Skip to Main Content

May 2011 Trip to Haiti

Bob Wenger, MD

Bob Wenger, MD and Jordan Makela

This was my fourth visit to Haiti. The Haitian Health Foundation has done such a good job training local health agents and nurses that they can take care of their own. It is also always great to see Bette and Sr. Mary Ann and all the wonderful children in Haiti. They will always have my full support and a place in my heart.





Nicki Dougherty, RNC

Nadine DoughertyThis reflection is to tell about my wonderful and educational experience visiting Haiti.  As you might expect it made me grateful for my own circumstances. There are many statements I can formulate about the experience.

One of the most profound moments was the realization of how much people can accomplish for the good of their fellowman on a limited budget. I have not had enough respect of Public Health and what they can accomplish. The programs established by Bette Gebrian, PhD, are amazing.

I understand better that it is the simple things that matter the most. Teaching people good hygiene, simple things to prevent problems with home deliveries and setting up a notification system to get help if there areproblems. Dispensing a few inexpensive antibiotic pills, sugar and salt mixtures in ZIPloc® bags has saved countless lives from cholera. They don't need $1 million ICU rooms. They beg for little ZIPloc® bags to pack dehydration kits for the people living in the mountain areas. So, what I learned was that we don't have to move mountains to help. We can literally save lives with no more than a cup of sugar, a cup of salt and 50 ZIPloc® bags.

The little second-hand store run by the Catholic church in Ewing, Neb., donated $250 for five community water filters. They will provide safe clean drinking water for hundreds and hundreds of people. That will save an epic amount of pain, suffering and grief. There will be people who will never get cholera and babies who never will suffer and die with diarrhea.

The amazing people in the form of Sr. Mary Ann Benard and Bette Gebrian of the Haitian Health Foundation have made possible for all of us to be life savers, and movers of mountains, and it is really not that hard.

Donna Hartmann, RN, BSN, Avera Medical Group Spencer

Donna Hartmann, RN, BSN, Avera Medical Group SpencerOnce again I had the privilege to return to the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) and the “poorest of poor” in Haiti. It felt like going home when we arrived at the gate of HHF. We received a warm welcome back from Sr. Mary Ann and all the wonderful people who graciously took us under their “wings” for the week!  It is always a spiritual journey for me, and being able to share this experience with my daughter means more to me than words can express!  She now, too, shares my love for the Haitian people and HHF. It was such a heart-warming experience to see her interact with the people and wonderful children of that country. Thank you again, Avera, for allowing me the privilege of “returning home” to HHF and the needs of the Haitians. I feel extreme gratitude for being a part of this “giving, caring” organization and will continue to keep the people of Haiti in prayer daily and support their needs!



David Schreiner

David SchreinerAs I have been reflecting on our mission trip to Jeremie a couple of weeks ago, I keep coming back to one thought. What really is our mission in Haiti? We support the Avera mission by taking supplies to help the Haitians at the Haitian Health Clinic, we go out to rural clinics to see mothers and babies in their communities, take clothing to health agents in the various villages to hand out, but most of all, we take our love for the people. Are we giving the Haitian people enough, can we give them more, or do we hurt them by giving and thus giving them the impression that they need our help? We as a group asked these questions at our nightly reflection. I also see HHF working on getting away from giving but trying to teach them how they can make their daily challenges easier and keep doing things consistently. Whatever is better for the people of Haiti, I feel like Avera is making a difference in Jéremié.

That makes me feel like I am a part of this process. When you lack the ability to provide the essentials in life, you welcome people extending a hand to help you.

I want to thank Avera for the opportunity to experience Haiti and see how fortunate we are in South Dakota. The Haitians need our help and help from the rest of the world.

Kathy English

Kathy EnglishOn one’s first visit to Jéremié and Haitian Health Foundation it appears that the needs are so numerous and overwhelming you leave wondering if the situation will ever be better. Each return trip affirms that in fact progress is indeed being made thanks to the efforts of HHF and the support of organizations such as Avera.

I’ve had the privilege to lead several groups of wonderful volunteers over the past few years, and on each trip there’s something that stands out as testament to the positive changes happening as a result of HHF’s work. The waterfront district in Jéremié is poor beyond description, and the people live in the most inhumane conditions. HHF was approached by a community leader to help improve conditions, so work has begun on 38 cement homes. The people in the area decided who was most in need of safe housing. The demolition/construction had started prior to our visit. As we went to view a home being demolished, my eyes were drawn to a very emaciated old man working with a hoe. Sr. Mary Ann explained that he received the first new home and has worked on the various sites every day since. She went on to talk about her plans for the area, which include making wide streets instead of rocky paths so that vehicles can get into the area. She said that once the neighborhood starts looking better, everyone will want to improve their own dwelling, as she has seen this happen in other areas, such as around St. Pierre’s School.

