Greetings to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us tell you about our September 25-30, 2014 medical mission trip to the village of Gros Mangle on Haiti’s La Gonave island. This was our third medical mission trip to Gros Mangle and included ten volunteers, each paying his/her own expenses. The cost of our medical supplies and medications came from donations and church outreach funds. Four of us represented St. Alban’s Parish, Hickory, NC and five Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant, SC. We joined in Haiti by Haitian friend, Marc Henri Azor of Port-au-Prince.
We arrived on American Airlines flights from Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC, landing in Port-au-Prince at 2:35pm. We cleared immigration and customs with our 20 some bags, 13 of them filled with the medications our parish friends had packaged before our departure, our medical supplies, and Crocs, reading glasses, and dental care products we brought as gifts to the people of Gros Mangle.
Marc Henri Azor of Port- au- Prince joined our group at the airport to serve as a translator and manager of our other Creole translators. Driver Garry Gaspard of the Navette transportation service met us with the Toyota van to transport us up the coastline to the Wahoo Bay resort across the bay from the island of La Gonave where we stayed overnight. We enjoyed the local fare dinner, got better acquainted and, after using our prayer book to celebrate Compline, we retired. The next morning we loaded our bags and ourselves on a so-called fast-boat to cross the bay to the island of La Gonave. The water was glassy smooth and we only had to stop a few times to have the crew clear debris from the props because there is a lot of debris in the water there.
At the pier in Anse-a-Galet, the capital of La Gonave, we loaded our stuff onto the trucks and van to drive up to the Episcopal compound at the St. Francis Church arriving there mid-morning. After depositing our bags in the five dormitory rooms at the compound and enjoying lunch with Pere Vil, we drove up the mountain to visit the Bill Rice Clinic, established by Bill Rice in 1999 to serve the healthcare needs of the island. We also visited the large garden there where produce is grown to support the expenses of the clinic.
Later that day we visited the Wesleyan Hospital, established in 1958 in Anse-a-Galet and their new, yet-to-be-opened facilities. What beautiful new facilities they are going to be enjoying, including many pieces of used, donated, very serviceable hospital equipment. Back at the compound, we ate our evening meal and gathered on the roof of the rectory for Compline. We retired, prepared for our early morning departure for the first of two clinic days in Gros Mangle.
We had asked Pere Vil, the priest at St. Francis, to inform those at Gros Mangles of our planned medical clinics at the school in Gros Mangle, St. Spiritus Ecole. Before leaving we had obtained 300 albendazole tablets for us to use to deworm those visiting the clinics. We looked forward to a busy two days of clinic and to meeting with the leaders of the community to learn about the needs and improvements we had discussed in the past, such as safe, improved water sources, buildings and grounds improvements, and nutrition and education support. Our group included two maternity and delivery nurses (Lesley Owens and Happy Everett) and we all looked forward to meeting the nurse midwife serving Gros Mangle and the physician director of the Bill Rice Clinic; both would be joining us to see patients during the clinics.
Our transportation to Gros Mangle was via a truck to carry our bags, tables and chairs (there are essentially none at the school) and a four wheel drive van. In addition to the two maternity nurses, our group included a pediatric nurse practitioner (Phoebe Wilson), a plastic surgeon (Tom Funcik), an orthopedic surgeon (Brian Krenzel), a registered nurse (Colleen Anderson), the associate priest of Christ Church (Joe Ananias) and St Alban’s rector (Tryggvi Arnason). Our retired endocrinologist (Richard Dickey) coordinated the group trip and Marc Henri Azor directed the translators. After our rough two-plus hour trek overland and through muddy areas to Gros Mangle during which we photographed the flamingoes in a pretty, South-seas-like area, we began to set up our supplies in several empty school rooms.
Using clothesline and shower curtains for privacy in the patient exam rooms and borrowing from the chapel a few bench seats to serve as our ‘desks’ and chairs, we prepared to see the patients. You see, the school children actually have no chairs, tables or desks but sit on the floor for school classes! The village’s families had begun to gather in the rough, rocky, white lava-like school yard to await entry of their information on our one two-sided page, simple medical record form. In the chapel our priests sorted two hundred pairs of Crocs we had brought (Mike Berkowitz obtained them as a donation from Crocs) and dental brushes and paste our local dentists had donated. The village children and adults anxiously waited in line at the ‘goat- proof’ chapel door to be fitted for their Crocs. The Partnership has an island-wide goat project to help the Haitians.
After the donations were distributed our priests set up a room where they would fit those needing the reading glasses we had brought to Haiti and, in the same room, they offered to pray with those requesting prayer. Patients were seen all day, until dusk, because there is no electricity available there. Those not seen that day were asked to return two days later for our second clinic, and they did! In our two days of clinic we saw and treated nearly three hundred patients, including almost as many children as adults, most with gastrointestinal, skin or urinary or female problems.
Minor surgical procedures were occasionally performed but a few patients had problems for which care in Port-au-Prince needed to be arranged. The patients, as was our experience all over the island, were friendly and appreciative. Safety was not a concern here on La Gonave. We loaded up for our return to the compound, for dinner, conversation about the day, Compline using the New Zealand prayer book, and a good night’s rest.
The team joined Pere Vil for Sunday worship services at St. Francis where Fr. Tryggvi Arnason was the celebrant and Fr. Joe Carnes Ananias offered a moving sermon, translated by Marc Henri for the Haitians. After lunch, three of us returned to the Bill Rice Clinic to check out the equipment used in an inoperative, simple solar panel/battery system. We had checked out that equipment at the rectory earlier and reported our findings to the group coming in November to bring whatever was needed for rehabbing the systems. Our group visited the nearby beach after the Sunday service. Several Haitian boys joined us to play with the more athletic of our group who were lifting the boys up and tossing them into the water, to the delight of all.
On Monday we returned to Gros Mangle via truck and van for our second medical clinic. We saw nearly two hundred patients that day and met with the local leaders to hear their thoughts on our clinics. We sought input on the priorities they expressed for other needs, such as continuation of the recently initiated school lunch program, using Stop Hunger Now meals, a safe, smooth school yard in which to play, a well to provide safe water (drilling of one or two wells is scheduled for December), teacher salaries support (both of our churches are doing this now), support of the recently initiated village health worker program, continuation of the new maternity midwife monthly visits, and provision of furniture for the chapel and school. The needs are so great.
As dusk approached, we packed up after inventorying the remaining medical supplies and medications to be given to the Bill Rice Clinic, received a report from the local leader on the money donated by those we had seen, took our group picture and bade the village goodbye. Many of our group chose to ride back in the open truck-bed, enjoying a beautiful sunset.
At dinner that evening Marc invited us to share our feelings and impressions. That was a perfect ending to a wonderful experience for us all. After Compline we packed for our early morning ferry departure back to the mainland. After arriving there, we toured the huge city of Port-au-Prince, visiting Marc Henri’s school and viewing the ubiquitous tap-tap taxi pickups, the remaining hulks of the January 2010 earthquake’s devastation, and the rising new Supreme Court building overlooking the moving Toussaint sculpture on the main square. Soon we were off to the airport for our late flights home and a farewell dinner at the Miami airport.