May 12, 2017
The first day was a travel day. We left Fort Wayne at 3:30 a.m. in two vans; packed with luggage, medical supplies and sleeping USF nursing students. The group carpooled it to O’Hare Field in Chicago.
Fourteen hours and two flights later we were greeted in Haiti by a four piece band playing Caribbean style tourist music. I suddenly understood what our group leader, Dr. Amy Obringer, had meant when she said the airport in Cap-Haitien has more maracas than the one in Port-au-Prince.
After a few tense minutes with customs officials over the medical supplies, we were able to leave. We were greeted by Father Andre, and then loaded up the three pickup trucks he had brought from the Parish. I chose a window seat inside one of the trucks. Some of the nursing and PA students climbed in the open truck bed. None of them had experienced a Haitian road before, I had.
Within minutes, we were bumping our way through chaotic traffic. At any given moment the driver was steering head on at another vehicle as he maneuvered around the large pot holes in the semi, (and I use this term generously), paved roads. I placed my faith in the driver and looked out the window. Motorcycles, one of the main ways of getting around, zipped and wove through the slower vehicles, sometimes carrying as many as four passengers at a time.
As we swung around on a “shortcut” behind the Cap Haitien Airport all paving disappeared and was replaced with rutted gravel and dirt. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I saw the students hanging onto the sides of the truck and the piles of luggage as they bounced around the truck bed. All were smiling. Welcome to Haiti.
May 13, 2017
Friday was the first day the group spent at the hospital. After getting off to a slow start, a flat tire issue, we arrived at New Hope Hospital.
As we pulled up in front, I saw many people were already waiting. The crowd had overflowed the hospital lobby, and some were standing on the ramp that leads to the front door.
Walking in, the crowd parted before us. The noise level was deafening. The local staff gave some direction, but it took a couple of days for an efficient intake system to be put into place. Dr. Kate Heimann, Dentist, Kelly Ulman, and pediatrics resident, Chelsey Weil, were given their own exam rooms on the first floor while Will Kammel, the Physician’s Assistant and Nate James, a medical resident studying ER medicine in Texas shared a large room on the second floor. The translators the group had hired helped with intake and also stayed in the rooms with the medical personnel during exams and procedures.
It was a long day. Already tired from the day of travel, the endless stream of patients was a challenge for all. Old and young waited, dozing in a chair or laying in the hallway during the heat of the day. The low fee to see the “American Doctors,” had brought out a huge number of people. Many had not seen a doctor in years. Although it was harder to connect with the language barrier, a warm smile and the very fact they were willing to wait clearly showed they were glad the group was there.
The system at New Hope Hospital was so different from the US it took the group a while to get used to the limited resources. There were also the interpretation differences. For example, what was translated as “gas” into English, actually meant stomach pain.
At the end of the day, the medical team had a brief meeting with the Hospital Staff. It was suggested they move more quickly in their exams and order fewer tests. Time on lab turnaround could leave a patient waiting all day.
Exhausted, the group stopped by Our Lady of Perpetual Help Orphanage and then headed back to the Parish, where they were staying with Father Andre.
A typical day at New Hope Hospital
May 14, 2017
Sunday gave the team a much-needed rest. A two hour Catholic Mass, in a tent with several parishes, and then an afternoon at a beach outside of Cap-Haitien.
Along the way, I shot some photos. First at church, and then as we drove to and from the beach. The following slideshow is a few of those moments.
Mass and Street Scenes
The following slideshow has scenes from the orphanage, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, that the student group, Formula for Life, helped to fund. In 2013, when I last visited, the orphanage was just beginning to get traction. Architects were meeting with Father Andre at that time, and his biggest concern was building a wall around the property so they could put in the wells.
Students during that visit had helped to make cement blocks and spent time with the kids at the former residence. Fast forward to 2017 and the orphanage just outside Cap-Haitien is up. Still under construction, but close enough to finished that they were able to move in last summer.
Although we had much less time to spend there on this trip, I was able to shoot a few images. Besides the main building, there is a school building, and the permanent house for the nuns is under construction. Father Andre would like to add a guest house and a clinic. But those are currently unfunded.
The group gave the kids physicals and those who needed dental work had the chance to get it done for free.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Orphanage
We flew back Tuesday, May 16, to the land where people take clean water, electricity, and indoor plumbing for granted.
It is always jarring to return from a country that has so little to a place that has so much. Less than two hours apart, these two countries exist in totally different realities of “normal.”
The following is a short video I put together from some of the footage I shot in Haiti and an interview with Dr. Amy Obringer.