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October 2012 Trip to Haiti

Carole Chell

Thank you for the opportunity to serve with the Avera mission to Jeremie, Haiti. Before leaving on the trip we were told the history of Haitian Health Foundation, how it began. It was also explained to us that Avera wanted to support an existing organization. I was so impressed with the work of HHF and the people in Haiti who have committed their lives to this work. I think it is so important to support HHF in what they have recognized as the needs of the people. I was able to teach and perform breast examinations for women who have never heard of them. By teaching the nurses and health agents the people of Haiti will continue to receive care after we leave. It was sad to see two young women (24 & 27) with obvious breast cancers. Hopefully as word spreads women will recognize that a lump in their breast is not normal and seek care earlier. The focus of HHF is mothers and children. Taking care of the mothers of Haiti will make will make life easier for their children.

Margaret Chell

I am incredibly thankful to have been a part of Avera’s trip to Haiti this October. It was evident the work Avera does with the Haitian Health Foundation is important and appreciated. The experience was not only educational but rewarding too. My favorite memory is traveling across the river and hiking up a mountain to a remote village. I went with 12 Haitians, only one spoke English. Once there, I weighed babies and counted pills. My favorite part, though, was at lunch when the local children crowded around to get their pictures taken. I loved interacting with the people and learning all about Haitian culture. I will never forget this trip. I hope to go back some day as a nurse or physician.

Kathy Ellenbecker

Much has been given to our country. This is so visible to me when we are in Haiti and I reflect on the extreme and grinding poverty of the Haitian people. The Haitians have little to nothing but they find ways to “make do”. We encounter this as we travel to the mountain villages to bring relief from pain due to not having dental care. The best that can be done for them is extractions in the most primitive surroundings and conditions. I am amazed at their patience waiting in pain for hours in stifling heat and humidity as well as their endurance. Some of the people walk for hours to the temporary dental site. It is my humble privilege to be able to help in some small way but I feel I get more back than I give.

Thank you, Avera, for supporting this mission. Thanks also to all the employees that work and give in order to bring help to the deserving people of Haiti.

Richard Ellenbecker, DDS

Dr. Ellenbecker and Shari PlatekI am grateful to the Avera Mission Office for the opportunity to go on the October mission trip to Jeremie, Haiti. The Haitian Health Foundation we work with there has a well-organized and established public health program that Avera dovetails into nicely.

This was my fourth trip with Avera and again I was able to use my professional dental skills. Working with the very capable Haitian dentist on the HHF staff, we went out to four villages and also spent one day in central Jeremie. At each post we extracted abscessed, severely decayed or mobile teeth for all who came seeking our aid. It was a great opportunity to help people in need.

Kathy English

To travel for two days from Sioux Falls, SD to Jeremie, Haiti and then rise with the roosters to pack medical supplies for a two hour ride over rugged mountain paths to a remote mountain clinic in the back of a land cruiser only to step out and read WELCOME AVERA written on a piece of cardboard sums up the entire Avera Haiti mission experience for me. The name Avera is known throughout this remote part of Haiti. The Haitian health agents are appreciative of the support they receive as they work to improve the health and well being of their people. It’s evident to every volunteer who has had the privilege of returning to Jeremie that Avera’s ten years supporting the Haitian Health Foundation is making a huge difference in the lives of Haitians living in the Grand Anse region of Haiti.

For the October 2012 mission, Avera was asked to help with HHF’s new breast health awareness initiative. Support for this request came from across the Avera region with street banners promoting the importance of breast self-examinations, pink t-shirts (incentives for attending the clinics), and clinical expertise from the Prairie Center.

Sister Mary Ann, Dr. Bette Gebrain, and Marty Mescher labor daily against unbelievable obstacles not to mention natural disasters to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor. To watch them is inspirational, to in a small way support their work is an honor. Thank you, Avera, for making this important mission possible.

Dan Irvine

This is my 3rd trip Avera Haiti Mission trip. I went to Haiti to support the work of the Haitian Health Foundation with three goals in mind:

  1. To serve God.
  2. To serve my fellow man.
  3. To do anything I could to help Sister Maryann, knowing that I would then accomplish goals 1 and 2.

