Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Parting memories of our trip

So much happens over the course of one week on these mission trips. Difficult to capture all of it; partly due to my fatigue at the end of the day. Fatigue which builds as the week goes on. Working in the heat saps our energy, as well as carrying all the responsibilities of each day. Did we give the Braille maps to the blind classes teacher yet? No, they are still at the guest house. Did anyone see my water bottle?  Who has the lidocaine?  Does anyone know if we brought any 3 cc syringes?  Where is that extra hand sanitizer you brought? Did you see my black bag in the clinic? I think John has my glasses.  No you gave them to Claire.  Remember there are 4 kids who need Amoxicillin tomorrow.  Remember to give Madame JoAnn a glucometer and the rest of the glucose strips. If we have any extra suitcases left, I promised to give one to JoJo   Let's give the rest of the snacks and granola bars to Alphonse....and on and on it goes. 

Claire is surprised that she so quickly became an integral part of our team. Her music brought joy to the kids during the day and to the team relaxing at the guest house in the evenings. Hearing Dieumene sing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is now one of my all time favorite Haiti memories.  

Sherye worked with many of the teachers on lesson plans and @@@@@@@@@@@@@@
She has been planning this for months and was worried about how she would be received; would she connect with the teachers? Would they be interested in what she had to say?  She came out of those sessions practically singing about her experience; how great everyone was and how they exceeded her expectations.

Before leaving the guesthouse today for the airport we got to visit with Pere Sadoni briefly. Phillip explained his plans for continuing dental care for the children, with the assistance of Dr Samuel Prophete who is Dean of the dental school in PortauPrince. We gave him an envelope stuffed with money collected from all of us. None of the team is returning home with more than $20 in their pockets!  Pere Sadoni said a final prayer to bless our group as we departed. 

As I sit on the plane now, watching  mountains beyond mountains fall away below me, Brittany tells me about getting bitten by mosquitoes while waiting at the airport. She wished out loud that she hadn't packed her bug spray, and Vickie handed her a bug spray wipe.  Mama Vickie. Such a gift to our team. Before she started coming with us 3 trips ago, we were always losing things. Never had our medical cards organized properly. Always needing a paper towel or hand sanitizer, a ziplock bag or something to eat. Now we just ask Mama Vickie and like magic she produces what we need. The Brittany story continues with Brittany pulling her boarding pass out of her pocket to board the plane, and after standing in line a few minutes realizing the mosquito repellent on her hands has managed to wipe off all the numbers on her ticket. She does not know which seat or have proof of which flight she is on. Fortunately her second boarding pass for her connecting flight is undamaged and can be scanned, so she is allowed to board the plane after all.  

We are all more than ready to be home and see our families and loved ones. But we have left behind more than granola bars and vitamins, glucometers and Braille maps. Anyone who comes to St Vincents knows this. So be gentle with us, those of you who have missed us for a week. We may be a little withdrawn, slightly intolerant of the mad shopping culture that fills America in this holiday season.  We carry something with us that we may not be able to explain in words. Not to mention the fact that when we arrive at the airport we will not smell very good! A peculiar mix of sweat, Haiti dust, sunscreen and bug spray.  See you soon!

Susan Nelson

Friday, November 21, 2014

Beach Day

Today we spent a lovely day at Kaliko beach. This is where the St Vincent's kids come for one week of summer camp, called Camp Jacob. Lovely pools as well as a fabulous beach. See our twitter feed for photos. Our team enjoyed "adult beverages" (Mango Rum or Gin and Tonic), cool breezes, lawn chairs under palm frond umbrellas.  Lots of sunscreen. Nonetheless a few sunburned faces and arms by the end of the day, especially the group who went snorkeling.

