May 2010 Trip to Haiti
Shari Platek, RN
In the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Port-au-Prince, this trip was truly memorable. In addition to the usual mission activities, we had the opportunity to witness firsthand the devastation of Port-au-Prince. This only highlights all the more the mission of the Haitian Health Foundation and support of Avera. As always, we find the spirit of the Haitian people continues to rise above the everyday challenges they face. It is so inspiring to work side-by-side with those in Haiti who have devoted their lives in service to the less fortunate. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to travel to Haiti with the Avera group. Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers.
There was nothing superficial about our Avera mission trip to Haiti in May. There was real poverty, real suffering, real patience, real teamwork, real compassion and for the most part, real food. It was a blessed journey in many ways: the great old woman who tipped the scale at 60 pounds (including her purse), the laughter of the small children from the Missionaries of Charity Orphanage after we tossed them in the air, the new mother and her dehydrated twins who traveled four days to the Center of Hope for care, the family of nine who lost their father in the earthquake and the sadness on the faces of the people still searching through the rubble in Port-au-Prince. The vision from the Sisters and Bob Voglewede to risk this mission has been remarkable. I am grateful for the chance to have participated.
Going to Jérémie, Haiti, is an experience that I will forever hold close to my heart. Every day in Haiti is a struggle for survival. With no running water, no toilets or showers, little amounts of food and homes we would call shacks (with dirt floors and sticks and leaves for walls), the resilient people of Haiti get by. It troubles me that so close to the United States, the people of Haiti live in such destitute conditions. The contrast is beyond description. Little by little improvements are made, but I feel that it is not fast enough.
At the Center of Hope, mothers bring their children for malnutrition treatment because they are unable to feed and provide for them. Going to the Center of Hope was a heart-wrenching experience for me. These mothers obviously care about their children and want to be able to provide for them, but it is almost impossible in these conditions. Most of these children look half of their age because of how undernourished they are.
I also went to two mountain clinics during my trip. I am amazed by the joy the women and men have even in the worst of conditions. People walk for miles to get to the clinic to see a doctor, yet never complain that it was too far away or that they had to wait for too long. The people of Haiti are the most gracious and thankful people I have ever met.
I went with a wonderful group of Avera employees and will remember this experience for the rest of my life. Thank you to all of you for sharing this experience with me. I couldn't have gone with a better group of people. I will be forever changed by the faith and strength of the Haitian people and the commitments the Haitian Health Foundation and Avera have made to improve the conditions in Haiti.
I had no idea what to expect on this, my first trip to Haiti. Not only the experience of being on a mission trip, but also of the impact the earthquake had had on this already struggling country. I cannot put words to the entire experience. I saw beautiful countryside that had hidden beneath it a struggling people whose strength was inspiring. I saw the work of the Haitian Health Foundation towards improving the health of the people in and around Jérémie, a workload that has increased dramatically since the earthquake. We met families who had lost family members in the earthquake and had taken more family into their homes from Port-au-Prince, even when they struggled to provide for their own. I was moved by the skill and coordination of the health care clinics in the village and large numbers of people who are served each day. The dedication of the people who work for the Haitian Health Foundation was moving. Sister Mary Ann, Marty and all the others put in full days and evenings to do what needs to be done.
The kwashikor malnutrition clinic clarified the extreme malnutrition that occurs to the children here. The images that will never leave me are from the time spent touring Port- au-Prince prior to our departure. I was taken to my knees by what we saw there. Five months after the earthquake so little had been done to help these people. I feel blessed to have had this opportunity to be a part of this trip and support the work done by the Haitian Health Foundation.
Linda R. Hanson, CWOCN, CNP
Going to Haiti for me is always a life-enhancing adventure. I come back with an awareness of the good in the world and its people. I am not sure why I need to travel to Haiti to find God, as I know in my heart God is always with me. But somehow I feel the nearness of my Creator and I see God's miracles. I appreciate being able to make the journey to Haiti and Avera's mission. It is a pleasure to work for an agency that has such a commitment to a mission like Haiti.
