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From May 18-26, 2013, eleven Duke alumni and friends will travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for a week of service with Family Health Ministries, an NGO whose mission is to assist Haitian communities in their efforts to build and sustain healthy families.
This is our third trip with Family Health Ministries. The team will spend their week assisting in a medical clinic in Blanchard, just outside of Port-au-Prince. Kathy Walmer, Executive Director of Family Health Ministries and adjunct professor at the Duke Global Health Institute will be leading the group again this year.
Please check back often for their messages and updates during their time in Haiti.
Saturday, May 18: Travel Day! Our group struck an instant affinity for one another as we met at the gate in Miami. Representing Washington, DC, Cincinnati, LA, NC, and Baltimore and ages across the board, including our youngest, a Duke ’13 grad, we hopped on AA and headed to Port au Prince, craning our necks out of windows as we descended to see our home for the next eight days….the home that would likely steal our hearts and souls before we finished our adventure.
Our first day included a car ride that would earn our leader and Executive Director of FHM the moniker of “The Intrepid One” as she drove us through total traffic mayhem, over speed bumps, through rubble, up and down hills to get us to the Matthew 25 Guesthouse – immaculate and welcoming, with hand-painted murals on several small cabins sleeping two, three, or four, a bathroom for every seven or so of us, cold showers – refreshing in our 90 degree temps! – and fans!!
We took a walk around our neighborhood, admiring lush bougainvillea and marveling how it juxtaposes stone rubble and dust. Much to our delight, we were met by the family friends of one of our group who piled us into their air-conditioned car to show us a bit of the city, and took us to Deli-Mart for bug spray and snacks. Rolling hills across huge mountains with homes built into them graced the scenery. Back “home”, the typically generous Haitian couple invited us all to lunch on Sunday. Our first meal at Matthew 25 could have fed the entire neighborhood and we all rested well that night after a cooling rainstorm, with the local dogs and roosters reminding us that it was a good thing we brought those earplugs!
Sunday started off with a dash, as we all woke up late due to our phones being off by one hour; yikes! Still, some got in a run / walk around the soccer field next door before breakfast where we met a young man reading Scripture quietly to himself in the stone bleachers.
The lovely church we attended is in one of, if not the poorest area of Port au Prince. On the way, pigs and goats roamed freely and a mother and her five small children washed clothing in a puddle from last night’s rain. By lovely church, we mean the people. The building was open, simple, breezy, and big. French mantras lined the walls, such as: Our Mission is to Love God, Serve your Neighbor, Leave and Serve, and Saved by Serving. The Haitian people take their faith very seriously, as that is all they have. They, perhaps 1200, all looked beautifully pressed in their Sunday best. An amazing thing to witness, especially when you consider most live in shacks or tents without plumbing. The singing was spirited, uplifting, and cheerful; when the women sang, the birds flying freely in the openness sang along. When someone dozed off, monitors tapped them on the shoulder as a reminder to be attentive. Fun to watch! After service, the little kids came up to us, so we all got out cameras as the children posed and then asked to see their photos. Very sweet, with manners and beautiful faces.
Next! the set-up our outpatient medical clinic in Blanchard before Monday’s day of work. All feel a bit anxious about our assignments, but we love what we are here for, and the core of folks we are with is a gift.
After setting up clinic, we were off to Sunday lunch at the home of our Haitian hosts. We were served a feast of pork, goat, veggies, pasta, rice and beans, fried plantains, and fresh mangos, cherries, and limes squeezed fresh into juice from their garden. We reveled in such warm hospitality.
The next four days will be full of work and we all share the wealth of knowing that we have our hearts open to what this brings.
Monday, 7:15 am and the car battery won’t start! A quick fix and we’re off to work. Nine hours and 160 patients later, we gathered after supper to reflect on the highlights of the day, what could have gone better, what we will remember. The maladies that were presented to our five health care professionals, the translators whose stories of strife and goals for life gave us pause, the children whose smiles paralyzed us. There was frustration over those patients who’d traveled since 2AM to get to the clinic to be seen for eight minutes by a health provider when the diagnosis was such that our equipment and meds could never meet the need. There was the reminder that we are here to let our patients know we care for them, we give them a path to recovery by virtue of their visit, to be followed up by the full time clinic in place when we are not.
Overall, it is evident that the sharing among our group has already resulted in intimate cohesion, only to be furthered as we continue our journey together. We are all really glad we came.