Well, at the end of our week here in Petit-Goave, it’s time to check how well we are meeting the goals for our project that I first envisioned over two years ago while working long nights in Irish hospitals.
I dreamed of a multi-skilled, highly adaptable relief team aboard a self-sufficient support platform that could use 21st Century medical technology, classical medical diagnostics and adaptability to different needs and resources to create long-term health benefits in developing world communities, making a difference one person at a time. Here we are, many months and many days of hard work later, and with many people who helped make this possible now a part of our story, anchored safely in Petit-Goave, Haiti.
For our first mission destination, I chose a tough location—Haiti: more than 800 miles from where we started, with huge challenges facing its people from every possible direction, a couple months after a huge disaster when people are still living in tents but many aid groups have pulled up stakes and moved on. If we could successfully conduct a mission here, I felt confident we could do it anywhere.
At the end of two weeks, the school we are building is practically flying up, we have seen several hundred patients, both in the local DesGranges Clinic and in mobile clinics in the mountains, we are reorganizing all the supplies in the clinic and outfitting a dental room, storage rooms, triage, pharmacy and exam rooms, and despite several gales that we weathered at sea and at anchor and plagued by problems with our generator, we continue to live onboard supporting our team on Southern Wind and deploying ashore every day to continue our work here.
I am watching my dream, the concept that I fell asleep every night thinking about and planning for two years, actually in operation and succeeding. I would have to keep reminding myself that this is real, and that I am not dreaming, except that what we see every day is so very real and immediate that its authenticity is burned into my memory every time I turn around.
Look one way, and your heart breaks. Turn your head, and your heart melts. Incredible beauty and selfless goodwill right alongside the ugliness of pain and suffering and the worst examples of human greed. This is the strange dichotomy of Haiti, the two Haitis existing in the same place. The children especially really get to me—kids can bounce back from so much, and to see kids living under a tarp in the street without toys or much food making their own entertainment and smiling with happiness at such small pleasures is amazing.
I think my favorite part of our time here so far is that we don’t live in a gated compound, or associate only with other aid workers in the hotel, or pay a fortune for an air-conditioned Landrover and driver and drive like lords around Haiti. We live on our boat, and so have become friendly with the fishermen and kids who ply these waters from their canoes and small lateen rigs every day.
Sometimes a driver with a pickup truck from the clinic picks us up to go to work. We all pile in the back, or we walk. Rachel and Nick walk back to the dock from the clinic every day, and, now, all the kids in the area wait for them at a bridge about halfway and walk with them. Sometimes we hop on the back of a motorcycle taxi and catch a ride.
I love meeting people we know as we wander about town on errands. Practically every night we have visitors aboard, usually people who are helping us and are curious to see the boat. Often people from developed countries feel out of place when working in destitute areas, but we love it because we have made many friends here by living and working alongside the community and not separating ourselves from it.
My experience here has paralleled my experience everywhere I have been. Everywhere you go, you will find a few bad apples that cause enormous problems, but I have found that most people in the world are basically good, and want to BE good. I have also found that the less people have, the more willing they often are to share it. People who have experienced true need also truly understand the value of helping.
Just as in California first and then in Florida, many people here have reached out to help us accomplish our mission—and I regard the number of people who have made their goodwill part of our mission as our greatest success so far.
The Sri Lankan UN forces here lent us their trucks and gave us water when we couldn’t run our watermaker due to generator problems. 20 Haitians who were out of work volunteered to help us get our supplies unloaded and worked 7 hours alongside us in the heat to get 20,000 pounds of material off the boat and into the trucks. Local men and women we have met come with us to the market to help us get Haitian prices for things we need rather than the hugely inflated foreigner
Richard and Arron on Fat Tire (the landing craft serving Kiskeya, a marble quarry a few miles up the coast) have given us some fuel and helped us bring our generator back online. Andrew Macalla, from Direct Relief, brought us more nebulizer solution while he was in Haiti. Tania and her mom and uncles helped us get our material cleared through customs. A volunteer named
George translates for me in clinic, though my Creole is slowly improving. Madame Fievre, from the oldest bakery in town, showed Sky how they make Haitian bread. The Japanese NGO ICA here in Haiti gave us 190 flashlights and batteries to Distribute.
Dr. John from New Hampshire put down his scalpel and helped us unload all our gear. Rachel worked with an Italian orthodontic surgeon and a Haitian dentist here in town as well as at the clinic. Dr. Mark and Dr. Nadia from Canada guided me through my first day in the clinic (sadly, their last day), and dozens of other men, women and children here have reached out to us to make us welcome in the community and help us accomplish our mission here.
Originally I expected to be most proud of our medical and construction accomplishments, but I think I am more proud of something else. I am also proud of my crew.
When the generator was down, and it was too hot inside the boat to sleep, they piled onto the deck to sleep (though twice they were driven back inside by gales in the middle of the night). At the end of a long day in clinic in the heat and humidity, they cook dinner, clean up the boat, do their chores, extend hospitality to visitors, conduct maintenance or repairs, organize their material for the following day, upload their photos and blogs and still somehow find the energy to laugh together as a crew before collapsing into sleep.
All this while maintaining our watch schedule aboard, meaning everyone onboard gets up for an hour sometime during the night to make sure the anchor doesn’t drag, to watch the gauges for our power systems, to make sure our lines aren’t chafed, to watch the weather, maintain security (which despite our good reception here we do not take for granted), etc. No task is too dirty or beneath them, no challenge too impossible to try and solve.
We are able to help in Haiti because all of us lean on each other for support. We accept help when it is offered. We give it whenever we find a way. I have been privileged to work with my crew, with everyone here in Haiti, Florida and California who worked alongside us, and with so many other people across America and worldwide that are a part of the story of Floating Doctors.
Now that our ship is unloaded, suddenly the cabins we built onboard are available. My dad is coming on the 23rd so we can practice medicine together in the clinic. Ryan will be back with us in a week and stay with us until he leaves to attend my alma mater, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Hopefully, many more medical students, physicians, and other health or aid workers will join us here in Haiti.
It is an exciting thing to be here at this time—if anyone wants to come, this is a chance to meet a culture in transition, and to put some fruit back on the tree. Get in contact while there are berths available onboard!