Sonya Kooima, RN
When I left for Haiti, I was so excited and could not wait for this experience. This was something I wanted to do for a long time. My experience went far deeper than I ever thought it could have. I felt we accomplished a lot with each job that was done, but the feeling I grew to have for the Haitian people overwhelmed me. Even though we didn't speak the same language, a hug, handshake or smile said it all. I have never experienced such true sadness for people as I did there. They give far more in return than we could ever give them.
The other thing I was amazed by was how 13 different people with very different expertise could come together and represent Avera so well. I was overwhelmed by the generosity I saw and felt from every person on our team. They each taught me something different, and I could not have asked for a better 12 people to share that experience with. Thanks, Avera for allowing me to be a part of this.
Kathy English, RN
Every trip to Haiti is a unique experience. This time I wondered what we would see in terms of the impact of the earthquake. Clearly the staff and volunteers of the Haitian Health Foundation are stressed and exhausted, but they continue their daily work of caring for the now 360,000 people of Jérémie.
Jérémie did not suffer destruction of property or lives but is now assimilating large numbers of people who have fled the horrors of Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Health Foundation, with the help and support of groups such as Avera, is doing all within their power to help these individuals put their lives back together. St. Pierre's School is operating two shifts so that the children's schooling continues, and they are guaranteed one good meal a day. The Haitian Health Foundation is giving out food supplements to support families who have taken in homeless family members.
The Haitian Health Foundation continues to make a difference one person, one family at a time. We were introduced to a family who left Port-au-Prince and returned to Jérémie. The father had been killed in the earthquake, leaving a mother and nine children. The Haitian Health Foundation put her in a Happy House across the road from where we stay. In four months she had cleaned up the home, planted her small front yard in corn and beans, and enrolled the children in school. We brought her a heavy-duty grinder that was donated by an Avera volunteer. That afternoon we had a demonstration of how she would roast peanuts, grind them and make peanut butter. (It was delicious.) She now has a home and small business. In other words, for $800 this family has a safe home and hope for a better future.
Sonya and I had a remarkable visit at the Center of Hope. We met a woman with a pink baby bath tub with lots of terry towels. Under the towels were two tiny twin girls dressed in matching outfits. The woman had delivered seven days prior and walked four days to the clinic. She came for food as she felt she had no breast milk. Sonya assessed the infants who were clearly dehydrated, jaundiced and very listless. They appeared to be about 33-34 weeks. We spent the morning having the mother express milk to feed the infants and showing her how to mix formula. The mother won't have access to clean water, and the powdered formula we gave her will last only a short time.
Despite walking four days through rain and mud this mother was dressed beautifully and had a smile on her face. She told us she hadn't eaten for days so we gave her a granola bar from our pack as well as water. At the end of the day we gave her some money for food and some powdered formula, but she and her children clearly needed and deserved so much more. Then, with such grace and dignity, she picked up the bathtub, placed it on her head and started the long walk home. We had rain again that night and all I could think of was that women and her two vulnerable infants under a tree somewhere in the hills. Life is hard in Haiti.
I'm grateful to Avera for the opportunity to witness and support the work of the Haitian Health Foundation. It's my observation that groups such as the Haitian Health Foundation are the only ones making a difference in the lives of the Haitian people.
What a life-changing experience!!!! To my amazement, I discovered in a short period of time that I am actually JEALOUS of what the Haitians have - spirit, soul, patience, love, understanding, care for one another - the list goes on and on. I pray that I cannot only share what I was taught, but also practice it!! And that I may never forget it!! I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who made this trip possible and to those who I joined in a wonderful week. I would like to end with a quote that I wish to live by on a daily basis.
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance ... that principle is contempt prior to investigation." - Herbert Spencer
Dr. Bob Wegner
Don't go to Haiti! You may see, taste, smell and feel things you have never before experienced. You will work hand-in-hand with others from Avera and with Haitians. You will discover we are all one, with similar hopes and desires. The little you give of your own time and money will be paid back tenfold. So, please don't go to Haiti so I can get a place with another team next year!
Dr. Patty Peters
To see the smiles of the beautiful children, to take the helpful guiding hand of a Haitian woman on the muddy road or to see the questioning eyes of worried parents at the medical post in Dayére - for these I am thankful. To be even a small part of the work of the Haitian Health Foundation in the Grand Anse is such a blessing. God has given us love to share, and we must do it!
