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Monday, 17 January 2011 22:49

Haitian Experience

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December 30 through January 3

After my August trip to Haiti, I hoped to return during the Christmas/New Year's break. Due to our New York blizzard of December, I was unable to leave on the 27th as scheduled. I travelled on the 30thinstead. I was met at the airport of Port-au-Prince by a driver from "Mathew 25" a house of hospitality accommodating over 30 people. It was established in 2005 by the parish twinning program of the Americas. It provides assistance to North Americans visiting their twinning parishes.

The hospitality at Matthew 25 was fabulous. I met people from Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts (Cape Cod), California and other areas. Since it was holiday season many college students were out to visit parish projects. It is encouraging to hear so many young people talk about their concern of the poor in Haiti.

Sr. Mary, the director of Matthew 25, is an energetic retired nun. She had everyone assigned to a room, had all the airport trips organized, catered to everyone's needs and was totally organized. Sometimes things looked very hectic with so many people coming and going but Sr. Mary was calm and had everything in control.

Haitians are very tense at this time. They are still waiting for the results of their elections and are expecting riots to follow the announcement. They are also very upset at the UN whom they hold responsible for the cholera epidemic. Because of the fear of riots and the anger at the UN I was strongly discouraged from walking alone in the streets for any distance from Matthew 25. Because of this I was driven to the Missionaries of Charity hospital every morning and picked up in the afternoon. Being catered to this way was uncomfortable (I suppose I am somewhat of an independent person) but there was an upside to it. I got to know the young driver and I learned a lot about Haiti during our rides together. He wanted to learn English and I wanted to learn Creole. Since we had French in common we got along well.

Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity run a hospital for malnourished children. That's where I helped feed and, for much of the time, I just held babies. I was shocked at the nutritional state of the children. On the one floor where I spent my time there are forty beds for children with Kwashiorkor and Marasmus. The children came in with pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera, vomiting, diarrhea, scabies and all sorts of aliments but one thing is common to all, malnutrition.

The children are treated for whatever disease they come in with and are fed nutritious foods with vitamins added. The Sisters are wonderful and are very gentle and affectionate to the children. I was very impressed with their care of their patients. When I asked a nun what I should do with a particular child she replied: "This baby is clean, she has just eaten, she is not in pain, but she is crying. She needs someone to hold her". The Sisters spent time with the mothers, teaching and encouraging them. When I was there four or five of the mothers were present taking care for their child. Other children were not fortunate enough to have a parent visit them. It was sad to see the mothers try to breast feed as it looked as if there was not a drop of milk in their breasts; however it was soothing to the baby.

I asked the sisters what they needed for the children. I was told that it is against their rule to ask for things. Food, vitamins, and antibiotics they can buy in Port-au-Prince. The little cribs are in need of paint but they are clean. The rooms are dark and crowded because they are living temporarily on the bottom floor of a residence that was build for volunteers. A portion of the hospital was destroyed during the earthquake a year ago, so they had to move the babies to the present location.

The hospital has beautiful accommodations for volunteers. I am not sure what space is available but I did see the top floor with three rooms. The one room I saw open had three beds in it with an adjoining bathroom.

While driving around Port-au-Prince I saw a lot of destruction but little reconstruction. Perhaps that was because I was there between Christmas and New Year's. There are still one million people living in tent camps which are crowded and filthy. One thing that struck me was to see a well kept, sturdy building with only a few cracks in the walls next to a crumbled building where the former occupants are living in tents. I was told that the well constructed buildings in that area withstood the earthquake. To see the dirty old tents right next to a clean well painted house was very depressing. Port-au-Prince is huge and there are many people with nowhere to live, many have no jobs and that means no money and no food. In speaking to the volunteers going out to their twinning parishes, which are mainly out of the city, I was told that they do not see malnutrition in the countryside as is seen in Port-au-Prince.

The Haitian people are very easy to love. They are gentle, polite and soft spoken. I have never been on such a crowded aircraft where I heard no complaining or fussing. It is a pleasure to travel with them. Not sure what I can or will do next. I would like to return to the Missionaries of Charity but for a longer stay and with a companion. I have to do a bit more research and make a decision.

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