Monday, May 27, 2013

Orevwa, bèl Ayiti

Goodbye, beautiful Haiti
How do you leave a place like Haiti? How do you leave a land filled with such beautiful people who have taught you so much and inspired you in so many ways? I’m sitting here reflecting and wondering how I’m ever going to return to reality. There have been so many moments where thoughts of Haiti would make my eyes well up with tears. It was only two weeks and yet I know I will never be the same again. I am eternally grateful to the people I met for all that they have taught me about humility, compassion, life and love. 
I’ve been back in the US for a day now, and the transition has definitely been difficult. It’s been hard to have all the comforts and luxuries of home after seeing the struggles and poverty of people who deserve so much more. I do hope that my time in Haiti will help me to be grateful for the opportunities that I do have, whether it is the opportunity  to travel, to eat out, drive, or even to turn on the faucet for water.
Staring out the window during my flight from Haiti… in a somehow perfectly timed moment… I looked out an saw a beautiful picture. I was watching the sun set on the horizon, with a layer of soft clouds that seemed to go on without end. If I could imagine heaven and what it might look like, this would have been it. 
It was an incredible sight. For me personally, it was a gentle reminder of the reassurance and hope that despite our suffering and struggles here on earth… it is all temporary. There is an eternal hope that extends far beyond what we see in the here and now. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  What a beautiful hope. 
A special thank you to all of you for reading and for supporting me in this journey. It means the world to me that I can share this experience with you. Now that I have seen what I’ve seen and learned what I’ve learned… I feel like I owe it to the people of Haiti to continue sharing their story and   think about how I can continue to help now that I’m home.
I have seen the adversity and struggles of the Haitian people and it has inspired me to think about my own life and how I am supposed to respond. Something that I’ve learned is that everyone has their own personal challenges; for many Haitians, it is a daily struggle to survive… it is anything but easy and comfortable. And perhaps for us… our circumstances have made it so that the challenge is not to be comfortable and complacent with how things are. Maybe our challenge is to fight for justice and equality in our world so that everyone can have a chance to live… to not let our abundance and fortune cause us to forget that happiness is made so much fuller if it includes everyone and not just some. 
I recently read an inspiring speech from the World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim. Here is an excerpt:

Injustice will not vanish “inevitably.” Injustice, said Dr. King, must be “rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action” spurred by “the urgency of the moment.”
As we set goals for our organization, goals for our collective effort to better serve the poor and vulnerable, we should reflect on Dr. King’s example.
We set goals precisely because nothing is inevitable. We set goals to challenge external obstacles—but also to defy our own inertia. We set goals to keep ourselves alert to the “urgency of the moment,” to push constantly beyond our own limits. We set goals to keep ourselves from falling into either fatalism or complacency—both deadly enemies of the poor.
If we act today, if we work relentlessly toward these goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, we have the opportunity to create a world for our children which is defined not by stark inequities but by soaring opportunities. A sustainable world where all households have access to clean energy. A world where everyone has enough to eat. A world where no one dies from preventable diseases.
A world free of poverty.
It is the world we all want for ourselves, for our children, our grandchildren, and all future generations.
As Dr. King said, “the time is always ripe to do right.”  The opportunity is squarely in front of us.  We can and we must seize the arc of history and bend it toward justice. 
Thank for you for sharing this journey with me! I hope the beauty of the Haitian people has touched your life as much as it has touched mine.  

