This blog post was written by Ryan Fulmer, Nathalie Danso, and Ms. Massey.
Today was our last full day here in Haiti. After jam-packed days of learning and new experiences, we are all tired but still learning and enjoying every minute. Everything we have seen, from the bustling streets of Port au Prince to the impoverished community of Medan Belize, has inspired us to make a difference in communities like the ones we have seen here in Haiti.
This morning we woke up and enjoyed a very tasty pancake breakfast, and then got ready to head to Petionville, an affluent suburb of Port au Prince higher up the mountains. Along the ride we saw some high-end buildings as we slowly crept up the mountain in heavy PaP traffic. As we got closer to the American Red Cross headquarters, our driver even pointed out President Martelly’s impressive residence.
An hour later, we were finally to the headquarters, albeit a little late due to the unpredictability of Port au Prince traffic and transportation. We were welcomed by the Deputy Country Representative of Operations, Ken Smith, who had coordinated our visit. We put on our official visitor lanyards and headed up to the conference room.
We were greeted by five more women in the conference room: Sydney West, the Lamika Program Officer, who is actually based out of Washington D.C., Vanessa Deering, a Partnership Coordinator Delegate, Melissa Quimby, an HIV Program Delegate, Kalee Singh, a Program Assistant who is also based out of D.C. and works on HIV/AIDS, and Chantal Sylvie, the Country Representative for Haiti. Each shared their backgrounds with us and provided a brief overview of their current work here in Haiti. They had some fascinating professional backgrounds and had experience living all across the world. It seemed like each one of them brought something different and important to the team, and I could see why the American Red Cross is so successful in places like Haiti.
We were treated to a variety of informative presentations ranging from an overview of the different entities of the Red Cross Movement and their roles around the world, global health issues and projects addressing them here in Haiti, and many anecdotes to provide more context in response to our questions.
One of the most intriguing things that I probably took away from the opening presentation is how widely the Red Cross is recognized around the world. Almost anywhere they go (for disaster response, blood, service to armed forces, etc.) they are recognized by the community, and they can come in and help everyone. They explained how they even go into warzones and remain neutral, so that everyone who needs help can get the care they need. The Red Cross even often has access to Prisoners of War. We also looked at the various ways the Red Cross are recognized around the world by their legally-protected emblems. The Red Cross is also known as the Red Crescent in some countries because of religious reasons, but no matter where one sees the symbol it always represents trust. We also learned about the fundamental principles of the Red Cross: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality or “HINIVUU”.
Next, we shifted our focus to health issues that plague Haiti. We learned about how the Red Cross specifically responds to infectious diseases like cholera, malaria, and HIV. For each disease we heard statistics about how many cases there are in Haiti, and how many people die each year from each disease.
We learned about a new community-focused, integrated program the Red Cross is starting called “LAMIKA”, “Lavi miyo nan katye pam nan” or “ A Better Life in my Neighborhood”. The model of this program is designed to comprehensively respond to all of the common issues of a developing community all at once. Although programs like this often take a lot of resources, partnerships, and a wide area of expertise, it is an efficient way to build stronger and more sustainable communities in a shorter amount of time. The three main pillars of the program are social empowerment, livelihoods for economic opportunity, and physical rehabilitation. Throughout the multi-year program, the Red Cross plans to see substantial improvement in the communities taking on this initiative.
For the final minutes of the meeting, all of us asked questions that our hosts graciously and candidly answered. After an incredible learning experience, all of the women graciously gave us their business cards, and we packed up and headed back to the OBI guest house. Once we got home, we had lunch and quickly got ready for the next chapter of our already busy day.
After lunch, we went to St. Damien’s, a private pediatric hospital in Port au Prince. It was started by Father Rick Frechette, an American priest who has worked in Mexico, Honduras, and Haiti. Father Rick came to Haiti after being a priest in Honduras and Mexico and during his time he realized that Haiti needed doctors more than priests. So when he came back to the US he went to medical school and became a doctor. The hospital was very impressive and is well renowned in the region. Some people even come from 3 hours away to get their children to the hospital because of its services available and its reputation.
The facility contained many open courtyards full of colorful animal statues, and several wards comprised the two-floor structure. The facility seemed very organized and it was well equipped compared to other hospitals we had previously visited. Dr. Brittany Potts, one of Ms. Massey’s classmates from her GHDI course this summer at Harvard School of Public Health, had just arrived in-country and rushed over to St. Damien’s to show us around the hospital. She was joined by a hospital employee, Denso Gay, and they showed us the emergency room, the ICU, the girls ward, the boys ward, the maternity ward, and the cancer ward.
We walked down the street to visit St. Germaine, a day facility for disabled children and those with special needs. At the facility, we saw a man making prosthetic limbs. One he showed us was made of foam so that the children would not have to carry around a lot of weight. We also visited the gift shop where the mothers of the patients created trinkets to sell to pay for their children’s medical bills. We all purchased some souvenirs, such as earrings and embroidered greeting cards.
We then headed back Zanmi Beni so Dr. Potts could meet her group visiting from Harvard. Since Dr. Potts had missed part of her tour there, we showed her around the dorms and out to the tilapia fish farm. We met a few more of Ms. Massey’s classmates, also pediatricians on fellowships with Partners in Health.
We headed back to the OBI guesthouse for our final night together in Haiti, complete with a dinner of stir-fry (and way too many Starbursts) and after dinner games of Bananagrams. We can hardly believe we’ll be back on a plane home to the US tomorrow. Though we have been fortunate enough to give and serve while we’ve been here, we all know we’re leaving with much more than when we came – new friendships, new perspectives, and new ideas on how to be a part in making a difference.
Graham Barbour: The meeting at the American Red Cross.
Nathalie Danso: Learning about the American Red Cross at their headquarters.
Ryan Fulmer: The tour of the pediatric hospital, St. Damien’s.
Justine Kaskel: Learning more about HIV/AIDS prevention projects at the American Red Cross meeting.
Helen Shaves: Getting to tour St. Damien’s, a pediatric hospital.