I remember hearing the breaking news of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The news of the catastrophic injuries and fatalities was heart wrenching. Soon thereafter a number of agencies from around the globe entered the country to render aide. At the beginning there was still debris and very unstable conditions for all who were involved. The volunteers and injured alike faced a number of issues including physical, medical, and emotional insult. I recall thinking what they must be going through and how much help it would take for this country to recover.
Fast forward to 2013 when I received an email from a group of volunteers, Phoenix Rising for Haiti, I became intrigued and yet a bit nervous of the idea. I continued to do research in order to find out more about the organization and it’s history. It was formed by a physical therapist, as well as natives of Haiti and was based in Arizona. The group was comprised of physical therapists of various specialties as well as orthotists from several counties including the US, Trinidad, and Belgium coming together for one common cause, to provide aide to those affected by the earthquake. After doing my homework I decided to join the team for one of their trips.
We all worked to gain local support from our communities to collect small items that we could use to assist the citizen’s of Haiti. I remember creating flyers to garner attention, going to Target, speaking to my pastor, friends, colleagues and churches. I was overwhelmed with the support that I received towards our efforts. From my church to other church’s, Target, friends, patients and family, I was able to put together personal hygiene kits, fund a portion of my trip and touch the lives of a lot of people who were affected by the earthquake as well as the daily conditions of poverty and limited resources.
As the time neared, I did my research on travels to Haiti and began all the vaccinations required to keep me healthy during my trip. I had to take a number of shots and also take anti-malaria medication to protect me from mosquito born illness. All shots and medications were on board and so was I. I changed planes in Miami heading for my final destination, Port de Paix, Haiti by way of Port de Prince. I traveled alone and had to meet people I had never seen before in a distant land. Although I was very excited about helping, I was also very nervous about the idea of being their alone, without people I knew. However upon un-boarding the plane, I was met by a representative who apparently was expecting me. Thankfully he was a friendly Haitian driver who helped us get to our destination.
Crew of Volunteer Physical Therapist
Line for Physical Therapy
I met one of the group organizers, who happened to be a PT practicing in Arizona shortly upon arrival. We were both claiming our bags at the airport. I was dismayed when the airport attendants removed things from my colleague’s bag and money was requested for him to retrieve them. This spoke volumes about the state of the country.
We were advised not to drink any water, juices or take drinks with ice in them from any unknown sources. My thoughts were if we could not drink it how were the natives surviving. Well this was one of many issues they face including a lack of consistent and viable food sources as well as inadequate shelter. It was so sad to see children and elderly people on the verge of what appeared to be starvation. On the other hand the young adults looked very healthy. Was it merely their physical and mental abilities that afforded them to live a very different life? Not sure, but stark differences from my observation in many cases.
We set out to see as many patients a day as we could. Our goal was 500 people with a small team of physical therapists and orthotists as well as our French Creole interpreters. Our days were long, but so very rewarding. I remember a lady brought her little girl to us with hopes that we could help her walk. She had very little head control, unable to sit, walk or roll. Her mother had to carry her everywhere and take care of all of her needs. We were able to get her fitted with a wheel chair, but we really had limited supplies and had to be very creative. Although our time and resources were limited we were able to provide some relief to the families that we serviced.
I believe in the basic rights for all mankind and I believe we all should have the rights to proper food, shelter, clothes and medical attention. This is what led me to be apart of this mission and others within our country. If we all work together for the good of the world we can accomplish so much more than doing it in isolation.
What are your thoughts? Have other therapists or health care providers been apart of mission work? What was your experience like? What would you do to impart change if you could?