Surely, I have experienced a little of what it is like to be lost. But nothing is quite the same as May 22 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Our homebound Avera Haiti Mission Group had the opportunity during a long layover between Jérémie and Miami to travel through Port-au-Prince and see the aftermath of the earthquake. Lost are the endless tent cities of our brothers and sisters who eke out hopefully one simple meal a day. We saw them first, so many of them, oceans of them, that the only appropriate immediate response was to cry.
But that was nothing compared to what followed. As the open, slat-sided, canopied truck we sat side-by-side in the back of turned down the first of endless inner-city blocks, we saw what lost can be at a magnitude well off the Richter scale. There for block after block as far as the eye could see, the rubble lay piled as it fell more than five months prior. It cascaded out onto the sidewalk. For the most part it remained untouched. Our guide pointed out, "There are 20 interred here, there are 14 here," and so on, as we waded down the rain-drenched streets, our feet mingling with the runoff from the rubble. Here and there were depressions where someone had excavated a loved one, but such evidence was starkly scarce.
Then we came across men, working bare-handed with nothing but hammers, trying to seek the lost they loved. Such is the love that Jesus taught. Such is the love that we are called to as our brothers and sisters in Haiti need for the world to care enough to help them find their lost and face tomorrow with dignity.
Late one evening Sr. Mary Anne approached me and asked me to accompany her on a journey to bring a little girl some orthopedic shoes out in Jérémie. All Sister had was a picture of the girl's family and a general idea of where she lived. Great! She drove the Land Rover expertly up the mountainous, rocky roads above Jérémie, showing her photo to a few people on the roadside and finally parking. We got out and wandered on foot among the many shacks and footpaths, arriving at a small tin and concrete structure. Sister stuck her head in, and out came a little Haitian girl. She was from Port-au-Prince and was injured in the earthquake. Her injury had shoved her femur down past her knee and it healed that way, so one leg was a few inches shorter than the other. Sister had phoned home, and a doctor friend fashioned a pair of orthopedic shoes to fix the young girl's gait. I helped the girl put on her new shoes. She smiled and said, "Merci." Everyone seemed to know Sister by name as we walked back to the Rover. It was a great experience!
Kathy L. Dorale, RHIA, CCS, CCS-P
This was my second trip to Haiti and once again, I am in awe of the love, hope and strength of the people of Haiti and their perseverance to survive the day-to-day struggles on so very little. I am humbled everyday during my stay, during every village visit, during every drive through the streets of Jérémie, and during every encounter when I interact with the interpreters and Haitian people. The earthquake has been harsh and the impact great. Their lives and futures will be affected for many years to come. During my short visit and opportunity to "save the world," I find myself in thought each day on how little I feel I can do for the people. I think many people go into a mission trip ready to "save the world" and then find out just how difficult it really is. I cannot describe how hopeless you feel when you stand face to face with true poverty, how real it really is.
How do you put that type of reality into perspective? I remind myself that I can make a difference and that I will make a difference. I traveled with so many wonderful people from Avera, all who contributed significantly in their own way. I was amazed with the first-time and the seasoned travelers. Our youngest traveler was Chris. I admired his patience while I watched him in the orphanage, overwhelmed with children who wanted to help him blow bubbles. I remember my first trip to Haiti in 2007 at this same orphanage. Consider what it would be like to have 20 or so youngsters at your feet all wanting your attention at once. Let me tell you, it is heartbreaking and very real. The children want your touch, your smile, and to be loved. All such simple things, so we think.
I have so much work to do when I return to the states. I will carry my stories in my heart but I must remember that is not enough. It cannot stop there, at least not for me. I must find avenues to share these stories and encourage others to listen to the cry of the poor. Through speaking engagements and volunteer work, I will find avenues to continue to share these experiences and encourage others to help. Just before this second trip, I was given the opportunity to speak to a women's group at the Catholic Church in Pipestone, Minn. The group consisted of eight area churches in southwest Minnesota. They filled my car that day with pinless diapers and sundresses made out of pillowcases. These dresses were a huge hit for several young girls, including our interpreter's daughters. I was deeply touched the following week when the church contacted me again and donated a Happy Home. They are continuing the mission with us going forward, still making diapers, still making sundresses and helping financially when they can. This is what it is all about for me.
Thanks Avera for supporting such a great cause!