Monday, April 5, 2010

Haiti Earthquake Relief

Two weeks after the destructive earthquake that struck Haiti in January, Peace Corps officials asked me to help out with some of the relief work. Two other PC volunteers and I were originally sent by USAID to the hospital nearest to where I live to write an overall report of the situation. Injured people were being sent to hospitals on the Dominican side of the border, and USAID was interested in knowing about the situation and how they could help. When we first arrived to the scene, we found about 50 Haitian patients in the nurses’ ward. There were eight patients to a room and lots of family members and a few Creole/Spanish translators. The nurses and med students were tending to the wounds in the first room I entered. It was really difficult to see leg amputation wounds being cleaned and pins in limbs. One child went blind from the hit she received. All I felt was sadness and compassion for everyone. The volunteers and I tried to help out, but since we didn’t have medical backgrounds and the nurses seemed to have everything under control, we felt kind of useless. That night, we decided to write up a survey to ask patients in order to get a sense of patient need and quality care. Our hearts broke over and over the next day as the patients told us (through translators) their stories. Most of them showed so much courage and bravery. One girl was there all alone. She had been in a university that fell on her during the earthquake. Her leg had been amputated and she had no idea if any of her family was alive and vice versa. Through it all though, she still seemed so strong. This was just one of thousands of stories.

We learned a lot about the patient care from the surveys. Overall, the hospital was running as well as it normally did. Like the schools here, the hospitals have a long way to go as well. There is usually a lot of discrimination against Haitians in the DR, so we were happy to see that they seemed to be getting pretty good care. The biggest complaint from patients was that there was no water to drink. When we asked the hospital director about this, he informed us of a closet stocked full of donated water in the basement. Apparently no one had told the nurses. Once we set a schedule with the translators to go pick up water every day for the patients, we were off to the border where the need for our help was greater.

When I arrived to JimanĂ­ right on the Dominican side of the border, things were chaotic. We were sent to a field hospital that was being run by mostly American volunteers. There were also teams from Spain, Guatemala, Canada, and the DR. Peace Corps volunteers had taken over most of the logistics of the operation. At first, the hospital was just sending out dead bodies with no record, letting people practice medicine without proof of license, and everything was completely unorganized. Within a few weeks though, the PC volunteers set up a computer system to provide administrative and logistical support. I was only there for 3 days, but it seemed like a month. We worked 18 hours straight a day, and there was always something to do. I pretty much ran around doing random errands, handed out food to patients (which was a nightmare), held “school” for some of the kids, ran the front desk (a coffee table), translated, interviewed the people in charge, and wrote another report for USAID. I was happy to help out the relief work in some way, especially since I live so close to where the earthquake took place. The interactions I made with the Haitians that week will stay in my heart forever, and I hope that they are finding peace. Haiti is still in dire need, especially with the rainy season coming up. Please continue your prayers.

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