, a donation of cowboy boots has come. Pink and brown cowboy boots. We see kids running around with a shirt, sometimes no shorts or underwear, but they have their boots on. We are HYSTERICAL at the sight and the kids love the attention. They walk up to you saying “me, me” with their arms stretched out to you. You HAVE to pick them up and hold them. There is just no alternative.
The last day of clinic is for the orphanage and the surrounding community. Dr. Szostak does nine more surgeries (total of 13 in 3 days! So thankful for him) and we see just over 300 more patients. We are all totally spent. But still smiling. It is a strange mix of feelings at the end of the trip. It seems to have flown by. It would take me two and a half months to see that many patients at home, but life is different in Haiti. Much different. There is still so much to do….
We are saying our goodbyes and I look down at Jerry and he tells me he loves me and asks me if I am ever coming back. I may have made some mistakes in my life, but I definitely know that what I’m doing in Haiti is completely right. I promise him I’m coming back.
I NEED to go back. I HAVE to go back. There is such a need in Haiti and I can’t go through my blessed life and NOT go back. Besides, I promised Jerry. Anyone can join our team. You don’t have to have any medical training, just compassion. We are going again in January 2011. I will be there. The children will be there. You are needed there….
By Robert J. Ferreira, MD
We arrived in Haiti on September 22, 2010. I really did not know what to expect, besides that we would be providing medical attention to those who rarely if ever had the opportunity.
It was nine of us on this trip. We were from different areas, different stages of our lives, and different careers, but all connected with a similar vision to help support the mission of People For Haiti. It was amazing to be around so many great folks dedicating their time and energy to such an important cause. I feel like I will stay connected with our crew for a long time going forward and consider them all friends.
The work we did in Haiti was unbelievingly rewarding. Having no medical experience, I was responsible for filling the prescriptions with another volunteer. By the end of the trip, we were quite knowledgeable about uses of different medicines. Our crew ended up seeing over 1,000 patients during our time, including several surgeries!
There is nothing in the world that could replace the smiles of all the children. They have been through so much, but their spirit and enthusiasm was unyielding. It was refreshing, and you can’t help but want to be around their positive energy. I feel like we made a huge impact while we were there, but I can’t help to think that they made just as much of an impact on me. I can’t wait to return to see the kids and the rest of folks I met along the way.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to go on this trip, and I hope to go on more to follow. I recommend the trip to anyone who is trying to find a way to contribute to the efforts in Haiti. It surpassed all expectations.
BY Bill Thomas
The September trip was actually my second trip with People For Haiti, but it was every bit as meaningful as the first. There are so many elements that make this experience special and there is no way I can do it justice in words. It is truly something that everyone should experience, and once you have gone I am certain you will want to return.
Choosing where to start is in itself a challenge. With so many memories where does one begin? We stayed at the Cabaret Baptist Children’s Home, an orphanage that serves as a home to 50 of the most incredible children you will ever meet. After a long day of clinic in the Haiti heat we came home to 50 smiling faces and a line of little ones hoping to get picked up. We should have been too tired to play, but the children’s energy and happiness was contagious. Wrestling with Makenson, Ruchillo, Geoff, and the rest of the guys, tossing Fritzson, and Davidson into the air and catching them, and of course the constant tug-of-war battle with Gislyn over my hat were a nightly routine (I apologize for butchering their names). The children helped me find a pure joy and happiness that I have not felt for a long time. The orphanage is also home to Bonnie, Mike, and Austin who have dedicated themselves to these children by moving to Haiti. They are remarkable people and their commitment to God’s work is moving. My experiences within the Home would have been well worth the trip, but there was so much more.
The clinics we set up around Cabaret were impressive to say the least. In the first day we saw over 400 patients! Several of them required surgery. It’s hard to believe that the first surgery I witnessed happened in the back room of a community home for a severely underserved group of people. All in all, we saw and served the medical needs of over 1000 people. To say that the experience was rewarding would be a severe understatement. We met an incredible array of inspiring individuals including patients, our phenomenal translators, and other Haitians who just wanted to help their own people. It was humbling to see the condition of their homes, the ailments they had learned to live with, and their appreciation for what little they had. It is difficult to comprehend how anyone could survive under such conditions much less how a culture could thrive. Yet everyday we set up clinic there was laughter, playful banter, and a general level of appreciation that often escapes us Americans.
Should you decide to go on one of these trips you will find yourself constantly surrounded by incredible people. The team itself was composed of individuals who went out of there way to seek out an opportunity to help those in desperate need. Several of them had been there many times before. The team was made up of people from different stages of life and career, but were united in their efforts to help the people of Haiti. As a 24 year old who recently graduated from college I met some of the most interesting people I know, physicians who have shown me the type of doctor I want to someday be, and people whose dedication to fellow man is awe inspiring. I am forever bettered for even knowing them, and hope to work with them again soon.
