March 10, 2010

Haiti and Me - Part 1

Haiti was not what I expected.

I expected to witness a medical crisis.

The Good Samaritan hospital complex on the border in the Dominican Republic where Foundation for Peace relief teams stay had become a major trauma centers for quake victims. In the weeks prior to our arrival thousands of patients crowded its hallways; flowed through its operating rooms for amputations, external fixators, wound care and skin graphs; and recovered in tents on its grounds. Too many took their last breath there.

Teams of medical professionals from all over the US and the world came to volunteer. Helicopters regularly landed on the grounds of Good Samaritan to airlift patients to and from area trauma “centers.”Healthy family members pitched in and helped as they could. Some acted as translators.

Tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are deep and long lasting. The DR had played the good neighbor long enough and they wanted all the patients back in Haiti. By the time we arrived in Jimani the last patient was being transported from the hospital. The complex was eerily vacant with little clues for the traumatic scenes that transpired only weeks before.

 (Click here to see a newly-produced video of the hospital in action during the early weeks. It's awesome.)

I expected to see physical devastation.

But we worked far enough east of Port-au-Prince that the earthquake hadn’t affected that area directly. All the buildings I saw were intact. It seemed people went about their day-to-day business. Markets at the border bustled with people selling and buying all types of wares.

I expected despair and discouragement.

The refugee camp where we worked during the day—American Refugee Committee’s (ARC) Camp Hope in Fond Parisien—holds over 500 people who live in tents (many donated by Eddie Bauer!)—some with families, some all alone. Most are post medical and have healed, or are healing, from the injuries they sustained in the earthquake. The more serious cases and the amputees are still in a medical camp—Love a Child—down the road.

The people in Camp Hope are starting to reclaim a sense of normalcy. A community committee has been formed so that the Haitians are running the day-to-day of their camp. Workers from camp and from town are being paid to dig latrine trenches, dig wells, build, repair and teach. Newly-bored wells provide safe water to drink, cook with and wash with. Four tents serve as classrooms and the children go to school each day. One tent houses a a medical clinic where volunteer doctors and nurses attend to waiting patients. Nurses even travel through the camp to make sure those with more serious injuries are receiving proper follow-up care.

Plans are being made by outside agencies involved with Camp Hope to provide cooking areas and more permanent structures for the refugees to live in. I sense this camp will become a model for other tent communities scattered all over Haiti.

If Haiti wasn't what I expected, what was it to me? You’ll have to come back tomorrow for more of the story.

To be continued…


Jody Hedlund said...

Oh wow, Kelli! How interesting! I've only seen pictures in the news of the desperate conditions, so it's interesting to get your perspective!

Cheryl Barker said...

Now you've got me curious :) A group from our church is considering going to Haiti this summer (I can't go -- too close to Kelli's wedding) so I'm interested in hearing about how things went for your group. Thanks for sharing the pics!

Saleslady371 said...

Very interesting report of your trip. Praying for Haiti.

Sue J. said...

How difficult to get a grasp of the whole picture of Haiti when you only see certain things. But, you have seen an encouraging side, and that is often much more than what is reported to us through traditional media.

The whole hospital story is really sad, and you've been in both of these countries now. I'm sure you have a few thoughts about that.

What we learn from those who go is so valuable in understanding what more we need to do. How do we reach out to folks, still, way after the fact? Obviously, prayers for bordering countries who need to understand that compassion doesn't have a deadline.

Looking forward to your thoughts as they come--in waves, at the moment!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Glad you back; look forward to reading more.