Returning home and walking into my job the next day at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center is always hard, but this trip it was even more difficult. We had spent time at the government hospital in Haiti trying to access services for a young woman who had been hospitalized with acute abdominal pain for over a week and had not yet seen a physician. There were patients crammed 10 to a room lying on cracked plastic mattresses, and the overflow were on gurneys in the courtyard. As I walked onto the Women’s Center at Avera McKennan past the spa, café and large private rooms where our patients receive the highest quality of care, I couldn’t help wondering if people realize in most parts of this world even basic medical care is unavailable.

Thank you, Avera, for offering this opportunity to your employees. All volunteers leave thinking they are giving of their time and talents to help the Haitians when in fact it is the volunteer who receives much as a result of the indescribable experience of Haiti and her people.

Ann Schroeder

Ann SchroederI never thought I would experience what I was able to experience in Haiti. When I first heard that I was approved to go to Haiti, I couldn’t have been more excited. There were months of anticipation before we were able to board the plane to Jéremié. I kept imagining what it was going to be like, but nothing compared to what it was actually like.

I was part of a group of five that was able to go up to a mountain village and experience what Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) does in a rural village. Nothing could have prepared me for this! Although this was by far the most difficult three days I’ve ever experienced in another country, it was by far my favorite. Melissa and I joined a few of the HHF workers in a “hike” to visit Happy House sites. A hike was an understatement. This hike ended up being a four-hour trek up and down mountains. As difficult as it was at the time, it was my most memorable experience in Haiti. It really put things into perspective for me. To think that Haitians walked the same route multiple times a day was astonishing, and barefoot to say the least!  It made me realize the distance that people actually travel for things that we take advantage of every day, like food, water and health care.

The whole experience was life changing. I could not recommend this trip more!  When I told friends that I was going to Haiti, I definitely got some strange looks. I would love for everyone to experience what we did; to realize how wonderful the people are and how they do appreciate the things that we do. I would go back in a heartbeat!!

Melissa Davis

Melissa DavisMy experience in Haiti was unforgettable. I learned a lot about myself and my own strengths, which was unexpected, while I was there. I was expecting to give a lot to the Haitian people, but they gave a lot more to me in return. We came with hundreds of pounds of supplies, ready hearts and hands. When we left, we came home with fuller hearts. My experience in Haiti was everything I hoped for, and I am grateful for the opportunity I was granted. Thank you, Avera, for this amazing mission.



Jordan Makela

Going into Haiti, I really had no idea what to expect and what I would ultimately be up against. As a relatively inexperienced medical student on my first mission in a third-world country, I had a lot of apprehension about what conditions I would be presented with, and insecurities about my ability to treat my patients. I quickly learned that the people of Haiti are lacking even the most basic health care that we often take for granted. Here we focus on evidence-based medicine and the newest improvements in diagnostic and therapeutic technologies, while in Haiti they must overcome serious malnutrition and access to clean water sources. Trauma care is non-existent, and surgical intervention is available only to those who can afford it. The need for a major structural overhaul in their health care system is immediately evident upon visiting the country. Fortunately, the foundations for improvement have been laid, and the Haitian Health Foundation’s efforts are clearly visible.

We sat in on education presentations about cholera prevention, health screenings for a girls’ youth soccer league, and outpost clinics for maternal care. Under Dr. Wenger’s supervision I conducted patient interviews and wrote orders for medications. The desire for improved health care is there. Now it is just a question of who, if anyone, will step up and provide it for them. The work that Avera does along with HHF is desperately needed and goes a long way to ease the suffering of the people in the Grand Anse region.

The most difficult part of my Haitian experience was a trip we took to tour a particularly poverty stricken district of Jeremie, right on the water’s edge. The barefoot children playing in the dirty streets were reminiscent of what you see in those, “for just the cost of a cup of coffee, you can support a child …” advertisements. It didn’t do justice to the spirit, life and joy I saw on a daily basis in the people I met. The people of Haiti aren’t a desolate, indigent population that we help to feed our charitable desires. They are our neighbors, and they deserve the same empathy and respect that we show our neighbors in our South Dakota communities.

Shelby Hartmann

Shelby HartmannHaiti will forever be a place I am attached to. I thoroughly enjoyed the people and their perspective of life. They are prime examples for making the best out of whatever God has given you. Many people in Haiti are not given much, but the joy on the faces and the praise to God on their lips would not lead you to ever believe they live in the poorest of poor situations. We all need to take a lesson from the people of Haiti and genuinely look at our lives and really pay attention to the important things. They taught me to not put so much emphasis and effort into the non-important things. I cannot wait to travel back to Haiti and continue the work that is started with each group that travels there. The people and this place will forever be on my mind.