Daily Archives: July 29, 2012

Haiti Day One: “The Day that Felt Like a Week”

On the way home from today’s last activity, Stuart exclaimed, “this day has felt like a week!” and I know every member of our team would agree. Our day began early in Miami with a 4:00 AM wake-up call and a 6:55 AM flight to Port-au-Prince. A quick two hour flight later, we were descending into the capital city with amazing views of the “mountains beyond mountains” in the distance and the sprawling ‘burbs of P-au-P. We navigated the airport with ease (and none of our bags went missing!) and met our Operation Blessing, International (OBI) hosts, Crawford and Dorothy, outside the terminal in a “mass of humanity” as Scott Fowler called it. We zigzagged through the city, passing roadside stands of artisan wares, piles of used tires for sale, telephone recharge stations, even horses and cows, on our way to OBI’s RELAX guest house.
After unpacking in our comfortable air-conditioned rooms, we watched the short film featuring the creation of the Sun City Picture House. I encourage you to check out the film which tells a very inspiring story of a group of individuals that designed, built, and decorated a movie theater post-earthquake in the middle of a tent city. We headed to the scene of the crime after our film viewing to see the tent city’s Picture House in person and to visit a water chlorination and distribution system. The site of tent after tent after tent, made from USAID tarp, made the reality of life post-earthquake accessible and overwhelming. Two and half years after the earthquake, it is estimated that around 500,000 individuals are still living in these tent cities, with each tent housing an average of 5-10 people.

After lunch back at the guest house, we headed to Zanmi Beni, the disabled children’s home that is a joint effort of Operation Blessing and Partners in Health. We were met by Frankie Lucien, the Haiti Education Coordinator for Partners in Health, and she and Crawford of OBI offered us a joint tour of the facility. This home serves as an oasis for these children, offering dignified housing, care, and physical and art therapy. Zanmi Beni’s grounds are also home to a tilapia fish farm project which is marked to contribute to communities nutritionally and economically in the short and long term. Our visit to Zanmi Beni concluded with a very interactive and informative talk with Frankie Lucien of Partners in Health and her colleagues from Rwanda, Peter and Alice, who had just come from the International AIDS Conference in D.C. Frankie took us through the history of PIH and explained the reasoning and background of PIH’s mission to always offer a preferential option for the poor. We discussed the accompaniment model of using community health workers for prevention, education, and treatment previously thought impossible. We ended our conversation by discussing medicine versus social medicine, and I think everyone left the room feeling even more jazzed about our four years together to continue these thought-provoking exchanges.

After saying goodbye to the precocious kids at Zanmi Beni, we headed to the baseball field. In the week leading up to our trip, I asked our fellows to watch the short film “Baseball in the Time of Cholera” to gain a deeper understanding of the cholera outbreak that struck Haiti last year. Visiting the place and people featured in the film was exciting enough, but then our group took to the field and played some ball. Coach Fowler was in heaven! Definitely an incredible ending to “the day that felt like a week.”

After a delicious dinner (including homemade cookies and ice cream!), more conversations, and some journaling, we’re hitting the hay to prepare for another “week” tomorrow.

Aneesh’s Highlight of the Day: Playing baseball with the Haitian kids.

Brian’s Highlight of the Day: Interacting with the Haitian kids playing baseball.

Bridget’s Highlight of the Day: Playing with the kids at Zanmi Beni; meeting all the great kids at baseball.

Elizabeth’s Highlight of the Day: When a dirt patch in Haiti became Yankee stadium.

Stuart’s Highlight of the Day: Baseball and meeting Joseph.

Wyatt’s Highlight of the Day: Discussing the main goals of PIH with Frankie, Peter, Nadish, and Alice.

Global Health Fellows Head to Haiti!

The inaugural cohort of Global Health Fellows (GHF) officially commenced their four-year exploration of global health today! Our group of six fellows, Ms. Massey, and Mr. Fowler convened for a few hours on the Norfolk Academy campus for a mini global health “boot camp” before embarking on our week-long excursion to Haiti.

