Haiti is ‘Not for the Faint of Heart’
By Karen McCarthy Special to The Telegram Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to imagine exactly what’s it’s like to be in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere: Haiti. A mere four hours or so from Montreal by plane. From developed world to developing world.
The juxtaposition is uncanny. There are a few hotels, and they are up to our standards. There is a vehicle dealership. A telecommunications company. A stunning national museum. A government. Some schools. Gorgeous students, all decked out in their starched uniforms. Palm trees. Beautiful sky. And then there’s dwellings not up to the standards of a tree house or clubhouse that your son or daughter might build in the backyard. No running water. Washing your dishes and clothes on the side of the street in pooled water, devoid of chlorine or any other cleaning agent.
Men are picking through garbage which has gathered in little mounds on almost every street. Toilets are few, and rarely flush. Sewer goes directly into the ocean. The stench of the big city of Port-au-Prince can be horrendous. There’s more than 10 million people living in Haiti with more than two million living in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.
Vehicles, beaten up, decades old, carrying perhaps 20 to 30 adults at once through the streets. It feels like bedlam. No order to driving. Go as you will and use your horn often. An electricity system which is underdeveloped. Power, where it is available, comes and goes all day.
Women have sidewalk businesses, trying to scrounge up a few gourdes to send their children to school.
It’s not for the faint of heart. I bet most of your tummies would ache.
Yet, little ones smile and wave and sing.
Aid organizations breeze through the hills and valleys. Local police organizations help to keep things in order, even though some neighbourhoods are forbidden. Stories of corruption, of kidnapping, are prevalent.
Then we arrive at l’Hôpital Bernard Mevs (HBM). It’s Team Broken Earth’s host hospital in Haiti. Security lets us through the big gate. It’s an interesting hospital. In many ways it’s not like ours; in some ways it is. Physicians and staff greet Dr. Andrew Furey and his team with very large smiles. I start to see Team Broken Earth (TBE) logos. So it’s becoming real.
What the people at home have provided TBE is put to good use, and then some. A room with organized medical supplies, once thrown into a big bin which professionals had to search through. A sleeping headquarters for volunteers, so that those who come to help have somewhere to sit, eat, wash and sleep. Prior circumstances were dire.
Chief Medical Officer Joanna Cherry is amazing. She’s a great friend of Team Broken Earth, and gives freely of every ounce of energy she has to the hospital. A British woman, when she sets out to do something for the people of Haiti, she does it. We embrace Joanna on arrival, and we hand over medical equipment and clothing for an orphanage. You don’t come here from Canada empty-handed.
There are operating rooms, wards, intensive care units. But it’s not quite what you’d expect. Sterilization is a huge issue. Something in the water and air causes rusting in autoclaves. Some rooms are painted, others are stark, cold concrete with water seeping in. A patient arrives holding a roll of toilet paper against his wound to stop the bleeding. A little boy, a patient, is taken for a walk by a doctor and returns with a soccer ball in his hand. He’s limping but now he’s just perfect — the ball has made his day.
Old men struggle for life. Dr. Furey and others are summoned. Physicians want advice. They trust what the Canadians bring. Their knowledge is gold.
I had a chat with Dr. Cherry. She said, “Medicine is a fraternity. As doctors from an area with many resources and endless educational possibilities, I believe it is our duty to help our colleagues in need. My work in Haiti allows me to help empower my medical colleagues here and to add to a system that needs some support. My work for Team Broken Earth allows me to call on trusted friends and colleagues when problems or opportunities are identified at the hospital. I have learned as much as I have taught here, and I am proud to be a member of the Haitian team at HBM.”
Why we are here
Team Broken Earth’s medical mission is focused this time around on delivering an orthopedic trauma symposium. The pan-Canadian team of surgeons gathers with about 50 medical residents and physicians to discuss hip fractures, broken tibias, femurs, knees and more. The participants are eager to learn. The incidence of orthopedic cases in the country is high. Discussion is engaging. And, we deliver the symposium to a Creole-speaking population. Canada’s French works just fine. We have a translator, and of course we all jump in with our own school-learned French. We have an extensive lab set up with the help of an equipment company where these doctors and doctors-to-be can practice drilling, choosing screws, plates and all the other equipment used in orthopedic surgery.
The participants, made up of mostly men and a few women, are heroes. They are hope personified. Educated. Caring.
And, of great importance is that they receive their Broken Earth certificate of completion at the end of the two-day course. It’s highly regarded and gives them great pride.
Dr. Furey, whose vision has brought us to Haiti, is no stranger to giving back.
“It is part of who we are as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Canadians, to want to give back, to help those in need, at home and abroad. Although we give of our time, money and skills, we are especially lucky to help give the most valuable of commodity of all — hope.”
So, although lives have been devastated, although rebar is sticking up throughout the city of Port-au-Prince with nothing attached because earthquakes have shaken the city to its core, and although a couple of million people are suffering, desperate, doing everything they can to keep their children alive, there is light. There is leadership. People will prevail. All we have to do is open our eyes and help. What you have all done at home is help TBE and other organizations like it build better communities. To give hope. It’s a small world, after all.
The next time you have to stand in a long line, consider the woman who walks for nearly a day with her little girl to get her to the hospital, and is then told it could be another eight hours sitting in the blistering sun before a doctor can see her. That, my friends, is a real struggle. Yet, the woman puts one foot in front of the other, and continues on. Bravery comes to mind.
God bless the people of Haiti. And God bless all those who help them and other challenged nations around the globe. I sure hope to do more.
Karen McCarthy is a Team Broken Earth volunteer and director of communications and Corporate Affairs at Fortis Inc. She lives in Portugal Cove.