Start of a New Day
Twelve miles southwest of Jeremie, Haiti, the river village of Marfranc sleeps. Haiti National Highway 220, a mere dirt road that cuts through the center of Marfranc, is empty. Patches of fog form in the surrounding mountains.
Without warning, a bell peals through the night, breaking the silence and signaling the start of a new day. It is 4:45 AM.
In the men’s dormitory of the Ecole Normal—the teacher’s school—a group of American men awaken to start their day. Down the road in the rectory of the Catholic church, the women from this same group do likewise.
These 16 men and women form the Haiti Ministry Team, a group of medical and support volunteers from various U.S. cities. They are led by Barbara Cline, Haiti Ministry Coordinator for St. Patrick Church in Kokomo, Indiana. For the past three days, this group has held a medical clinic at the Catholic church in Marfranc; today will be the last day they will put their skills to use here serving those who otherwise have no access to healthcare.
At 5:45 AM, the bell tolls again as Mass starts at the church.
“I love going to daily Mass”, says Cline, “it’s something that I don't do while at home”.
After church, the team gathers for breakfast and prayers for God’s guidance for the day. And they will need it. At 7:30, hundreds of people are already waiting as the team arrives at the dilapidated, abandoned Catholic church that is their makeshift medical clinic. The team treats the patients using only the supplies they have brought down with them or managed to ship down ahead of time.
“I am continually impressed with the quality of our staff”, says Cline. “The doctors, nurses, dentist, translators, and support people for the most part do not work with each other on a daily basis—nor know each other—and yet, after a short time, they’re working in a cohesive group, able to treat hundreds in primitive conditions and practicing sound basic medicine. Their skill level is beyond comprehension, their energy is amazing, and their willingness to serve their fellowman is humbling.”
People waiting to see the doctors
New Life for Haiti began a relationship with the Haiti Ministry Team in March 2007, when NLH Director Fran Leeman and his exploratory team met Barbara and her friend Shirlee at the Jeremie airport. Barbara and Shirlee had just finished cleaning up after conducting another medical clinic in Marfranc. Fran’s team was scouting out possible locations for future work. The teams had been in the same small town at the same time, and somehow not seen each other. Barbara invited Fran and NLH to help with the medical clinics in the future, but mentioned that her team had no decent facilities to work in. Fran informed Barbara that NLH didn’t have a lot of doctors, but they knew how to build things in Haiti, and he turned and introduced her to Steve Moore, who has been building medical facilities in Haiti for a decade. He turned the other way and introduced Thom McCluskey, a structural engineer. All of this happened in the last fifteen minutes of their week-long exploratory trip. (Read the complete story of the chance meeting here
New Life for Haiti’s Joline Moore arrives at the clinic at about 8 o’clock, after the patients have been issued tickets and are waiting outside of the building on benches. She will join a group of translators from Jeremie to help translate for the doctors. Joline is impressed with Barbara’s team.
“It's a large team and they have been doing this for many years, so they have a system in place that works really well. The doctors and nurses work well as a team and they are seeing a lot of patients... The team puts in long hours and works really hard to help the people they see. The building is large and they have it set up so that it runs really smoothly.”
The renovation of this abandoned Catholic church building is one of New Life for Haiti’s current projects. The raised altar area was leveled and a fresh concrete floor was poured to make foot traffic safer and more efficient. Barbara Cline thinks this new floor is great. “No longer did we have to walk around the railing or old altar, nor worry about the people tripping over the steps. The front section of the building now has a level floor! Mesi anpil! (“thanks a lot!”)”
Barbara thinks these are just a couple of ways the two organizations complement each other. “With having Steve and Joline as residents in the community, they will have a better understanding of what might be needed or how we might serve the people. While New Life for Haiti will continue to support the Baptist Church in Marfranc, as St. Patrick will continue with St. Therese, there are other programs which can be developed to serve all of the community, no matter what church they attend.”
12 Cent Office Visit
After triage, patients wait on a bench to be seen by a doctor. During the visit, the doctor makes a diagnosis and writes a prescription that can be filled at the pharmacy, which is also run as part of this clinic. Patients wait in line at the pharmacy, get their medicine, and then go down the hall and receive a gift pack before they go. A dentist is also available during this clinic to pull teeth. All of this is made available to the patients for a fee equivalent to only about 12 cents, which covers the visit and the medicine. “It's a great deal”, says Joline, “Everyone can afford that.”
Although most of the visits are routine, there have been several emergencies over the previous days. A 15 year old girl had a grand mal seizure in the adjoining school.
“She didn't wake up like she should and they had no medicine”, relates Joline, “so after she was still not moving after two hours, they transported her to the hospital in Jeremie, where they hoped they had the medicine.”
Another girl was brought in after she collapsed in school with a very high fever of over 103°. The doctors at the clinic put her on an IV and lowered her temperature. Her mother was located and the girl was better before the day was out and the clinic closed its doors for another year.
A Great Day
This year’s team consisted of three doctors, one dentist, eight nurses, and four support personnel who were joined by Joline and seven other translators from Jeremie. Over the course of the four days the clinic was open, this team treated 679 adults, 549 children, and 142 dental patients for a total of 1370 people who would otherwise have little or no medical care. Difficult work, indeed. But when asked to describe the hardest thing she had to do on this trip, Barbara didn’t mention the long hours of work. Instead, she replied, “Telling the people who had waited all day, that we would not be able to see them.”
When asked to recount the most rewarding part of her trip, Barbara wasn’t sure, but she did eagerly share this heartwarming story of a young boy who was about 10 years old.
“When I first saw him on Saturday morning, he and his sister were carrying baskets of bananas, avocados, and baked bread up to Ecole Normal to sell to the students there. I stopped him and purchased some bananas and avocados for our morning snack. He thanked me. As he was leaving, I asked him in my makeshift Creole if he could come and help me move boxes when he was through at Ecole Normal. He agreed. When he arrived at the clinic a short time later, he did everything I asked him to, very willingly and cheerfully, whether it was carrying boxes, drying some medicine cups, or folding sheets. He was very thorough and eager to please. I was so impressed with him and that he hadn't asked me for ANYTHING during the several hours that we worked. When we were finished, I offered him some tennis shoes. He was delighted. He didn't want to put them on since his feet were so dirty, so I gave him a plastic sack to carry them home.
“Later that afternoon, much to my surprise, he came back to the rectory with the same sack. It was filled to the brim with oranges that he had picked from his tree! I hadn't expected anything in return, just as he hadn't expected anything from me. It was a great day!”