As I said before, I simply cannot do the experience justice in words. I encourage anyone who has ever considered going to Haiti to go and to go as a part of People For Haiti. The experience will change your perspective on life and your world view as a whole. Regardless of where you are from, your career, your age, or future goals I assure you that Guiga will find a purpose for you on the team and you will contribute an incredible amount over a relatively short period of time. You will also take an incredible amount from your experience and I suspect you will find yourself wanting to return or stay longer. I cannot wait to return. Never have I felt such a direct sense of purpose and I think you will feel similarly.
By Mike Kessler
I had no idea what to expect when I decided to take a trip to Haiti. I knew that it would be a memorable experience. I knew that they had just experienced a tragic earthquake earlier this year, and my initial assumption was that we were going to provide medical help in relation to that.
Upon arrival to Haiti, the damage that was done by the earthquake was clear. But it took a while for me to realize the truth. I did not know that prior to the earthquake they were already one of the poorest countries, and it took me a few days to realize that the living conditions were not totally as a result of the earthquake. I soon understood that what I was gaining from this experience was more than expected.
To meet a group of people with the same unselfish purpose is a hard thing to do. Yet all of us, from the doctors performing surgeries to me with no medical experience whatsoever, had one goal in mind. We all wanted to help others, and receive nothing in return but the satisfaction of knowing that we were making a difference. And that is exactly what we did.
It was very eye opening to see how Haitians manage to do so much, when they have so little. To see them strive to help others, strive to better themselves with the intent or giving back to their community, when it seems like they barely have enough to help themselves. It made me feel an obligation to give all I had, and more. To see the struggle and the need that they experience everyday. It made me feel an obligation to do all that I can to make it all go away.
To see the joy on the children’s faces when they got the opportunity to show me their hand stands, or to sing a song that they learned, or to just be able to hold your hand. It made me wonder why I don’t see the joy in the little things as they do. To see the sadness on the children’s faces when we had to leave. It makes me want to go back and do it all over again.
I’m sure that I helped out more than I can even imagine. But I still feel like I have not done enough. There is more work to be done, and I look forward to the opportunity to finish what I have started.
By Fred Tutor
I have considered going on a missions trip for many years but wasn’t sure what I had to offer. I am a urologist and felt that my training was so specialized that I wouldn’t be able to provide anything meaningful to the people of Haiti. I was sorely mistaken.
After hearing about the devastating earthquake in Haiti and reading about a local missions group called “People for Haiti” I was moved to volunteer. I had volunteered to go in March, but they were already ready to leave for their trip, but I promised I would go on a future trip. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have had and has completely transformed my perception of the people of Haiti and their struggles. Their problems didn’t begin with the earthquake, but were present long before then. The earthquake just added insult to injury. I don’t consider myself a particularly prejudiced person, but like everyone else, I had pre-conceived expectations based on what I had heard and seen in the media. My experience there completely transformed my perception of the people of Haiti and the obstacles they face. The poverty and lack of material possessions was obvious, but what shocked me was that they seemed to be more generous and less selfish with what little they had than what I was accustomed to. We live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, where even many of our poorest people have accommodations and food that are superior to what most of the people of Haiti have.
We were graciously hosted by the Cabaret Baptist Children’s Home which houses around 47 children. These are children who were either abandoned by their families or were left there because their families could no longer support them. These kids were happy! They did not have GameBoys, TV and go on trips to Disney. They were content to play with the other kids, run around the property and to just hold your hand. They shared everything. One event I witnessed really touched my heart. I had brought extra granola bars with me and shared them with a couple kids at the orphanage. Instead of inhaling the entire bar by themselves, they ran to get some of the other kids then split the small treat into equal pieces so that they could all enjoy it. Sometimes it feels as though we as a society are becoming more demanding and more selfish. The more we have, the more we want…and now. These kids seemed to have it right. In the 5 days we were there, I didn’t witness any arguing or complaining among the kids. They functioned as a tight knit community and supported one another. The kids were content just to sit on our laps and hold our hand.
The Haitians want a better life. There is a lot of money, equipment and volunteers pouring into the country but without a sound governmental infrastructure and opportunities for employment, the cycle of poverty and financial prosperity is not possible. We witnessed many instances of creative construction and a sense of dignity in the people we encountered. The patients we saw were well groomed and took care of themselves amazingly well with what little they had. We saw patients in tent communities and houses that were little more than sticks and tarps, but yet they were able to find food, water, bathe, and clean their clothes. I was astounded.
Our team of 3 doctors and 6 volunteers of varying backgrounds were able to provide medical care to over 1000 patients in 3 days of clinics. The patients we saw were appreciative to have only a few moments of our time in the hopes of a cure, or at least, some relief to their pain and suffering. Many waited hours to be seen and receive, what would be by our standards, basic care. I was happy to be of service to those in the community we served but I feel I received much more than I gave from the experience.