Blog post written by Dorene Palermo.
I can’t believe it is already Wednesday, but it seems like we have been here a month!
The standard routine begins with breakfast at 6am with fresh fruit, some type of bread, cereal, pancakes, or omelet (most of us have omelets), papaya juice that tastes like tasteless grapefruit juice, and wonderful coffee Adventure begins when the two tap taps roll into the courtyard of the hotel.
Each day we load each tap tap with 6 or 7 team members, a translator or two, and a row of huge suitcases full of clothes for the kids down the middle between our knees. We are sitting on wooden benches, backs to the steel roof braces, holding on for dear life. We pile our backpacks and water bottles on top of the suitcases and off we go.
We get to the clinic a little before 8am, after hitting some of the most horrendous potholes and dodging buses, motorcycles, other tap taps, people, pigs, goats, and cattle, If we were a little sleepy when we started out the noise of beeping horns, and rattling vehicles ensures we are wide awake when we arrive.
At the clinic the cinder block porch rail on either sides of the door serves as benches for the more than 150 people awaiting medical treatment from either the Haitian side of the clinic or our side. These people arrived as early as 5am to get in line to be seen by the clinic, paid their fee, and began to sit patiently in the already 90+ degree heat for someone to help them. Most of them walked to the clinic because they could not afford the public tap tap transportation.
We pile out of the tap tap and make our way up the steps and through the front door…an iron gated entrance that resembles bars on a jail cell. These doors are kept latched all day long, and patients are only admitted with papers showing they have paid. Sergo, one of our Haitian helpers signals to the Haitians in line which ones are to enter the clinic waiting room, when we indicate to him how many we need at that time. One thing that is of utmost importance to Haitians is that the order of “first come, first served” never be violated through the whole process of admission, triage, access to doctors, lab work, and filling prescriptions. If we for some reason — valid or by accident — appear to move someone ahead of their “place in line,” we receive clear nonverbal, and sometimes verba,l expressions of dissatisfaction.
Each morning we gather in the triage room to start each day with a prayer that all the team and the translators read aloud and then disperse to begin work.
Monday, as the first day, we experienced growing pains in getting everything to run smoothly, but by today — a day when the morning was the most challenging by far — people were shifting roles, backfilling for each other, translators stepping up to do admissions by themselves, and even the tap tap drivers helping us with tasks as things got really hectic.
Creative solutions are derived when available equipment doesn’t quite meet the needs…for example the IV bottle hanging from the ceiling in the treatment room because the stand wasn’t tall enough. Similar ingenuity is applied in selecting medications and treatments using the resources we have at hand.
Today (Wednesday) has been the most challenging by far. It seems word got out that we have 4 really good doctors, and not only are getting more patients each day — 100 Monday, 120 Tuesday, 150 today — but the severity/criticality of them seems to be increasing. This morning pushed the limits of the facility and the resources for our staff to provide the needed care. But of course, they did! However, lunch never seemed so welcome. You would be surprised what an ice cold Coke can do to rejuvenate tired doctors and nurses. By the end today we were all worn out. Fittingly our evening devotions from Isaiah 40 reminded us that the “Lord gives strength to those who are weary,” and those who rely on the Lord will “find new strength … like eagles soaring upward on wings.”
Our dentist Joe gets kudos just for figuring out how to be able to do anything. The best thing about his work space was it is air conditioned. Once he found his compressor would not work, and other equipment missing or not working, he joked that maybe he would have to use a shop vac to do suction as he worked on teeth. In spite of having machine repair people come for multiple days, key equipment does not function. And instead of a dental hygienist, we are rotating nurses and non-medical staff both to serve as his assistants — on the job training each time. With all this, the dental team is doing 10-20 extractions a day — finishing after lunch and then joining the rest of the team in the clinic to help in the pharmacy and other tasks. And he stays unbelievably upbeat through it all.
While the clinic was charging along today, Pat Gunter and Nadege Dorleans (Pastor Leon’s daughter and superintendent of the four schools of Haiti Outreach Ministry) with some help from other team members took ALL of those clothes made/donated by so many people (at least eight large suitcases full, 50lbs apiece) across the courtyard from the clinic to the classrooms of Cite Soliel. Starting with the 3-year-olds and moving up classroom by classroom, every boy and girl in the whole school, through 6th grade got a new outfit… thanks to you all.
We took some pictures and videos of this which we can share when we return but let me try to give you a little notion how this worked.
First Nadege enters the classroom, followed by Pat and her helper(s). As Nadege enters, the little children spring up and stand by their seats and recite a respectful greeting to Nadege, along with her title. They are allowed then to sit back down.
Piles of dresses and boys outfits (pants/shirt) are placed on tables and the teacher, helpers, Pat and Nadege start picking a piece of clothing from the stack and holding it up to each child. If it fits, they are presented with it. If not, another one is tried until there is a match. And the adults move to the next child. I only saw the smallest children, and Pat says the children’s reactions varied with age group, but let me describe the preschoolers.
Watching the fitting isn’t so interesting. What IS interesting is after they realize they get to keep it, the recipient starts to smile, holding it up, maybe standing up and dancing with it. But the other children at the table at first are not sure they will get one and watch uncertainly the whole process. They don’t understand the “criteria” for getting something.
For example, one little boy at the end of the table got a set of clothes. He began to touch it, move it around, examine it. The teacher instead of moving to the two boys next to him at the same table, moved to the next table (I believe the next clothes set in the pile was too big for those two boys.)
These boys first looked at their neighbor’s outfit, turned to watch the teacher move away, glanced at each other and then…they sat up straight in their chairs, put both hands nicely on the table, put on big smiles and tried to look saintly. Their eyes however had widened and they clearly wanted to get the gift but were afraid they might not. The expressions on their faces can only be described as “HOPEFUL”, and when they each got an outfit can only be described as “ECSTATIC and RELIEVED”. This sequence of hopefulness and happiness continued throughout the classroom.
In devotions tonight someone commented that the education these children are getting will be their way up and out of the poverty in Haiti and enable them not to have to depend on clinics such as ours for themselves and their families. Yes, we are helping folks in the short term in the clinic, but we are helping folks for the long term in the school with our clothes donations and by those who have chosen to sponsor a child in the school for the year. Both are extremely important ways to help the people of Haiti.
Each day this week has been an amazing experience. The supportive chemistry of the team, the actual help given to more than 370 people in three days, the sight of these children and their joy in receiving the gifts of clothing, and the blessings and hugs from children, patients, translators, teachers, tap tap drivers, members of the church congregations, and the smiles and waves from strangers walking and riding up the street …and more than I have time to describe…have combined to make us feel fortunate to be able to experience this trip to Haiti. We are truly blessed.