On the way to the beach we stopped at the memorial site where thousands of people were buried after the earthquake. Sonya Yencer wrote eloquently about our experience, check out Sonya's blog at redthreadpromise.org. Go to (copy and paste into your browser).    redthreadpromise.blogspot.com/2014/11/haiti-saying-no.html?m=1

Beach day is a day to unwind and to enjoy the beauty of Haiti, to realize that not all of Haiti is grinding poverty, that her beaches are as lovely as any in the Bahamas or Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.  

Sitting together on the beach this morning, drinks in hand and a cool breeze on our faces, we started a list of Haiti quotes.  

1. What I like about this breeze is there's not a stink at the end of it
2. When I get home I leave my suitcase outside for 2 days.  That way the smell doesn't get into the house and any critters I brought home have a chance to run away.
3. I drink in two places.  Haiti and the American Society of Microbiology.
4. What is it about my toenails turning brown in Haiti?
5. Haiti is a land of contrasts at every corner.
6. So you have to tie the door shut.  What's your point? (Referring to the door on the bus we ride everyday )
7. Haiti melts my chocolate and melts my heart.

I am happy at the end of the week, knowing we have all done our very best to bring care and healing to the handicapped children at St Vincent's.  Tomorrow we return home to our families and loved ones. We are exhausted, sunburned, and some who have been to  Haiti for the first time will grieve.  It is heart wrenching to leave the children and worry about how they will get enough food, enough attention, enough of everything they need to grow and learn. But in traveling to Haiti all these years I have learned a secret.  The children thrive and grow, pa de pa as they say in Haiti. Little by little. And God takes special care of these children.  What we give during our time in Haiti is only a small part of God's plan for them. 

Susan Nelson

Gifts and Goodbyes

Our last day at St Vincents is always full; things done and left undone as we say in our prayer of Confession. Names of patients we want to see again, to recheck blood pressures or make sure their ailments are improving. Phil carries in two kids on his shoulders who need amoxicillin for their dental infections. Teachers drop by to ask for something for headaches, for "grip" (Cold symptoms), for a pain somewhere they forgot to mention to me yesterday while they were being seen. Vickie diligently sorts thru the medical cards to find the appropriate record from earlier in the week, sometimes from the same day. Late yesterday afternoon we ran out of our 5x7 preprinted medical cards and started using slips of paper for our patient records.   
 
The most interesting patient we saw today was a young woman with a badly infected leg. I remember her from two years ago! She has a chronic infection and swelling covering most of her lower leg below the mid calf.  Vickie, a microbiologist, suspects a chronic fungal infection and I think she's right. The patient has no pain from the wound.  We cleaned it and dressed it with antibiotic ointment and gave her  two shots of Rocephin. The shots were more painful than the wound itself!  While Kara, Ashley and I worked on her leg, JoJo told Sherye about Haitian voudou. Apparently the woman has an appointment this week with a Haitian voudou priest. She believes this wound happened because someone cursed her. The Haitian priest can cure her by casting out the evil spirit. JoJo told us that when we come back to Haiti next March we will see a miracle, then we will know she was cured by voudou.  Maybe so, but just in case I plan to bring some equipment to do a biopsy and culture and make a proper diagnosis. 
 
Phil and John went to meet Dr Samuel Prophete, a faculty member at the Dental School in Port Au Prince. Sounds like a terrific meeting; discussion of how to get St Vincents kids into the weekly dental clinics. Phil has found a tremendous amount of infections, cavities and more serious problems in the children.  I greatly appreciate his hard work in difficult circumstances bringing a service to these children they have not had since the earthquake. (2010)
 
My favorite part of the day was with Frenel. I have a large photo of this young boy reading Braille, in my office. One of my patients who is also blind, has heard about my work at St Vincents and gave me a set of Braille playing cards. Sitting with Frenel and Mackenson on the steps in the school courtyard, I showed Frenel the difference between the 4 of clubs and the 4 of diamonds, and so on. He quickly caught on, so I taught the two boys to play Go Fish. In Kreyol mostly. Except for the "punch line". Mackenson kept saying Go First!
Soon after that we were invited to listen to the handbell choir.  The group of 10 players are all blind, led by Professor Simeon. They played OH SUSANNAH in my honor, and also a song about Noah's Ark complete with animal sounds performed by a student named Geraldo. A true cut-up. 