All the projects Sister assigned me were in the form of construction projects and handyman jobs. These jobs were at the HHF Clinic and at the Center of Hope. The work ranged from oiling window cranks 
and hardware to mounting computer & electrical junction boxes and distribution terminals on the walls. I also drove our group around and did some errands for Sister. There are two things you need to know to drive in Haiti, use the accelerator and horn at will. There are not many rules to the road and very few signs. The members of the team were GREAT to work and relax with. We exchanged many stories at the end of the day and I could tell from the stories they told of their love and compassion for their fellow man. My hat is off to the leaders and also to the more traveled members of the group for their direction and help to and from Haiti and throughout our stay. Sister Maryann is to me a very impressive person and my hero. Hero is thrown around too easily these days, but, if everyone did 1% of what Sister does this world would not have nearly as many problems. Thank you, Sister Maryann, Marty, and all the staff at HHF and the Center of Hope. Thank you, fellow members of the Avera Team. May God richly reward you. I would also like to thank Avera for their continued support of HHF and their mission. Thank you HHF for all you do for the people of Haiti.

Good Lord willing I hope to go again.

Randy Jones

On this day, Patty from the staff took me and two others to St. Pierre school. When we came back to the clinic for lunch, Sr. Maryann ate with us and we asked her various questions about the school which is sponsored by HHF. As Sr. Maryann fielded our questions, she went on to say that since the school’s inception in 2002, not one of their students has ever been arrested. This is truly a testimonial to the work she and the staff have dedicated themselves to. In all the years I have known this woman, this is the first time I have ever seen her have a hard time finishing a statement due to emotion. She governs the clinic and all that cascades along with it, with the discipline of a military general. However the compassion that lies within her soul is compelling. She is truly a magnificent person and one that I have learned a great deal from!

Shari Platek

As I reflect on our past Haiti trip, I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to travel to Jeremie. It is so heartwarming for people to see the clinic at the Haitian Health Foundation, the Center of Hope, for maternal and newborn care, and to meet the staff that helps it all run so efficiently. I want Avera to realize how important their continued support is of HHF. Few of us could go without the scholarship money and the funds they provide to bring much needed supplies and medications. Sometimes we may wonder if our efforts are appreciated but when we traveled to a far mountain village and they had made a homemade sign that read Welcome Avera! we knew we were touching lives. It is very apparent that our Haiti commitment is incredibly important to those who most need our services. I am so appreciative to be able to travel with the wonderful, diverse, talented people who become lifelong friends with our shared love of Haiti.

James Powell, MD

One of the most unique fortunes granted to an Avera employee is the opportunity to join the Haiti Mission trip. For those of us who have journeyed, we will never forget, and for those who seek the journey, reach for your dream. The experience is unforgettable.

The travel for those of us in the October 2012 troop was very uneventful by previous standards. Planes leaving Miami and bound for Haiti are jammed with persons of all races, nationality and backgrounds, with the majority being mission workers. Upon arrival, groups dispersed into various portions of the country with no semblance of overall mission, just dedicated persons wanting to provide care and comfort.

The weather was exceedingly beautiful, food delicious and living accommodations exceptional. Nothing could compare, however, to the initial excitement of traveling to our first village clinic on Monday AM. The trip provided me an opportunity to witness firsthand the economic depravity facing the Haitian people contrasted with an absolutely beautiful countryside. I had my first live patient encounter on the tiny porch of a village hut and was shocked to find an exceedingly high blood pressure in an otherwise healthy young woman. Throughout the week, such occurrences became the norm; headaches were not migrainous or tension related but due to a lack of fluids in the hot humid weather; tobacco related issues were rare because no one could afford cigarettes but asthma abounded due in great part to living around and cooking with charcoal. Although the care is not what we have come to expect in the United States, there are signs that progress is being made. Haiti’s first Avera Health breast cancer screening clinic was held in October of 2012, including diagnostic ultrasound and needle biopsy. Kwashiorkor is diminishing, thanks in large part to the 80% rate of breast feeding at the Haitian Health Foundation.

The most beautiful aspect of the week was the people. They love bright colored clothing and hats. The children dress in uniforms for school and the girls all wear multiple ribbons in their hair. I was always mystified at how clean people were when they came to the Haitian clinic, knowing that they had walked many hours and miles to get there. Only later did I come to learn that they would walk barefoot or in sandals and clean their clothes and shoes before entering the clinic. Their patience never ceased to amaze me along with their appreciation for something that seemed so minor by our standards. Nutrition in general remains a huge issue with most people eating only once a day with the main ingredient being rice. Meat is scarce and vegetables are limited.

