By Fred J. McGlynn, MD
I just returned from another medical mission trip to Jacmel in Southern Haiti. I’ve been there numerous times since the January 2010 earthquake that injured over 300,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. I traveled in a team which included my wife, Tina. We had a busy 5 days and our team saw over 200 patients! I continue to be amazed by the resilience of the Haitian people I meet … the healthcare workers, the patients and their families. Please allow me to share Tina’s reflections from our trip:
Pazapa is full of children who have special needs. Some are triple winners with Hydrocephaly, Down Syndrome, and Hypotonia. But they all seem to smile. I was holding a little guy, about a year old, who was what they call a “floppy baby.” This means he had no muscle tone and could not hold his head up. His name was something like “Dawf.” I sang to him, and I can’t sing! But he smiled back at me with those distinctive dark eyes surrounded by bright whites planted in the middle of his rich, deep-dark skin. I could hardly believe that he was disabled! He was so beautiful!
One day we bounced up the pot-hole filled country roads in the back of a pick -up truck. Seatbelts are rare in Haiti. We were going to an outreach clinic in the small village of Areguy with a group of Speech, Physical, and Occupational Therapists. The clinic was set up in an open air structure that was their church. The altar was a card table which was used for speech therapy. Across the street was a school with crowded classrooms. Like Pazapa, three students were tightly crammed onto a bench in front of each desk. One of our translators, a Haitian named Wadson, from Boston, entertained the Haitian children during recess by doing terrific magic tricks and inspiring them to believe that with a good education and diligence in their studies, they could change their world. I so much hope that he is right.
There is such a contrast between the beauty of the rural areas and the poverty and crowdedness of the cities. The marketplaces are full of people selling live chickens that have all had their wings or legs clipped so they can’t go anywhere…or else chicken is sold already plucked and cut lying on newspaper on the ground with flies all over it. Everyone is selling used shoes and clothing. There are no real “stores” in most of Haiti. Just these marketplaces where everyone sells whatever they can find on the ground.
Haiti has an interesting collection of odors that can never be experienced unless you are there! The strong stench of charcoal burning is everywhere….sometimes so strong that it is hard to breathe…like being in a crowded place with cigarette smoke or standing downwind from a campfire.
The most important thing that I came away with is that there is a certain kind of wisdom and gratitude for life amongst these people that we, as Americans lack. We are so surrounded by our “important” stuff that we often forget the importance of the non-stuff like community and compassion. This non-stuff is infectious in Haiti. Since no one has anything, everyone shares “of themselves” completely. It is hard to explain without being there.
These trips to Haiti are sponsored by the Salva Vida Medical Foundation. Please click on this link to learn how you can support these vital mission trips: https://www.bsvaf.org/salvavida