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.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!!