The Reckoning

Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

June 7, 2010

A Mass Of Patients Waiting In Our Clinic

Time for a quick status check, and to update everyone about our plans for the next phase of our mission in Central America. So far, in seven weeks in Haiti we have:

• Treated over 1200 patients and over 250 dental patients in the DesGranges clinic with our current skeleton crew.

• We have had three more volunteers (a medical student, osteopathic physician, and EMT) and my dad join us in working here in Haiti.

• We have finished one schoolhouse, roof and all, and are nearly done putting the roof on the second building.

• We have worked in the DesGranges clinic for more than 30 days, and put in more than 25 days’ labor on the school.

• Hand-unloaded and transported in UN trucks: 20,000 pounds of material.

• We have treated over 300 people in our own mobile clinics in the underserved communities near our anchorage.

• We have provided health and dental education to patients.

• We have moved the clinic from tents outside back into the inspected and cleared building, reorganized the pharmacy and pharmacy stockroom, set up an infirmary and triage room, and restocked the minor ops room.

• We have distributed several hundreds of pounds of clothes.

• We have conducted our activities here for one tank of diesel and a total of less than $250 a week for all food, gas for the skiff, laundry soap, transport, etc. for a crew ranging in size between 7 and 11 people onboard. That’s just over the cost of three night’s stay in the hotel here for one person (no food, transport, etc), where many other aid workers have no choice but to stay.

• We have made many friends in the community—we play pick-up basketball at 5:00AM some days, our Haitian friends visit us and often stay on board, we chat with the town baker, Madame Fievre, about methods of making Haitian bread, people bring us small gifts by way of thank you (a few mangos, some plaintains or coconuts), we go swimming, eat, and work with many folks here who ask us for nothing (some do, but many do not) but have no work and would rather work with us than sit around doing nothing.

When we leave, my promise is that we will leave a school, an outfitted, cleaned, repaired and organized health center, lots of health knowledge for people to be able to better manage their own health, and there will be people here who remember that there were Americans who came to help, rolled up their sleeves and joined the community in helping to pull itself back together.

I am so proud of my crew for what they have accomplished and continue to accomplish on a daily basis—rebuilding the boat on a tight, often non-existent budget taught them adaptability and creativity and the willingness to strive. Watching them in action here in Petit-Goave is awesome. Generator down for days and sleeping on deck in the heat, having to move inside at 3 AM night after night when the rain comes? They still go into the clinic and do their duties onboard. And then fix the generator using limited tools, resources and their ingenuity. Sudden gale blowing through our anchorage out of nowhere? Everyone turns to, clears off the deck , closes all the hatches, secures all equipment inside and out, prepares the engines for starting if we drag anchor, gets the cat and dog inside, and begins monitoring ship’s systems, barometer and weather and ship’s position throughout the gale. Everyone moves with purpose, and I sleep well at night even when the wind blows hard.

Right now we are trying to arrange the shipment of our supplies for Central America here to Haiti. Originally, we planned to fully unload our cargo of supplies in Haiti and then return to Florida to pick up our additional material (after the earthquake, so much material was donated for Haiti that we had two full loads of supplies, about 35,000 pounds) and then head to Central America. At that time, we were getting constant reports of seized aid materials, shipments being misappropriated and stolen, and we were unsure about trying to send our additional supplies here. As it happens, our supplies were being held in Miami in some donated warehouse space and this group sent so much material to Haiti that 7 of our pallets actually HAVE been shipped here accidentally. They are now in a warehouse in PAP, but they haven’t cleared through customs yet (I have to send a manifest, certificate of charitable purpose, etc). Now that most of our supplies are here, and now that we know we CAN get materials here because we are working with the DesGranges, it makes WAY more sense to try and get our last 5 pallets for Central America sent here. We are reaching out to shipping companies and other NGOs, but if anyone can help us get our supplies here or to our destination in Honduras it saves a LOT of time and resources for us to be able to depart from Haiti fully loaded and skip the return trip to Florida. We could transit directly to Honduras.

We can then depart from here for Central America, making weeks of travel into mere days. We have a few weeks still to finish our work here, and after operating so successfully in Haiti I feel pretty good about being able to help in Central America—at least my Spanish is a lot better than my Creole, but we’ll see after a few more weeks. Trying to communicate with patients in another language really focuses your desire and concentration to learn it quickly!

We have connected with the Clinique Esperanza in Honduras, a local non-profit medical ngo that came highly recommended. They work with underserved communities on Roatan Island off Honduras’ north coast, as well as communities in the surrounding region. They want our help to carry us, supplies and their own doctors and health workers to several small islands in the area that are totally cut off from health access. After seeing how effective we were able to be here in Haiti–our very first mission–I’m really excited about what we will be able to accomplish in Honduras. At the very least, especially as we have more doctors and volunteers coming to Honduras, my goal is to treat at minimum 3,000 patients in Honduras, and hopefully many more. And who knows what other ways to help we will discover when we get there? We are keeping a close eye on the situation in Jamaica; if conditions are safe at Port-Antonio and the violence in Kingston has not spread there, we would like to stop there and take on fuel and supplies (Errol Flynn marina provides free dockage and moorings to boats coming from service in Haiti), but if it is not possible we will transit from here directly to Roatan, another 800 miles SW of here. From Roatan, especially if we are able to use that dockage as our base, most of our other destinations in Central America are reachable in only a day or two, so perhaps we would make that our base of operations for this portion of our mission. Who knows? We remain adaptable and consider every potential option, and do our homework to try and find the best way for us to proceed with our voyage.

They are working to arrange donated dockage for us in Roatan (which would be great, even though I sleep pretty soundly at anchor I sleep REALLY securely when we are docked!). And we will meet more people, a new cast of characters whose lives will connect with ours, just like our friends in Palm Coast, then Lake Worth Inlet, now Haiti, and hopefully everywhere we go. Of course, we are a cast of characters ourselves to all the people we meet. Noah will be legendary throughout Haiti and Central America.

If we do our job right, we will become part of the community through the relationships we forge in every place we visit, leaving a part of ourselves behind and with all the faces “exposed forever on the sensitive emulsion sheet of my mind.”

“Souvenirs,” by Terry and Renny Russell

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We leave: part of ourselves.

We take: sand in our cuffs, rocks, shells, moss, acorns, driftwood, cones, pebbles, flowers.

But is a picture a tenth of a thing? A hundredth? Is it anything without the smell and salt breeze and the yellow warmth when the fog lifts?

Oh! But I got all that, too. It is exposed forever on the sensitive emulsion sheet.

Of my mind.