One sentence sums up today. “I have never, ever seen this before.” Spoken by Wyatt as we walked through one of the most impoverished communities I have ever visited.
We spent the greater part of the morning preparing for our visit to Medan Bélize, a community of 340 individuals settled on the arid banks of stunning Lake Azuéi, the second largest lake in Hispaniola. We helped to make 350+ food packets, consisting of peanut butter sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, to distribute in Medan Bélize as part of an upcoming and sustained school feeding project slotted to begin in September.
Dorothy Louis, of OBI, prepped us for our visit by describing the demographics (25% under the age of 5) and terrain (arid land and brackish water = absolutely no drinking water) but we were all shocked when we saw it with our own eyes. A huge, beautiful blue lake right out in front of you, and there is no water to drink. As we made our way down the road to the village, we saw several individuals on their way to collect water by foot or by hired motorcycle. Upon arrival, we met the community leader, Profit, divided into two groups and traveled from household to household to distribute the food. The houses were tiny structures built from straw, mud, tin, and tarp. Many people were at market for the day or out fishing on the lake, but the people we met, especially the children, were so friendly and appreciative. We brought some sporting equipment and stuffed animals with us to give to the children, and we thoroughly enjoyed playing with them before we left (especially a competitive game of soccer!).
The protein-rich food we distributed is obviously just a start, and it was exciting to hear the plans in store in the near future for this community. OBI and the Clinton Foundation will be expanding the local school to include more grade levels (including hiring teachers), will sustain a 5 times/week school feeding program, and will continue to investigate water and food security issues. In addition to distributing food, we had planned to distribute water, as well. OBI’s water truck (pictured in yesterday’s blog post) had a few mechanical issues en route to the village today but made it out there after our departure.
We headed back into town and stopped to tour St. Luc’s and St. Damien’s hospitals, just right around the corner from OBI’s guest house where we’re staying. The story behind these two hospitals, like much of what we are seeing here, is an incredible testament to the power of one person to make a difference. St. Damien’s, founded by Father Rick Frechette, is the premier pediatric facility in the country and provides all services free of charge. We enjoyed touring the impressive facility colored by statues of wild animals in the green courtyards and a beautiful chapel where daily services are held. It was exciting to hear of a residency program through CHKD to be held at St. Damien’s and to see the facility in person where Dr. Hanson and her team hold their ultrasound trainings.
St. Luc’s is the adult hospital that emerged in the aftermath of the earthquake out of sheer need. What once was a field of medical tents is now a collection of semi-permanent buildings that house an emergency room, a cholera ward, an ICU, and a soon-to-open surgical unit. Teams from the Mayo Clinic come down frequently to train, teach, and collaborate with the staff of St. Luc’s, and when they are not present in person, they converse about cases via Skype. It was quite an eye-opening experience for our team to witness for the first time formalized healthcare delivery in a resource-limited place.
In my opinion, the best part of each day is the downtime between activities when there’s a chance to digest what we just saw and ask endless questions to our knowledgeable hosts. During our car rides today, our conversations included the role of international NGOs in a context such as Haiti, the varying ways you can work to affect change either on the ground or from a diplomacy/policy standpoint, the state of the economy (both formal and informal) here in Haiti, natural disaster relief, the United Nations system, and how to make difficult decisions (e.g. choose to treat one patient over another) when resources are limited.
Tomorrow, we head to Hinche with stops in Mirebalais and Cange en route to tour the Partners in Health hospitals we’ve read so much about in Mountains Beyond Mountains and Haiti after the Earthquake.
A quick note: I know a picture is a worth a thousand words. Fortunately and unfortunately, during some of our experiences, it is inappropriate or distracting to have a camera out. It allows us to fully absorb the moment we’re in but it makes documentation of our experiences a challenge. I hope this at least offers a glimpse into what we’re up to here.
Aneesh’s Highlight of the Day: Noticing how even the poorest kids in the world can also be the happiest.
Brian’s Highlight of the Day: Realizing how out of shape I am while playing a competitive soccer match against the kids of Medan Belize.
Bridget’s Highlight of the Day: Giving back by making and distributing the food packets in Medan Belize.
Elizabeth’s Highlight of the Day: When smiles of joy lit up a desert wasteland in Medan Belize.
Stuart’s Highlights of the Day: 1) Interacting with and providing food for the kids and families at Medan Belize. 2) Car ride conversations.
Wyatt’s Highlight of the Day: Connecting with the kids in Medan Belize while playing soccer with them.