Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Piece of Cake

Birthday cake delivery boy in matching Tee
Dear readers:
I am already digressing to the delightful minutiae of my travels.  But I think if you were there with me, you would do the same.  And in that vein, I will turn over the recall of our recent visit to my companion for the week, Peter Halle:
Community ambulance and the crew ready to start mobile clinics - left to right, outgoing administrator Cleeford Pierre, AMBUF member Jean Baptiste Altès, HHP Medical Director Dr. Roberto Peigne, Marjofre Clinic doctor Dr. Daniel Antoine, me, Peter Halle, clinic nurse/new administrator, Miss Florette

Travels with Louise

Louise and I flew into Port-au-Prince near the end of June, with four duffle bags filled with 200 lbs of free medicines, courtesy of AmeriCares.  The meds were destined for the burgeoning, but needy Centre de Santé Communautaire de Marre-Joffrey, a health clinic located deep in the Southeast.

Louise Lindenmeyr is a nurse practitioner and the executive director of Hispañola Health Partners, the NGO that helps support the Marre-Joffrey clinic.  You may know her as the mandolin-playing band member of the Joint Chiefs, along with her husband Eliot Osborn.  She is multi-talented and a force of nature.  I am a retired Wall Street finance guy who can build Excel spreadsheets, speak French, and withstand hours on bumpy jeep roads.

Hispañola Health Partners (HHP) was incorporated in 2013.  With the generous support of St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Salisbury Congregational Church, as well as private donors in our community, HHP has begun to realize its mission to provide integrative primary health care to rural Haiti.

After our first day in the capital converting currency and making arrangements, we headed to the bus terminal, a beaten down gas station, where we were packed like sardines into a rugged and worn 4WD bus for the five-hour drive up 3000 feet.  Now nighttime, we transferred to motorcycles for the remaining roller coaster ride down to Marre-Joffrey.

The Marre-Joffrey clinic opened for patients six months ago, amid local fanfare. The handful of Haitian nurses and doctors serve a surrounding population of 25,000.  The clinic struggles with neither electricity nor proper running water – both solvable problems in time.  But the staff is well trained and motivated to care for their community.  The clinic is dependent on the NGO’s expertise and money, and the plan is for it to become self-sustaining.

Beginning just a few miles outside Port-au-Prince, the road was unpaved with sharp scree, deeply rutted, crossing streams and flocks of goats and chickens.   It was the main highway.  But the crude roads are also a place for social interaction.  The people we met, and there were hundreds due to the mobile clinics, were friendly and, for the most part, content if not happy (after all, they were seeing a doctor).  The mobile clinics, a new initiative of the Marre-Joffrey clinic, consisted of hiring a stripped down 4WD “ambulance” to take us further into the hinterland to treat patients who could not easily get to the clinic.  While Louise and the other professionals saw to patient care, I acted as novice “farmasyen” counting pills, distributing meds, and fitting the far-sighted with free magnifier spectacles. 

Back at the clinic, the doctors and nurses tended to a regular stream of patients, organizing the inventory of drugs, and planning the necessary building improvements.  I trained the new nurse/administrator in Excel and how to track   the clinic’s finances.  But it was not all work.      

The rough and tumble roads were central to our adventures, providing a window into the dramatic landscapes and to the gorgeous unspoiled seashore.  Due to Haiti’s appalling infrastructure (water, sewage, electricity, roads), some of the most pristine beaches are unknown to all but a few.   Grand-Gosier on the southern coast possesses such a beach, where we swam one afternoon in the clear aquamarine waters.

From Marre-Joffrey we traveled six hours through the Belle-Anse arrondissement and over switchback roads to Jacmel, the regional capital, for a meeting with the health minister.   The politics of running a health clinic are every bit as important as the economics.  Jacmel has its charms, including a lovely waterfront and an old town with 19th century colonial architecture.

Our final leg was back to Port-au-Prince during rush hour.  Traffic lights have not functioned since the earthquake in 2010, and traffic rules are, well, flexible.  Coming from the ease and prosperity of our lovely corner of the state and the world, it is jarring to see the plight of Haiti.  But it is not depressing.  These are a people who have withstood the hardest knocks, and have kept their dignity and good humor.  With a little help, they may yet prosper.

Ribbon cutting of clinic on inauguration day, February 21st, 2016
We began full time clinic operations in January, providing primary care to a community that had poor or no access to services in the past.  However, it is not easy in a culture of poverty and deprivation to convince people to take care of themselves regularly.  When you are poor, I theorize, you are so consumed with fighting the enormous challenges of food, water, safety and shelter, that taking care of yourself only becomes necessary when the salivating jaws of the monster of death are about to devour you.
This woman delayed treatment for a deep neck ulcer, showing up on our doorstep with her problem hidden under a scarf

Our mobile clinics, which take place once a week, are designed to reach people who have not heard of our services, living farther than a long walk or an affordable moto ride.   For 50 goude, less than one dollar, they receive a registration card for our clinic, a consultation and free medication, appropriate for their problem.  We have started a Go Fund Me campaign to help cover the costs of the ambulance, driver, and medication.  PLEASE MAKE A TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATION TO HHP AT:  gofundme.com/25rbfe8e 

Baron Samedi, a raunchy bad boy, usually seen with cigar in mouth and rum in hand, imposes his diabolical power at the crossroads between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Despite Baron Samedi's taunting presence in Haiti, we carry on with the youthful optimism of these delightful carnival sprites.  Please help us win the battle at: hispanolahealthpartners.org or send a donation to HHP  374 Taconic Rd. Salisbury, CT 06068

Carnival sprites

In the loving memory of Joe Rinaldi, our dedicated board member who suddenly passed away on May 6th of this year, I lay down these words and continue the struggle.  Joe, a financial wizard with a generous heart and many years of NGO chops, helped us develop into a better board of directors over the last year of his involvement with HHP.  He visited Marre Joffrey for the first time in February for the inauguration and with a little touch of the Baron in him, he handed out cigars and Barboncourt (great Haitian rum) to the local committee.  Cheers, Joe!

Many thanks and stay tuned for more about our cervical screening program next time, Louise

No comments:

Post a Comment