Another gift was from Rochelle who brought her newly tuned violin to play for me.  Blessed Assurance again, I told Claire that is the hymn of this week since we also heard it on Sunday (see earlier blogpost)
 
As the afternoon wore on, Vickie handed out the last of the stickers and piwilis (lollipops). Jaden and Phil played soccer with some of the boys, Ashley and Brittany sang and danced with the girls, especially Maille who is in a wheelchair. Sonya had a Zentangles session with a group including Marie Carmelle, Adrian (both in wheelchairs) and Bergens (who draws with his feet). 
 
Finally Claire brought Dieumene to sing for us a song they practiced all week. Leonard Cohens' Hallelujah. Mackenson and Claire played their guitars while Claire and Dieumene sang. Dieumene has a lovely, sultry voice and we were all quite moved by her performance.   
I give these details because I want to impart the rich experience we all have when working at St Vincents. After only one week we feel like these are our family. 

Saying goodbye to these dear folks is difficult. It only gets easier for me because I know I am coming back soon, in March. Claire was quite undone by the experience. I remember my first time leaving St Vincents I grieved for a month at least. 

Knowing the children will be here when I return makes it possible for me to leave. 

Susan

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pran Swen-Take Care

Many times today I used this Kreyol phrase. As the teachers and school staff came to see me one by one, all said "Mesi" or Thank You as they left.  I wanted to say "thank YOU  for taking care of all the children" so I asked JoJo how to say this in Kreyol. "Mesi pou pran swen tout timoun "
 
So many ways the staff takes care of these 250+ handicapped children. Teaching the blind to read Braille, the deaf to learn sign language, the children with missing or deformed limbs to get an education and learn confidence.  We can always spot the new students because they often don't know sign language or don't know how to behave or to take turns.  A particular student named Woodlee was quite difficult to handle two years ago when he first came. Margaret Squire, who lived with her husband Bill Squire at St Vincents for two years, told me then that Woodlee would be fine after living at St Vincents for a while. She was so right! Now Woodlee is much calmer; doesn't push and shove other children to get his way. Dashnika was the same way when we first met her some 3-4 trips past. She was always mad!  Now she smiles and plays with the other children and doesn't yell or cry all the time. 

This teaches me that even though this school seems very poor and to American eyes needs better facilities  and better books, supplies and is chronically underfunded, the staff takes loving care of these children. Our teams only visit for one week two times a year. We bring medicine and school books and playtime with our toys and music, but the love in St Vincents is not brought there by the Americans.  We only hope to show the children and staff that their stories are not forgotten, that they bring joy and hope to us and remind us that treasure can be found in a classroom of blind kids singing silly songs. 

Susan Nelson

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holiday in Haiti - Making house calls- Who is Drew?

