When hearts grow heavy for Haiti.
I keep checking my phone to the point that I’m sure I’m annoying everyone around me. I can’t help it. I keep thinking “it’s a hurricane. Surely they saw it coming? Everyone’s safe right?” Knowing. Not knowing. I can’t tell which is worse.
Here in Nicaragua. The team has expanded beyond Haiti but, and I think I can speak for all of us, our hearts remain deeply rooted there.
Lately we’ve been working so hard on expanding our team’s reach. I just got back from an exploratory trip to Guatemala. The beauty of the place is overwhelming. Volcanic mountains, green with growth, with the threat of eruption underneath. It made for a breathtaking landscape.
We were looking at helping construct a school. The school will help educate children who have no means to be educated themselves. Some are orphans. Others are denied by the poverty they face.
We sat in the blistering heat, thinking about building new capacity in these incredible surroundings, listening to stories of the children and their families. Some picked directly off the streets, others identified from broken homes and families. Now given an opportunity, a chance to build a future. We can help with that build.
Back home, my son started school the day before we left. There was never a question of if, rather when he would start. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons. We visited the most remote areas of the jungles of Guatemala, through small towns, over rough terrain and loose roads, through coffee plantations, up mountains with volcanoes smoking in the background. There we met a small community of people. Farmers eager to welcome us, show us their fields and their homes. These places are strapped together pieces of disposed sheet metal with dirt floors, no windows, bamboo struts and no electrical outlets. Yet as we walk into the huts, we are greeted with gifts. Like Haiti and Bangladesh, kindness supersedes processions.
I only returned home for two weeks before departing for Nicaragua. We were supposed to be in Haiti this week, supposed to be seeing patients we know, working with colleagues we love. Instead, we were advised six weeks ago that this would not be a good time to come. It was for security reasons. Little did the advisors know what was in store. But like Team Broken Earth often does, we pivoted quickly, finding another potential expansion location in Nicaragua. Fifteen of us travelled to Managua, then boarded a bus for Chinandega where we are helping provide badly needed medical care. Yesterday alone we saw over 200 patients, including a full vision clinic with the Newfoundland Lions Club.
However, something was not right.
Something was not sitting right. I could not focus, and found it hard to even connect with people. To be honest, my heart was in Port au Prince.
Hurricane Matthew is now bearing down on the people of Haiti, our friends, our colleagues, and our patients. Not nearly fully recovered from the devastation of 2010’s earthquake, now 6 years later an epic category 4 hurricane. Life is not fair. People living in tents should not have to face 1000mm of rain and 220km/h winds. It is not a fair fight.
I have been in touch with many of my friends and the hospital staff in Port au Prince but it provides little solace. It’s like hearing about a sick loved one on the phone in another country, your heart aches as your mind knows it is useless to help. I want to be with our Team Broken Earth family during this time but know that we dodged a very dangerous bullet.
The only thing to do is to carry on in Nicaragua, making a difference to those that would not have access to care. Strength returns in watching the pediatric team treat a very sick child with antibiotics. Or watching someone who had no previous access to care and not being able to see, walk out with a new pair of glasses, smiling and waving as they leave the hospital.
The solace comes with knowing that we will be there to help with the rebuild in Haiti as soon as the storm has passed. We have to be there. We will be.
The solace comes through the hope that things will be ok and that we will be able to help. It’s who we are, as doctors and nurses, we want and need to help those in need. Despite the devastation, the people of Haiti are survivors. Yes, they will survive. They just need to know a hand will greet them when they reach. I want to be that hand. Don’t you?