We began the afternoon with the arduous task of packing all of our supplies and donations. About an hour and several weigh-ins later, we had successfully squeezed all of our personal belongings and donations into twelve 50-lb suitcases. That might sound like excessive baggage for just a week-long trip, but we are carrying a variety of donations with us for the organizations and people we will be working with this week. These donations range from Lifesaver water filtration jerry cans to bathroom scales for a nutritional campaign to school supplies to diabetes test strips to sports equipment to clothing. Shipping or mailing supplies to Haiti is often hit-or-miss (most likely a miss) and so nonprofit organizations and individuals living in-country typically rely on volunteers and travelers to carry down supplies for them. More information on all of these supplies and why we are bringing them to come…

After our packing extravaganza, Dr. Ed Lilly, the grandfather of GHF Elizabeth Lilly, presented an informative lesson on Haitian history, its modern day challenges and values, and provided personal examples of the collaborative learning and training he experienced while working in-country several times since 1990 through Physicians for Peace. He shared anecdotes and statistics that illustrated the reality that the developing world endures 90% of the global burden of disease with only 10% of the medical resources. He shared with us the well-known adage: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” We will carry this notion of sustainability with us in the days to come as are introduced to various development projects in both urban and rural Haiti. We will strive to critically consider and evaluate different models of public health interventions during this next week.

Following Dr. Lilly’s presentation, Dr. Lisbet Hanson and Dr. John Kenerson, parents of NA alums Rose and Mike Kenerson, addressed our group. Drs. Hanson and Kenerson have been the single (or double) most instrumental force in helping to craft this first GHF experience in Haiti. Both practicing physicians in the Hampton Roads area, they have devoted much of their professional life to developing health training and delivery models abroad, most notably in Haiti. They have been involved in global health in a myriad of ways and their knowledge and expertise has proven invaluable to us.

Dr. Hanson started off with a brief Creole lesson to help us converse while in Ayiti (Creole for Haiti). She set the stage for the sights and sounds we will be experiencing, from the tap taps (public transportation) to the artisan wares to the infrastructure to the mountains beyond mountains to the singing and dancing. She outlined the variety of projects they have been involved with in Baptiste, near the Dominican border, ranging from blood pressure screenings to traditional birth attendant training to anti-parasite programs to ultrasound training. One sentence really stuck out to me: “In 25 years as an ob-gyn in Virginia Beach, I’ve never lost a mother. Within a few days of being in Haiti, we lost a patient. The sole difference in the two scenarios is access to resources.”

Dr. Hanson and Dr. Kenerson left us with the charge to keep our eyes open this next week. At times, the poverty and lack of resource can be overwhelming, but we do not want to miss the beauty of Haiti and the inspiring individuals we will meet. Dr. Hanson encouraged us not to judge but to absorb the experience. Dr. Kenerson predicted we will be “humbled by the enormity” of what we see and experience.

Thank you to Dr. Lilly, Dr. Hanson, and Dr. Kenerson for setting the stage of what is sure to be an exciting and fulfilling week! Thank you to Mr. Wetmore and Mr. Manning for seeing us off. Many thanks to others who have been active in developing this experience: Jon Gellman and Dr. Terri Babineau of Eastern Virginia Medical School; Angela Cruciano and Crawford Nelson of Operation Blessing, International; Nadene Brunk of Midwives for Haiti. We are most grateful for your guidance and support throughout the planning process.

GHFs with Dr. Ed Lilly

Overnight in Miami tonight, and on four hours of sleep, we’ll be flying to Port-au-Prince in the morning!

A quick note: In retrospect, today’s “boot camp” of sorts really began months ago. During final exam week, the GHFs convened for a discussion with Richard Vander Burg, the Vice President of Humanitarian Affairs for Lifesaver, the organization that makes the water filters we will be distributing this week. Hailing from Australia, Richard has an impressive background in global health. Before joining Lifesaver, he worked for Project HOPE and then Operation Smile as their Chief Strategic Officer for several years. Richard guided us through the history of global health within a public health framework and introduced us to the ideas of health inequity, monitoring and evaluation, and the drivers of mortality and morbidity in developing countries. He charged the fellows to become familiar with using common public health jargon: “force multiplier vs. vertically isolated intervention” and “daly: disability adjusted life years.” He challenged our team to think critically when analyzing the health interventions and “best practices” we encounter. We look forward to reflecting upon our week in Haiti with Richard, a clear global health guru, upon our return.

Highlight of day: That this day is finally here!!