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The simple art of giving and working together - Haitian style

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Fi Stephenson reports from the front line of the Haiti earthquake zone, where a huge aid delivery brought some much needed respite

Wow, two months since the earthquake. Time has sooooo flown! Since I have been here I have been very touched by the overwhelming generosity of many, many people from all over the world - including the Haitians themselves.

Last Sunday a five people arrived from Quartier-Morin, which is the next town up the road and on the way to the Dominican Republic. They had been to church  and then come to visit ‘les malades’ (the patients). They wore their Sunday best, which were clothes that would have been carefully washed and folded after each occasion over many years. Subtle mending, if you looked closely, was a tell tale sign.

I must admit I have been a bit protective over our patients as Haitian people like to ‘just visit’, wandering around, looking at things, even if they don’t know any of the patients being treated! I guess it is part of their culture. We have people who come and just sit outside the unit in the shade all day, then will wander off home.

Generous minds

There was something different about this elderly group though. They had come with gifts of bananas, water, a bag of rice and a bag of beans. None of which they could really afford to give away. What an amazing example of generosity.

I was knocked off my rickety Haitian chair the other day when I checked my bank account online (the wind was in the right direction, no low cloud and the electricity was on), I could not believe how generous my friends and family had been. The money means I can stay in Haiti for another couple of months and try and finish what we started!

With emails of support and well wishes (from friends and even people I did not know), and offers of clinical support on line from the UK, USA and Australia, my energy levels have hit an all time high.

The three eagerly awaited containers arrived from England the other day, having taken five weeks to get here. There was a huge buzz around the hospital. Who needs electricity, the atmosphere was electric!

The hospital had employed some locals to help unload the containers, who all lined up and passed item upon item into a building set aside for the shipment. It was like Christmas: beds with height adjustment and wheels that worked; bed side lockers; a hoist (whoo hoo!), a commode (yeah!), wheelchairs, zimmer frame, crutches, clothing, bedding, sharps bins (phew!), gloves, soap, hand gel, dressings… hooray!

The generosity of people ‘back home’ cannot be underestimated. A fabulous group of volunteers flew over a few days after the container arrived, to sort all the items out to be distributed locally, and principally, in Port Au Prince. What an undertaking. The container team made up packs for the patients and their families too.

One box had a photo of a baby and a very personal note wishing the new owners of the baby clothes and toys lots of luck, health and happiness. Everyone was very touched.  Whoever sent it, thank you.

Early Christmas

Another big find was seven pallets of mince pies. This really was Christmas! I will never be able to look at a mince pie again in the same light!

The clothes that were unpacked were clean and in good nick. The consensus was that these clothes could actually be the beginning of a micro-business for families - sell clothes, buy ingredients, sell food, make some money, feed the family, buy ingredients, sell food and so on.

It just seems that the simplest of things that we take for granted can make a persons life much easier. Our tetraplegic patient’s sister was absolutely thrilled when I found her an old well-used suitcase. She gave me such a big hug and literally laughed and danced! This was to replace three plastic bags that contained all of her and her brother’s worldly possessions.

New beginnings

Two of the patient’s relatives had asked to see me one evening as I was leaving the unit. They looked pensive. Lesley was the Cousin of one of our female paraplegic patients who had lost her son, husband, five siblings, mother and father.

Samuel was the brother of another young paraplegic woman. They had stayed with the two women every hour of every day since the earthquake. In a mixture of Creole, French, Spanish and English the gist was as follows; “Miss Fiona” they said, “We are young men. We love it here. We feel that this is now our home. We do not want to move away. We love you and think of you as our family. But, we want to work. We have nothing. Everything has gone. We are not used to sitting down all the time. We need to do something.”

I said I would see what I could do.  The next day they became part of the paid ‘container unloading workforce’ and are now paid security officers for the hospital. They are happier and have something else to occupy their minds instead of being inside the hospital unit 24 hours a day. It gives them some independence, conversation, ownership, and rest from 24-hour care of their women. I am thrilled and know that they will do a good job.

Do you have any questions for Fi? Please feel free to post them in the comments box below.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Lovely to read your accounts. Is it possible to work in Haiti during a holiday from NHS. How does one find out?
    Thanks.

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