Michelle, PT The Last Day

Day 12: Therapy + Health Update

Yesterday was my last day in the clinic. I can’t believe how fast time has passed and am amazed at how much of an impact my patients have made on me in such a short amount of time. Most of them were stroke patients so it was nice to use things I learned at home to help. Therapy is a new concept for people here, even though it is desperately needed. There were so many small children that came in for various reasons - developmental delays, cerebral palsy, burns, club feet… it’s sad to think how few services there are for them. And for the stroke patients - it’s just crazy when I think about how much we have at home compared to here. Not only are there very few therapists here, but patients rarely have access to things like custom splints or braces, shoulder support, imaging, medication, ultrasound, mirrors, Kinesiotape, Bosu balls, special creams, ice packs, wheelchairs (or choice of wheelchair color, like we have at home), walkers, canes, proper shoes, etc. Sometimes I do wonder if what we have at home is maybe even too excessive when I think about the patients here and how many don’t even have the basic supplies they need. One of the stroke patients arrived at the clinic on a motorcycle. Her husband basically just lifted her up and onto the motorcycle. This would be practically illegal at home! But people here are creative, resourceful and determined. I’ve seen a man with a crippled leg, trekking up the hill with a pair crutches. I’ve also seen an amputee pushing his wheelchair up the steep hill.
In Haiti, there is no health insurance or disability payment system so when a person gets hurt, it makes such a huge impact on their work and livelihood. They tried an appointment system at our clinic but it didn’t work out (traffic, especially after rain, can be very difficult) so oftentimes, people just have to sit and wait for therapy. 
The people in Haiti need so much more. Basic health education and disease prevention is desperately needed. In 2009, statistics showed that Haiti had one nurse and 3 doctors for every 10,000 people. Only 10% of Haitians have running water and 80% lack adequate sanitation. During a rainstorm here one day, I saw people outside collecting water with buckets. Oftentimes, people have to walk long distances to get drinking water - sometimes small children go early before school… sometimes mothers go and return with water-filled buckets on their head. Every minute spent getting water is a minute not spent in school or at work; people may miss class or work if they have stomach pains, diarrhea or dehydration. I read in an article that for one lady, her test for clean water is this: “If it is clean, nothing will happen. When the water is not clean, my children get diarrhea.” I can’t even imagine not being able to turn on a faucet to get water or wash my hands, or having to spend my days walking for water. We are definitely very, very lucky.
I know there is so much potential for Haiti, but they still have a long ways to go. I’m encouraged whenever I read about the progress that is being made - improved sanitation, more people getting vaccinated, more cholera awareness, etc. If you want to learn more about the water crisis around the world, check out this short 3-minute YouTube video or visit the Charity:Water website:

Michelle, PT in Haiti

thoughts & lessons from Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Day 3

I’m sitting in my room right now and it’s raining like crazy outside. Sounds of thunder roll in once in awhile… but it’s kind of a nice, calming feeling. It’s rainy season here in Haiti which means more mosquitoes and more humidity! Luckily, it was sunny and dry the whole day.

Today was a great day in the clinic. I saw 5 patients today - most of them were stroke patients. It’s sad to think how little follow-up care there is for people who have had a stroke, especially since it requires life-long rehab. At home, the continuum of care is so comprehensive but here, people just take whatever little they can get. It’s really cool to see how much of an impact this little clinic has made in the past 3 years though, and also really neat to hear about all the volunteers who have come from all around the world to help.

One story in particular that I wanted to share: today I got the chance to work with Franz, a patient who had a stroke about 2 years ago. Andrew said he was a very hard worker and really motivated, coming to the clinic twice a week for therapy. He is also the owner of a nice local bakery. Anyways, we went through our treatment and it was a nice change of pace because I found out he spoke English in addition to French and Haitian Creole so we were able to have a conversation. I asked him how he learned English and he told me how he had spent some time in the US Army as well as in NYC to study accounting. Not only that, he was also trained as a pilot and a baker. He was such a nice man and Andrew was right - a hard worker and positive guy, despite his limitations. At the end of his treatment, he had someone send us some pastries - such a wonderful guy!
Reflecting back on today, I am really encouraged when I think about Franz. He was clearly very accomplished and had much to be proud of - fluent in three languages, serving in the Army, trained as a baker, pilot and accountant… But just working with him in the clinic today - I would have never known because he just acted like a normal, down-to-earth guy, joking and laughing… giving 110% during our therapy today. He had such a positive attitude and the dedication he had was inspiring.

I was reminded today of the resilience and strength of the human spirit. I was reminded also that in the end… no matter where we’ve come from, what language we speak, what we’ve accomplished or not accomplished, or our abilities or disabilities… there is always some capacity in which we have the opportunity to inspire and encourage one another. Franz did that for me today. It never ceases to amaze me how much I continue to learn from my patients every day.