Today, November 18, was a national public holiday in Haiti commemorating the victory of the Haitian rebels over the French in the revolution.  As usual, we learned of this on Sunday, just after we arrived.  A holiday means no school, no teachers for Sherye to do her planned teaching instruction, and no kids for the clinic.   However, per the Haitian way, we adapted.  There are about 25-30 permanent residents at St Vincents, so Phillip used today to do dental check ups on most of "Drew's kids". Sonya and her son went outside Port au Prince to meet the family of a little girl who needs club foot surgery. We hope to arrange for Dr Khumalo to see her on his next trip in January.  Ashley and I spent the day with Dr George's Beauvoir, orthopedic surgeon who works part time at St Vincent's.  He had two surgical cases today and invited me to observe.  It gave me a chance to see the surgical facility where he and Dr Khumalo do their surgeries. He treated us to a lovely lunch and then we made a house call on one of his patients. Abigail is about 7 years old and had just been released from the hospital after a wound infection. Dr Beauvoir wanted me to see the kind of place most of St Vincent's kids live in.  We picked up the child's mother at what I thought was a hotel.  Dr B told me she worked there as a maid, and it was a private residence.  Leaving that neighborhood, we quickly left the paved roads and entered another world.  We drove up and down very rough "roads", more like gullies where even motorcycles could get stuck.  Children carrying gallon jugs of water were walking along the road just wide enough for a single car to pass.  Goats, pigs, and chickens poked around in the road or the vegetation on the hillside.  We drove about 3 miles, a distance which the mother travels daily, either on foot or by "motorcycle taxi" which costs 50 gourdes (about $1.20 US). Entering a maze of gravel gullies we finally arrived at her home, a concrete dwelling with a front porch reached by climbing crumbling concrete steps.  We were greeted warmly by the family of about 7 people; a young woman pulled out chairs for us. They were typical metal "lawn chairs" with faded cushions.  Dr Beauvoir laid the little girl on a plastic reclining lawn chair and changed her dressing, with assistance from me and the girls mother.  Two younger children stared continuously at me and Ashley; I don't know if they had ever seen a "blan" before. (white person). I was thinking that Sienna would be so disappointed to learn she missed this experience. She would have been chatting in Kreyol with all the children and learning their names.  The best I could manage was "Bon swa" and "Mesi". 

Dr Beauvoir gave me a great compliment. He said that I am 1/3 Haitian.  I replied that when my Kreyol is better I will be 1/2 Haitian.  

We returned to the guest house and met our team, hot and sweaty from spending the day at St Vincent's. We shared our experiences over Prestige (Haitian beer). Stars of the day are Phillip, who did dental check ups on many severely disabled children, and to Kara, John and Brittany who ran the medical clinic in my absence.  Phillip and Kara are from Connecticut and have had to put up with the rest of us telling stories of past trips, referring to people they don't know, and hearing us refer to Drew's kids.  Tonight he finally asked, "Who is Drew?"  Much laughter ensued before we could explain the phenomenon of Drew Woodruff. The heart and soul of our Haiti ministry. Drew, if you are reading this, WE MISS YOU AND WISH YOU WERE HERE!
 
Susan Nelson

Monday, November 17, 2014

Medical and Dental clinics and a whole lot of shakin' goin' on

Claire brought her own special touch to St. Vincent's today.  While the children lined up to see Dr Nelson, or Phillip, the dental hygienist, Claire entertained them.  I looked out the door of the clinic to see kids clapping and singing and shaking these small colored balls that sounded like maracas.  A great diversion for the little ones waiting to see the doctor.   And it was nice background music for the clinic as well.  In the states I don't get to listen to children singing while I work. 

Phillip cleaned the children's teeth and applied fluoride treatments. Some of them came to see me afterwards; I could tell because they had white crusty paste all around their lips. The deaf kids mimed brushing their teeth and proudly held on to their new toothbrushes.  Jaden was the runner, taking kids to the pharmacy to get their meds and running errands for everyone.  "Jaden go find me the trash bags."  "Jaden take this kid to the pharmacy". "Jaden go find John for me".  Kara helped me see the kids for their check ups, learning how to say "Do you have pain, do you have a cough, where does your stomach hurt?"  JoJo was our translator. It's amazing to watch him interpret for the deaf kids. He signs with his face and the short stumps he has for arms.   With team members running to and fro between the medical and dental clinic and the pharmacy, it happened that Vickie became a geographical reference point.  Her desk under the shade tree in the courtyard was where each child came to get a card filled out with "Nom, Prenom, L'age". "last name, first name, age".   Eventually someone would say, "I'll meet you at Vickie", or "Leave it at Vickie" 

Brittany was a hero, running the pharmacy out of the empty music room, with meds stacked in suitcases or on the floor. She tagged the wall with labels for "GI", "cough/cold", "antibiotic" and stacked meds underneath in neat rows. She covered the desk with a plastic trash bag and then wiped the surface clean with alcohol each time before counting out the pills. She told me she's really good at those games where you guess how many jelly beans are in the jar.

