Haiti Mission Trip

 

2017 Haiti Mission Trip:  April 22-29
FPC’s 5th mission team to Haiti returned on April 29 from  conducting a week-long medical clinic, with annual physicals and sick visits, at the Haiti Outreach Ministries (HOM) clinic in Cite Soleil.
Read about their journey below:

Postlude
   Our combined US and Haitian team saw almost 400 patients, ran 800 diagnostic tests and dispensed more than 1,000 prescriptions and OTC products.  We helped needy people feel a bit better and may have saved a few lives.  We felt God’s presence many times over the course of this week.
   The trip itself covered an eight-day period.  The planning took months and involved many people who deserve thanks. First Presbyterian Church staff spent hours printing medical forms, working on trip finances and storing medical products that would end up in the fifteen large suitcases that accompanied us to Haiti.  They cleaned up the mess we made on packing day.  
   People donated the suitcases, vitamins, eyeglasses, etc. that we took with us.  Through their pledges, the congregation purchased the products we used and dispensed.  Volunteers In Medicine folks helped us by facilitating the pharmaceutical and medical products orders.  Perhaps most importantly, people in our congregation and elsewhere prayed for our team.  For this, and other unmentioned support, we want to express our sincerest gratitude and thanks.  Blessings to all.
The 2017 Haiti Mission Team

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti
Saturday, April 29, 2017
   For the first time in a week, we were able to sleep in.  Unfortunately, the crowing rosters and barking dogs were not notified of our plans.  Most of us were up before 7am and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.  Then we packed for the trip home.  
   Our flight didn’t leave until mid afternoon, so we had time to visit the House of Hope orphanage, run by Nadege Gay, Pastor Leon’s (HOM founder) adopted daughter.  The House of Hope currently houses fifteen orphaned girls.  These girls are among the fortunate few orphans in Haiti who are loved, housed, fed and educated.  We laughed, giggled and sang songs until it was time for us to leave.
   We finished packing, loaded up the tap-taps and made an uneventful, though long, trip home.
 

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti
Friday, April 28, 2017
   Friday is a “mixed emotions” day.  We work enthusiastically because there is much left to do.  We also have fits of melancholy.  This is the last day we will work together as a team this year.  We will say “good bye” to new and old friends.  Tomorrow we go home.
   We traditionally finish up by early afternoon on Friday because we have to inventory remaining pharmacy stocks and clean up, after the last patient departs. But, this is Haiti, so things don’t always go as planned.  Between follow-up patients and new patients, our workload was larger than expected. So, instead of finishing by mid-afternoon, we worked to the end of the day, seeing a total of ninety-one patients.
   Despite being a bit tired, we cleaned up, did the inventory and then assembled for the ‘Closing Ceremony’.  This is a team favorite.  We thanked our Haitian team members again for the important role they played in caring for our patients.  We gave them Certificates of Appreciation from First Presbyterian Church.  The certificates are signed on the front by our senior pastor, Doug Fletcher.  The US team members signed the back of each certificate and wrote personal notes to those with whom they worked closely.  As we presented these certificates, we emphasized yet again how important their role was in our joint effort to provide comfort and healing to those in need.
   Our Haitian team appreciates these certificates, as well as the wrist bands we gave them earlier in the week.  Several of the Haitian team members acted as spokespersons for the group, expressing their thanks and appreciation to us for leaving the comfort of our homes and families to provide care and treatment for the sick and infirm in Haiti.  I marvel at the generous hearts and gracious spirits of our Haitian friends.  We took several team photos, shook hands and shared hugs.  Then we climbed into our tap-tap for the last ride to the guest house.
   But…it had rained hard earlier in the afternoon.  Hard rains in Cite Soleil result in street flooding.  Trash and debris filled storm waters swept through the main road through Cite Soleil.  So, we waited a bit before cautiously proceeding.  The water was still more than a foot deep. The stench was unpleasant.  Fortunately, our tap-tap had good ground clearance and we made our way through several flooded sections of road.  Eventually we reached high ground and arrived at the guest house a half hour later than expected.
   Friday evening we enjoyed yet another treat.  Dr. Quency, the chief physician of the Cite Soleil clinic, and his family joined us for supper.  Dr. Quency’s wife works for the Haitian government in a management capacity.  They have an eleven-month-old boy and an energetic three-year-old girl.
   After supper Dr. Quency talked about the challenges of practicing medicine in Haiti.  Diagnostic testing is expensive and not readily available.  To be successful, Haitian physicians have to be very good listeners and evaluators of symptoms.  When prompted, Dr. Quency said that one of the top items on his want list is an ultrasound, a basic diagnostic device found in every hospital and most clinics in the US.
   After saying goodbye to Dr. Quency and family, we presented additional Certificates of Appreciation to the guest house staff who worked hard to make our stay comfortable.  Exhausted from a long day, we soon retired for the evening.
 