Walking away is difficult. There is so much to do and so little time. No matter your skill, if you have never considered the Haiti Mission trip, apply; if you have gone before, reapply. It is rewarding.

James Puthoff

I would like to start by saying thank you to Avera for giving me the opportunity to return to Haiti and for the scholarship. This was my second mission to Haiti. This time was special because my son Kolin was able to join us in Dallas and go on the mission trip with the team.

I was impressed with the team from the start. Each brought their own talents, knowledge, and abilities. Everyone worked together as a team no matter what assignment they were given.

I worked mainly with my son Kolin and Dan Irvine. We worked on Sister Maryann’s to-do list around HHF Clinic and Center of Hope. We worked on windows, shelves, on the well, dental chair and other projects.

A couple of the highlights of the trip, outside of having my son Kolin along on the trip, were all the wonderful people I got to meet and going to Mass every day at 6:00 AM. On Thursday evening we were able to go to a Haitian restaurant; it was a great adventure. On Friday I went with Dr. Ellenbecker, Dr. Ramlyne, and the dental team up to the village of Fond Rouge Dayere. I assisted with blood pressures and helped pass dental instruments. This was a great experience as it was my first time in a mountain clinic with the medical team.

It doesn’t take long in Haiti to realize how good we have it here. We take so much for granted. We all need to thank God every day for all He has given us and we need to share our blessing with others. Thank you all again for giving me this opportunity to go with you to Haiti

Kolin Puthoff

This was my first trip outside the US. With encouragement from my Dad who had been to Haiti before, my wife, and my church family I applied and was accepted for the October Avera Haiti mission trip.

I was not sure what to fully expect. I went down there with the worst case scenario in mind. Flying over the coastline of Haiti from Port au Prince to Jermie, it looked like a tropical paradise. Landing in Jeramie on a runway of crunched sea shells, I quickly realized I'm not "in Kansas anymore."

The team that was sent was great! From the time we met in Dallas, it felt like we were a team. Everyone worked together, no one was left out. We worked with one goal in mind, to do whatever we could to help out. No job was too small or unimportant. We practiced flexibility as in Haiti situations and needs change a lot, almost hourly.

The entire trip was better than I expected. The accommodations were great. I worked mainly at the HHF clinic. Sister Mary Ann had a daily list of chores for us and she kept reminding us we were making a big difference, even though we were just hanging a few shelves. Anything we did made it easier for their team to be more productive and efficient. On Thursday I was able to go out to a village with the dental group. That was an awesome experience. I helped set up the equipment and took blood pressures. When the dental group was ready I assisted the dentist by recording the teeth to be extracted, handing supplies, and holding a light. The Haitians were so patient, often waiting a long time to be seen and cared for. The best part was at the end of the day we were serenaded by a small group of children. They sang and danced for us, all with big smile. It was really cool to help out. There are so many ways to help in Haiti.  You just have to step out in faith and do it!

My experience was great. We had a wonderful time, did a lot of good for the people, and worked with a great team. We offered a hand up, not a hand out. As Americans we are so blessed and often we don’t realize it. Let's not be afraid to share what God has blessed us with!

Jill Schultz

After returning from the October 2012, ten year anniversary, trip to the Jeramie Haiti area my mind and heart are overwhelmed with gratitude. I feel gratitude for the experience and the overwhelming amount of eye-opening education to the life and hardships of the Haitian people. Gratitude to have the opportunity to meet the brave, loving, smart and generous individuals that represent and lead the Haitian Health Foundation as well as those here at Avera that represent, organize and lead such mission trips. I was a witness to and am amazed and so impressed with the bottomless well of true love shown and received.

My personal goal was to, in some small way, make a positive impact by sharing information on breast health awareness. The photos represent breast health education events with Haitian women whom each expressed gratitude towards us. I feel the steps made are solid and will in turn, be part of a foundation which this HHF breast health initiative can build on. This trip was a gift that I will never forget and will only reflect on with continued gratitude. Both HHF and Avera are doing what is right. I thank you.