I’m not sure how to adequately describe my trip, but I wanted to at least share some of the moments and experiences that stand out to me.
My trip was spent working in the free general clinic that Samaritan’s Purse runs in Cité Soleil, a slum outside of Port-Au-Prince. There were two other nurses and one physician also volunteering during the same time period, in addition to the Haitian physicians, nurses, and other staff who run the clinic full time. I primarily worked in triage, with a translator, and definitely was stretched in my medical assessment skills… it made me realize how much more I have to learn as a nurse when my assessment of how sick a patient is must be done with hardly any of the monitoring or diagnostic tests that we rely so much on in the US.
It was sobering to know that so many things that are generally survivable here in the States – premature birth, diabetes, various heart and lung conditions – can basically be a death sentence there because there are simply not the resources to treat them, both financially and because there may be nowhere for the patient to go that is capable of providing what they need. For example, one day we saw a young man who probably had pericarditis, inflammation of the sac around the heart, and simply finding a hospital to send him to that had a cardiologist – not to mention just an ECG machine! – was a difficult task for the clinic coordinator! This patient ended up having to go the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, where he would wait hours to be seen. Some of the most common complaints are clearly a result of the living conditions in Cite Soleil – polluted air and water, inadequate food, many living in tents, ongoing gang violence – so without fixing those causes treating the cough or diarrhea or worms or whatever it might be won’t have much of an impact. It is heartbreaking to see premature babies who are not eating well, malnourished kids, mothers whose children have died, victims of violence and extreme poverty. But at the same time, while the needs are overwhelmingly great, there are many for whom the clinic is able to provide tremendously needed care – hypertension medications, antibiotics, prenatal care, health education – that they might not otherwise be able to get, and that is worth it.
One of the highlights for me was the opportunity to work with and get to know the Haitian staff of the Cité Soleil clinic. They come every day to serve patients in one of the poorest, most dangerous parts of the city, with smiles on their faces and unfailing graciousness, joy, and humor. We participated in devotions with them each morning, and it was humbling and such a joy to see the incredible faith and reliance on God that they exhibited. Every time we participated in a Haitian worship service, or heard someone pray, I was so struck by the depth and fervency of it… God is real to them, a source of joy and strength in a totally different way than for most American Christians, because He is desperately needed. One of the nurses I worked with told me how her husband was killed in the earthquake when their house collapsed, and she now works two jobs to support herself, her young son, and two other kids she has taken in. But with a smile on her face, she then told me, “my husband is gone, and I am alone, but I have Someone and His name is Jesus! And I love Him so much.“
Besides our days at the clinic, my fellow volunteers and I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at the main Samaritan’s Purse compound, where their other relief programs are based. Meeting this whole assortment of people serving with SP in various capacities, people who took the leap to serve, – for months, years, or as a career – wherever God has called them, was inspiring and so encouraging. I was overwhelmed with the reality of our God who uses imperfect people surrendered to Him to accomplish His perfect will, who brings beauty out of suffering and joy out of sadness, allowing us to love and serve with His heart in ways we could never do in our own strength. There is so much joy in abandoning control to Him and going wherever, doing whatever… that is what I want for my life.
We also had the chance to visit several orphanages, some run by various Christian organizations and some by Haitian individuals who took in kids from their communities. Meeting and playing with these kids, being surrounded by small hands and shy smiles, longing for a hug and some attention, not to mention getting to know the selfless people who saw a need and decided to do something about it, is something I will never forget. The picture below is from one such place, housing 40 kids, run by a Haitian guy who supports them through his job with Samaritan’s Purse. These kids were sweet, happy, and well cared for, but unable to go school due to the fees and uniform costs.
I feel like I was the one who was blessed by this trip, so much more than anything I was able to contribute – blessed by the chance to experience this place and be so welcomed and be part of an amazing team of people, to play a tiny part in the unending, grueling work of trying to make a small impact among such rampant and deep-rooted suffering. It confirmed for me the desire God has placed in my heart to continue to purse opportunities to work in third world countries, and I am praying that God would open up the right opportunity, in the right timing, for me to go somewhere for a longer period of time. I would love to return to Haiti – I loved the culture, the people, the fact that since I speak French I could actually communicate, and the way in which Haitians have persevered and faced the multiple tragedies that have struck their country.
Thank you for reading all of this! Please continue to pray for the country of Haiti, for the reconstruction efforts and the many things God is doing there.