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti
Thursday, April 27, 2017
   Our morning routine is just that, a routine.  As routines go, it is a nice one.  We listen to elementary and middle school kids sing while eating breakfast at 6:30am.  Then we go to the clinic.  
   Today our routine was broken in an uplifting way.  On the way to the clinic, we stopped to tour the new HOM high school.  The seventh and eight grade building was humming with activity.  The site is impressive, with plans for additional buildings to teach ninth through thirteenth grades and a vocational school.  It is hard to imagine kids in the slums of Haiti actually having the opportunity to go to high school, much less trade school.
   School is compulsory in Haiti through the sixth grade.  But, each child has to pay to go to school.  Most children in the slums can’t go to school because their parents can’t afford to send them.  Also, in Haiti’s public schools, the student/teacher ratio is often 60 to 1.  In the HOM schools the ratio is 15 to 1.  Three hundred sixty dollars will sponsor a child in the HOM school system for a year.  It is a good investment in the future.
  As we toured the school, we listened to a recorder band play a complex piece.  Kids were reading music and playing very well.  We immediately noticed the improvement from last year.  Our tour was conducted by Claude Douchard, the high school principal.  Claude was a student in the HOM school system years ago and also an interpreter for mission teams.  His brother Wadler, another product of the HOM schools, is finishing his medical residency in October.  Clearly, this ministry is having a huge impact on Haiti’s future.  The tour made us late to clinic, but it was well worth the inconvenience.
   Thursday is usually the busiest day of the week in our clinic.  We are seeing new patients and conducting follow up visits.  In all, we saw eighty-one patients today.  At the end of the day, we wondered how we summoned the energy to see all those patients.  The answer to that question lies on our Scripture for the day.  
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13  
   This is a very simple, straightforward statement of faith.  We found it to be true on this particular Thursday.
   After dinner, as we were writing notes on Certificates of Appreciation to our interpreters and others who were part of our team on this trip, we brainstormed new ways in which we might collaborate with the Haitian medical staff.  The objective is to provide better patient care through better sharing of knowledge and experiences.  We look forward to continuing that conversation tomorrow as the Haitian medical director joins us for dinner.  We also look forward to our Friday tradition of handing out the Certificates of Appreciation to the Haitian portion of our team and taking team photos.
   Now it is once again time to go to bed as we have another busy day planned tomorrow.

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
   I know I have shared this before, but it bears repeating.  When our team leaves the US for Haiti, it is truly only half a team.  We would not be able to do our work without the other half of our team.  The other half of the team is comprised first and foremost of our interpreters.  We would not be able to triage, diagnose or treat our patients without our interpreters.  There are others on the Haitian half of the team who also contribute to our joint effort.  They include our tap-tap driver, trip coordinator and guest house workers.  They also include the medical staff of the permanent Haitian clinic.
   Getting back to our interpreters, here is a brief profile.  They are bright, energetic young men and women who speak both French and English.  They also have a basic vocabulary of medical terms which are essential for the type of interpreting we need them to do.  They seem to care about our patients every bit as much as we do.  They are the proverbial ‘cream of the crop’ in Haiti.
   But, and there often is a ‘but’, there is a dark side that we on the US portion of the team struggle to reconcile in our own minds.  When someone says ‘it is a good day’, I am fond of replying that ‘every day is a good day’.  One of our interpreters asked me, without a hint of sarcasm, how he could have a ‘good day’ if he was hungry.  I explained that my comment was really about managing our attitude, which is one of the few things we can really control in life.  I admitted that maintaining a positive attitude would be a real challenge if I hadn’t eaten in two days.  Later we learned that when we first sat down to lunch with all our interpreters, it was the first meal several of them had eaten in a couple of days.
   Food insecurity is rampant in Haiti’s slums, even among the best and brightest.  Jobs are just not available.  Despite being hungry, our interpreters work every bit as hard as we do to treat our patients’ needs.  In addition to actually interpreting, they record patient data on medical records and help us narrow down complaints to the major health issues.  Interpreters play with and distract children who are being poked, prodded or injected.  They work side-by-side with us in the pharmacy counting pills and mixing pediatric antibiotic suspensions.  They patiently, and sometimes painstakingly, go over complex prescription instructions until both we and they are confident that the patient understands them.  
   You (and we) might wonder how our interpreters can work so hard to bring comfort to our patients, while they are also suffering.  Perhaps the answer lies in our Scripture passage for the day.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And I said, “Here am I; send me” Isaiah 6:8
   Our interpreters are answering God’s call just as we are.  We are blessed to be able to work with them.
   We quit work early today, after seeing forty-seven patients.  We wanted to spend a couple of hours souvenir shopping.  We chose to revisit a team favorite, the Apparent Project.  This group’s mission is to keep single parents with children together.  This mission began after the earthquake to provide daycare and employment for surviving spouses and children. The good work that this organization does is heartwarming.  They make a variety of arts and crafts products including jewelry and metal artwork that is sold worldwide. We toured their factory, daycare center and retail store. We purchased souvenirs with the satisfaction of knowing that the money was going to a great mission.
   To end on a positive note, the good news about our interpreters is that they will be paid well (by Haiti standards) for their week’s work with us.  They each receive $20.00 per day.  At the end of the week, the $100 they earn will feed a family of four in Haiti for more than a month.
   We are now off to bed, looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure.

