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The Suffering of the Anonymous Poor

By Barbara Preziosi

IMG_0149We have all seen it in pictures; the blank or pleading stares, the hands reaching out for pity, the mothers holding the starving baby.  I think I, like many of us, had become almost a “Doubting Thomas”.  Unless we can see these  Children of God in person and nurse their wounds, they are not REAL.

I have been a nurse for over 40 years.  For the past 3 years I have had the life changing experience of serving these anonymous poor with a compassionate team including skilled nurses,  doctors and translators.  BELIEVE ME THESE ANOYMOUS POOR ARE REAL.  I have also been blessed to share this experience with my daughter and daughter-in-law, who are both nurse practitioners.

On my first trip I think I cried for one half of the 4 hour trip from Port au Prince to our rural hotel in Aquin. To see the tent cities, the children playing in the rubble, mud and waste of the streets among goats and pigs eating garbage was more than my mother’s heart could bear.  People walking over a mile without shoes, on rough roads carrying 5 gallon buckets of water;  no electricity;  no running water;  washing clothes in streams;  meat for sale in the hot sun – no refrigeration;  streets packed with 1000’s of people selling everything imaginable but no one seemed to be buying anything…

Our clinic serves the mountainside village of Cavaillon where Nova Hope for Haiti has purchased land and is very close to building a permanent clinic.  Currently we set up our clinic in a church hall with individual examining rooms made from sheets strung up on roping.  We have pediatric and adult practitioners and we average seeing over 200 patients per day with a myriad of problems.  Chief among these were scabies, worms, malnutrition and respiratory disorders.

You should know that the people of Haiti are a proud, warm and kind people.  Despite the limited means, the children arrive at the clinic in their Sunday best, so clean and neatly dressed. Without the benefit of our washing machines and bleach their whites are brighter than mine.  I wished that I spoke the language so that I could ask the mothers what their secret was!

One little girl we treated one year stands out in my mind.  Let me call her Tasha.  She was about 3 years old.    Her parents carried her down from their mountain hut in severe respiratory distress – status asthmaticus? Pneumonia? Bronchitis? – all of the above?  Without  x-ray equipment or lab tests  – just empirical evidence, no one knew for sure.  She was treated with IV antibiotics, nebulizer treatments, cupping and coughing, etc.  Here she would have been hospitalized of course, but that was NOT an option.  Two doctors and a nurse drove the family back to their home in our team jeep but as the roads became impassable even for the jeep, Dr. Kordula personally carried her the remaining distance to her home/ hovel.   Her parents carried her back the next 2 days with great hardship for follow up treatment and she was a bouncing normal 3 year old when we finally said goodbye.  Sadly we learned that she died about 6 months later when she was denied medicine at the local clinic as her family could not pay.  Nova Hope for Haiti is now running a full time clinic with native nurses, staff and a doctor in Boilleu.   If this had been there then perhaps Tasha, and many children like her, would still be alive.

When I came back from Haiti the first time I felt very guilty about returning to my comfortable lifestyle.  I don’t think I had a manicure or bought an article of clothing for over a month.  Unfortunately that didn’t last!  I spoke with our team leader about this guilt.  He told me that he had also felt this guilt for the first few missions he had made. Then he came to realize that guilt helps NO ONE – It robs us of peace and contentment and does nothing for the people of Haiti.  BUT action does help.  Not all of us are doctors, nurses or translators – or it may not be the right time of your life.  I could not have done this mission when raising our five children, working to help put them through college, etc.  But you can all help with your prayers, working for social justice and with a monetary donation within your means.

The other day I heard Louis Armstrong’s classic song, “What a Wonderful Life.  One line stuck a cord: “I hear babies cry.  I watch them grow.  They’ll learn more than I’ll ever know…and I think to myself: What a Wonderful World.”  Then I did think to myself – Unless we help these children of Haiti, they will never learn more than I know – and theirs’ will not be a Wonderful World.