Rochelle came to see me today so I could give her the violin donated by Connie Tipton in Memphis. She was delighted and promised to return on Thursday to play for the group.  I first met Rochelle 6 years ago when Sienna and I heard a violin playing somewhere in the school.  Sienna tracked it down to find this young girl, practicing by herself in a classroom at 5 AM. Because there was only one school violin and that's the only time she could practice.  Since then  Rochelle has grown up and now attends University in Port au Prince.  When I asked her last March did she still play the violin, she told me no because she did not live at the school anymore and so had no instrument to play.  I promised her then I would bring her a violin, and today I was so pleased to be able to fulfill that promise. 

At the end of the day, Claire had her guitar upstairs in the dorm with "Drew's kids", the more severely handicapped children. Many of these are new residents to St Vincent's, plus we had our old friends Diana and Yolene and Auguste. Dieumene helped lead some of the songs and told the kids to be quiet so Claire could speak. "See-LONCE ", she said in her "I am the queen of Haiti" voice.  

 Check out the you tube video on Twitter @wtnhaiti. (Stephen maybe you can put the you tube link here?)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

C'est mon Cantique

Today we went to 9:00 service at Holy Trinity Cathedral.  The worship service is held in a temporary pavilion built next to the crumbled cathedral which was destroyed in the earthquake.  Its lovely to see old friends and be greeted like family.  Of course, the two hour service is entirely in French and Kreyol.  The hymns are familiar tunes, like Blessed Assurance and Amazing Grace.  C'est mon cantique, C'est mon histoire  (This is my song, this is my story).  Grace infinie  (Amazing Grace). 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Making Mud Pies

Thanks so much to all the dedicated supporters who prayed for us today. We had smooth travels all the way thru Atlanta, and after brief inspections of our bags in customs we were on our way. It's like that scene in Star Wars, where ObiWan says to the guards, "these are not the people you're looking for". With our own Jedi Master mind trick we got our 16 bags of meds and one oversized box of crutches past inspection.

Seeing Jean Robert's face at the airport is always one of my favorite happenings.  "Dr SOOzann" he calls out in his deep voice, and I know we've arrived safely. 

A fairly small team this time, 11 willing souls.  Phillip, a dental hygienist, and Kara, an RN from Connecticut. Kara is the granddaughter of Bill Harris who helped Hope Lennartz from the early days with the Friends of St Vincent.  Sonya and her son Jaden Yencer, from the Red Thread Promise.  Sherye Fairbanks, our faithful interpreter for the deaf.  John Mutin, my lieutenant who takes care of everything from checking iron levels on all the kids  to reminding everyone to drink water to bringing me a beer at the end of the day!  Brittany Jonap our pharmacist who is mixing sulfur ointment as we speak, to treat scabies. Vickie Baselski, who we put in charge of intake of all the kids in clinic after she organized us so well on her first trip, and her daughter Ashley who is ALSO mixing sulfur ointment.  I refer to this process as making mud pies. Brittany had to ask me "What are you talking about??" When I kept asking her if she was ready to make mud pies.  Mix 1:10 potion of sulfur ointment with petroleum jelly. Great old fashioned remedy for a host of skin infections. I even called Ashley's dad Dr Bob Skinner, a dermatologist in Memphis,  to confirm the dosing instructions.
Last but not least we have Claire, who teaches children's choir at St Mary's Cathedral in Memphis and has brought her guitar to sing with the kids. No doubt she will be the star for the week.

A good group, excited to be here and getting to know each other over Bananagrams (those who weren't mixing sulfur ointment)

Tomorrow we will go to services at Holy Trinity Cathedral, then see the kids in the afternoon,  I can't wait.
 
Follow us on Twitter @WTNHAITI for photos and updates.