The Rotary Club of Key West

Service Above Self Since 1916

Rachel's Chronicles From Haiti July 2010

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July 16, 2010

Bon Jour from my home computer,

There are a few more things that I don't want to forget to tell you about before I describe the trip home. I want to tell you all about "The Hanger." The Hanger Corporation from Switzerland just came in after the eq and set up shop on the compound. They are a major manufacturer of prosthetics. They continue to send teams of 4 - 6 that work from 7:00am till 6:00pm 6 days a week. Rito used to own his own prosthetic company and has since retired.

When Rito (Swiss Rotarian) heard what was happening from Hanger he volunteered to come and work for 2 months. Each day he wears a Rotary shirt to work in. I gave him a few of mine! My day in The Hanger watching the physical therapy and the guys working on all the parts -- well the therapists are all very, very kind with each patient. There is no cost to the patients for the therapy or the prosthetic. Each week a new group checks into a house on the property and the rotating therapists work with them to learn how to use the new legs that are being built by hand for them. The Swiss crew is also working side by side and teaching a Haitian crew how to make the parts. Some of the patients have to just sit for hours and wait for their turn. Not that I really understood what they were saying, but I saw many, many smiles and hugs for the hard work. They do not seem to complain too much and just work through the pain. Once they do learn how to use the legs, then they have to maneuver them on the cobblestones and rubble streets.

< The therapists actually take the patients into the streets when they are ready to practice. I want to share a story about Naomi -- she is 12. Naomi lost her entire family in the quake and she was being cared for by an aunt that already has several children. The aunt told the staff that she would not be back to pick up Naomi after her therapy as she could no longer care for her......the HAS staff has kind of adopted her and they make certain she is taken care of right now. But I honestly don't know what is going to happen to her once her therapy is complete. She seems like a gentle child, and did nothing but smile the entire day I was there. NO, I did not bring her home, but I can assure you I thought about it!

Unfortunately, the Haitian culture does not treat the amputees very well. When the therapists are in the streets walking they just stop and stare. One told me that a man on a motorcycle just turned off the motorcycle, stood there and just watched them! So very, very sad.

As I learned my way around the huge compound, I tried to learn what the land had been in the past and how come there is such a large Swiss influence?? I was told that the land used to be a fruit plantation and when the Mellon's and Dr. Schweitzer were looking for a place to build a hospital the Haitian Government told them they had to take this land and they did. Folks and volunteers that I spoke with from Pittsburgh know all about the Carnegie's and the Mellon families. Albert Schweitzer was Swiss and in Switzerland all know about him, the family foundation and HAS. Again, just a small world when you think about it and all the ties and how one thing simply leads to another.

The Haitian staff at the hospital are grateful for the volunteers and the ability to learn more about their craft. They all live in the compound and they all take the training classes that are offered by the volunteers. I spent some time with Ian, the Director and Carrie his assistant trying to learn how it all works. How they recruit the medical staff and who comes in when and how they figure out the needs for the volunteers. They have many doctors and nurses that have been coming for many years and they will also ask them to teach and train while there in addition to working long hours in the OR or the clinic. It is pretty complex and somehow the property is self contained with the generators. Jimmy who is in charge of the generators has a staff of 5 that are on duty 24 hours a day to keep the generators up and running. I am still in awe at these folks and the volunteers that willingly come to help and learn themselves.

I know that there are many others that want to go to HAS and help. I have asked Mr. Walton & Ian to let us know if there is a specific project that we could possibly assist them with. I think that Mr. Walton will be going back at some point to plot and create a map of the grounds as that does not exist at this time either. My understanding of their greatest need is medical personnel. I will talk to Rudy and the Board about this --

I think we can better serve them if we can put together a Rotary sponsored team to work at HAS for a few weeks. Obviously the longer the medical staff can stay the better for HAS. One dream team that worked brought the Doctors, anesthesiologists and the OR nurses! Prior to the quake HAS had a lot of the same issues, TB, pneumonia, burns as they cook on open flames and the kids don't know better, malnutrition, diabetes (lots of sugar) and broken bones from motorcycle accidents on the cobblestone streets. Now they also have the influx of amputees and therapy that they are dealing with as their is not a hospital in PAP that can help the amputees.

I can tell you that the hard earned money we send to them each year is very well spent. I am committed to continue to help them for the long haul as we already have for so many years. This is the best that I can do for them since I am not in the medical profession!

My trip home starts at 7:00am. I am picked up from the alumni house in a van that does not have a working ac. As we start our way back to PAP and the airport I realize it is going to be a very bumpy, dusty ride! (Remember I drove in at night in the rain and I could not see much.) I also learned this week that most of the volunteers had my same experience at being left at the Visa Lodge for quite some time too. Made me feel a whole lot better, just part of the process and experience. The ride started off with the cobblestone road goes to a highway for a bit and back to cobble stones. The drive is up the mountain and down the other side to get back to PAP. I have many interesting photos along the way in the little towns, the market, the" tap tap" taxis and all the folks walking balancing all kinds of things on their heads!

I only saw a little of PAP on the way to the airport, but trust me it was enough. Tent cities and rubble everywhere. I met a young man on the plane ride to Miami that had been in PAP at the camp/tent site that actor Sean Penn is running. He said Sean and his kids were there working with all of the volunteers. He slept in a tent and had not really showered for 2 weeks! I was in a palace compared to his experience.

I have had a warm shower though I think it will take a while to feel like the dust and dirt are gone from my hair! Not much left to unpack as I left just about everything there. At least this time the clothes are a smaller size! Looking forward to sleeping in my bed with the ac! I promise not to complain about the heat or getting up before the sunrise rises ever again!!!

I will close by saying that I am honored to be a Rotarian and truly humbled by the opportunity to work at HAS and to represent our club. I am in awe at the HAS staff and the amazing volunteers that continue to arrive and work each day. They just embrace the experience, the opportunity and the Haitian culture. I am committed to continue to help raise awareness and the much needed funds to run the hospital!

Till the next mission -- much love to all. R