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
   Our day began with…you guessed it…barking dogs and crowing roosters…one of Haiti’s less appreciated (at least by us) charms.  After sandwiches were made and breakfast consumed, we again watched the children gather for morning assembly before school.  I always feel blessed to witness these kids singing hymns and just being kids.  The finalists and winners of yesterday’s Bible contest were announced and all the participants were applauded.
   The team van is still broken.  Undeterred, at 7:30am we all piled into our brightly colored tap-tap.  When I say all, I mean ten US team members and four of our Haitian team members – plus the driver.  Fifteen folks squeezed into a space designed to seat eight in the back and two in front.  We used to chuckle when we would see the overloaded tap-taps on the road.  Now that we have worn this ‘too tight’ shoe, we will likely have more empathy and fewer chuckles when we next see an overcrowded tap-tap.
   More patients were waiting for us today than yesterday.  That was good because our team is already ticking like a Swiss watch.  We all pitched in and soon the clinic was filled with a constant din of human interaction, periodically punctuated by the more piercing sound of crying babies.  We stopped for lunch a little after noon and enjoyed food and conversation with our Haitian partners.  We handed out Jesus ‘The Rogue” wrist bands which also displayed the acronym WWJD (What Would Jesus Do).  We talked about what Jesus ‘The Rogue’ meant and how we might live WWJD lives.  We went back to work after lunch and didn’t let up until the last patient was seen after 4pm.  We had seen seventy-seven patients and were exhausted.
   Following our usual schedule, we returned to the clinic, cleaned up a bit and then had dinner.  Instead of our traditional devotions, some team members went to the House of Hope girl’s orphanage, run by Nadege Gay.  Nadege is an energetic young woman who is also the assistant superintendent of the Haiti Outreach Ministries schools system. Members toured the orphanage and were serenaded by the girls with a beautiful rendition of ‘Oh My Soul’, in English.  It was a heartwarming experience.
   Looking back on this day, it might be called the day of the children, at least from our team’s perspective.  At the guest house, we again saw some of the more than 1,300 children educated in the HOM school system, which spans pre-K through high school and includes a vocational school.  These are kids who will lead Haiti into a more prosperous future.  
   At the clinic, children dominated the day’s noteworthy patients.  A mother came in to be treated.  In passing she mentioned to Chuck that she had 24 children, several of home were sets of twins.  Chuck was amazed.  Imagine raising 24 children anywhere in the world, but especially in a third world country.  Another mom came in a set of twin toddlers who were sick.  The toddlers had teenage siblings who were also twins, as well as, three-year-old sibling twins.
   Later in the day, a mother brought in twin ten-day-old twins, who were born prematurely.  They were born at home without benefit of any pre or post natal care.  Today was the twins first visit to a doctor.  One was slightly less than 4 lbs and the other was slightly more than 4lbs.  Despite fantastic odds, both children were nursing well and seemed to be thriving.  
   We are often asked: ‘Where did you see God today?”  Today are answer is that we saw God’s hand at work in Haiti’s children.

 

Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti
Monday, April 24, 2017
   Alarms went off at 6am, drowning out a chorus of crowing roosters and barking dogs.  The designated lunch crew went up to the screened in dining area to make lunches for the entire Haitian/US team.  Twelve ham and cheese sandwiches and twelve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were made in assembly line fashion.
   The rest of us wandered up soon after to partake in a breakfast of pancakes, boiled eggs and bananas.  We were compelled to periodically peer out over the courtyard where the school kids were already starting to congregate.  At 7am, the school assembly began with hymns and the national anthem.  That was followed by a a Bible competition among the different grades. The joyful noise brightened our day.  At 7:30am we departed for the clinic, fifteen of us crowded into a single tap-tap because the van was still down.  
   The first day of clinic is approached with equal parts of apprehension and enthusiasm.  We are apprehensive because we are a team of twenty people who have never before worked together.  It will require a high level of trust and cooperation to achieve the results we all want.  We are enthusiastic because this is the reason we came to Haiti – to help those less fortunate than ourselves and in the process sharing God’s love with each other.
   We arrived at the clinic to a throng of people queued up to see us.  It would take us an entire day to see everyone in the line.  We are not enchanted that some folks must wait hours in the heat to see us, but that is the Haitian way.
   We introduced ourselves to our interpreters and prepared our work stations to see patients.  Our providers met with Dr. Quency, the Haitian medical director for a briefing on ailments that are most prevalent at this point in time.  He observations and suggestions were much appreciated.  Then the doors opened and we went to work.  By mid morning, most of the usual hurdles were overcome and we were beginning to function as a well practiced team.
   Just like at home, we naively hope we will be able to cure or fix everything we see.  Just like at home, we quickly realize we can’t.  We treat and comfort a teenage girl who was beaten by her father, but we cannot fix the circumstances that resulted in the beating.  We treat a young man beaten by police because he did not have proper work documentation, but again cannot fix the problem.  We saw several other patients with conditions that are curable in the US, but not here in Haiti.  So, why bother?  One answer is that we saw 67 patients today.  The great majority were placed on a treatment plan that would improve their physical health and wellbeing.
   Another answer was provided by Jemps Alexis, a night caretaker for Haiti Outreach Ministries and former interpreter for FPC teams, who also aspires one day to be a church pastor in Haiti.  Jemps was participating in our evening devotions.  He related that after the 2010 earthquake, Haitians had lost all hope.  People were so traumatized, physically and mentally, that they were no longer able to help themselves, much less their families and friends.  Nations from around the world immediately responded and rendered aid.  Once the initial disaster recover was completed, many left.  But, mission teams like ours continued to come.  Haitians would see the planes landing and know there were people on board who cared about them and would help them rebuild their nation.  Despair was gradually replaced by renewed hope.  According to Jemps, this was God’s hand at work.  We agreed.
 
Dateline: Port-au-Prince Haiti
Sunday, April 23, 2017
   Our day began at 5:30 am, as we got ready for church.  After donning our Sunday best and grabbing a quick breakfast, we were off to our first church service in Terre Noire.  We joined a worship service filled with joyful music and prayer.  We couldn’t understand the words, but the energy and enthusiasm swept us along for the ride.  Our team was acknowledged and thanked for our service.  We stayed through the Lord’s Supper and the offering.  We then left for our second service in Cite Soleil, followed by a third service in Rapatriate.  During each service, we received a warm welcome.  We continued to sense the presence of the Spirit throughout the morning.
   After the final service, we headed back to the guest house to change clothes and load all the clinic supplies into our van.  We stopped for lunch at the UN compound, a favorite of Haitian and US team members alike. After a good lunch and fine fellowship we headed to the clinic.  We cleaned, unpacked and sorted many suitcases of supplies, and set up the various clinic rooms to see patients on Monday morning.  After completing this arduous task, we were off to the Deli-Mart, a supermarket where we pick up lunch supplies for the week.  This particular task went surprisingly smoothly this year.  After loading all the groceries necessary to feed lunch to more than 20 people for a week into the van…the van wouldn’t start!  One of the first things you learn when doing mission work in a third world country is “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.  The next thing you learn is that it is all “small stuff”.  After several attempts to repair and start the van failed, a replacement tap-tap was finally called into action.  The tap-tap arrived about thirty minutes later.  We loaded ourselves and our groceries into the tap-tap and finally made it back to our guest house an hour late for dinner.
   As usual, dinner was excellent, if a bit cold.  After dinner we enjoyed an abbreviated devotion, as we were all tired from a long day.  We fondly recalled how our day began, filled with joyful song and prayer.  We knew with great certainty that despite not being able to understand what was said and sung in the services, we were nonetheless filled with the Spirit. 

 

Dateline: Hilton Head Island, Savannah and Port-au-Prince Haiti
Saturday, April 22, 2017
   Travel day is always fraught with anxiety.  We worry about flight delays, lost luggage, pandemonium at the Port-au-Prince airport and a host of other potential travel-related problems.  Our two travel day scriptures encourage us to give up our anxiety and fear, and trust in our Lord.  These scriptures should encourage us all:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 40:10;  and:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
   As the day unfolded, we were blessed with smooth sailing.  Our flights were on time.  Sixteen suitcases loaded with pharmaceuticals, medical and surgical supplies, education supplies and fifty cute pillowcase dresses all arrived safely. After getting settled in and enjoying Haiti pumpkin soup for dinner.  Then new team members and veterans got to know each other better, sharing our stories.