Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Donna - August in Haiti

Re-entry into everyday life in the US after two weeks in Haiti is always tough. Even after my third trip in four months, it still required some adjustment. I am just finding my feet and voice again three weeks later. And I am enjoying air conditioning more than ever. Haiti is HOT in August. Below are the highlights of my most recent trip and work at the clinic.

Teaching Clifford to play soccer with his new prosthesis. Watching the smile spread across his face as he kicked the ball back to me with his prothetic leg, made all the hard work and long days of the past five months worth it. He sums up for me the reason why this therapy clinic needs to be here and why what we are doing is important.

Watching Judeline dance. A new friend and handsome 20 year old man named Pascal volunteered to help at the clinic the weeks I was there. Judeline noticed him immediately and we asked him to practice walking with her with only one crutch. As the week progressed, Pascal took things a step further. One day he asked her to dance. Pascal is over 6’ tall and Judeline, when she stands fully upright without her walker, is about 5’9”. They looked so elegant gliding across the concrete floor of the clinic. Judeline looked beautiful and had a smile on her face unlike any I had seen before. For the first time in a long time, I think she felt normal. I suggested the next day we walk without even her crutch. She was very hesitant at first, but soon did well. I mentioned at the end of the therapy session that if she was wearing a long skirt or pants and did not have a crutch, no one would be able to tell she even had a prosthetic leg. She’d look like any other teenager. Judeline’s eyes lit up and I could see the light bulb going off in her head. Everyday from then on, she came to us asking for therapy and wanting to walk without a crutch. When my son arrived the following week, she was able to take turns dancing with two 20 year old men each day and her smile grew even bigger!

I treated a new patient with severe hypersensitivity in the nerves of his calf and foot after an injury in the earthquake. It had been several years since I had done any trigger point massage, but gave it a try and worked on him for 20 to 30 minutes. (Much to his dismay I might add, as it was painful!) After only 3 sessions however, the pain that had plagued him for the past six months was gone. He was so appreciative and said he had his doubts about this “therapy” that first session, but now believes!

Watching a dad and his young son with cerebral palsy work with a therapist for the first time. He lovingly began moving his son’s arms and legs through more normal movement patterns at the direction of Lindsey, a therapist from the Perkin’s school in Boston. The look of happiness on the dad’s face, all the questions he asked and the sweet way he smiled at his son told me how happy he was to finally have help. And hope. There were no services available to these children before and word of our clinic has started to spread from parent to parent.

Our volunteers always ask before they travel what items they can bring. The clinic can always use “things”, but I believe now more than ever, that it is our skills as therapists that are our greatest gift to the Haitian people.

We went back to visit Julien and the 100 children he is caring for at his make-shift orphanage. He had told us it was “right down the street” which we have learned is what everyone in Haiti says when you ask where they are located. The walk there is an experience in itself. We took a “shortcut” through the hospital fence, across a small cornfield, along the top of an 8” wide concrete wall, followed by a jump down onto the roof of a broken pick-up truck and a climb down the truckbed to the ground, up a hill, past the town dump and several pigs that had to weigh 500 pounds each, (they seem to be eating well in Haiti even though no one else is!), up a steep hill, past the local beauty salon where a woman sat on the ground and sewed hair weaves into the heads of her clients, around two more corners, down a hill and through a red iron gate. All the children greeted us with a loud “Welcome Global Therapy Group!” This visit we did not bring medical supplies, but instead brought twizzlers, fruit loops, crayons, paper, and rubber balls. I asked all the children to draw me a picture of something that makes them happy or would make them smile. Most of them drew a picture of a house. I guess living in a tent gets old fast. We sang songs, played soccer and laughed a lot. It was a great afternoon.

We discovered Haitian and Dominican rum this trip. The Haitian tastes a bit better, but the Dominican is half the price. Only $1.91 US for a 350ml bottle. Mixed with fresh mangos and juice, it was a great way to end a long hot day at the clinic. A new friend at the guest house taught us we could also mix the rum with a teaspoon of brown sugar and a fresh lime. Also excellent.

I enjoyed having time this trip to get to know more of the Haitian people on a personal level. It was so fascinating to discover all the ways in which we are different and so many ways we are the same. I was glad to have time to see more of Port au Prince. The crumbled buildings and large tent cities, but also the places where life is trying to return to normal. Haitian artwork is back along any open wall around the city in the hopes that tourists will stop by. People are once again busy buying and selling everything you can imagine along the sidewalks. Homemade charcoal, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables, meats, shoes, clothing, cell phones, champagne, beer, soda, sunglasses, watches, fans, plastic tubs, books, pills of any kind, and chickens. Guibson one of our translators was appalled to find out that most Americans would have no idea what to do with a live chicken. He offered to show anyone interested.

I have had many volunteers offer to travel this fall and have nearly all the weeks at the clinic covered from now until the end of the year. Our July fundraiser in St. Louis was successful and gave us enough money to pay the translators, clinic costs and cell phone in Haiti through October. But then the money runs out. Anyone out there want to organize another one? We have applied for funding through a variety of sources, but most of the purse strings in Haiti still appear closed. I am trying to just keep the faith that God will stay busy, and I’ll just keep sending the e-mails.