August 26-28, 2010
Arlene and Michael Willis, Dr. Christine Wheeler, Kevin Burns and Robert Pierot, Jr.
Where do we begin – to tell the story – of how overwhelming this trip has been. The Grapes/US team arrived in Port Au Prince in the early morning on August 26, 2010. We were met at the airport by our driver Claudel who remained with us until our departure.
After being met at the airport by our contacts on the ground and driven through the distressing streets (if you can call them streets, we were aghast at the devastation, garbage and debris everywhere!) of Port au Prince to the Ibo Lele Hotel, we began our 3-day journey.
Our first visit was with Concern Worldwide. Concern began working in Biafra in Africa. More than 40 years later, they are now working in 28 of the world’s poorest countries. Concern in Haiti has been established on the ground since 1986. We met with the current Country Director for the Haiti projects, Elke Leidel who explained their role in Haiti. Amongst other projects, Concern is creating areas for 2,000 children so they can play in safety. Now, as many families are living in camps, these spaces help children get over the trauma they experienced by allowing them to play with other children. Please visit www.concern.net to see how many wonderful projects that they are involved in.
Next stop – The U.S. Embassy where the security was like nothing we have ever experienced. It was like going into the Inner Sanctum! Once inside, we met with David E. Lindwall, Deputy Chief of Mission, who explained the role of the US Embassy in Haiti and gave us an idea of the devastation in Port au Prince. David spoke very highly of the Hôspital Albert Schweitzer in Deschappelle where we were going the next day to visit our Hanger project. Unfortunately, the Embassy lost their Minister of Cultural Affairs during the quake and the Embassy was home to many where they were sleeping under tables and in tents. David suggested that we contact St. Damiens Children Hospital (Petit Freres et Souers) where they have a prosthetic clinic supported by Italians who visit once every month for three weeks. David was very gracious and thanked us for our efforts in Haiti.
We followed up on David’s advice and paid an unexpected visit to St. Damiens Hospital where we met with Sister Judy Dohner. Father Rick Frechette, who runs the hospital, had already left for the day. Sister Judy has since sent me all the contact information for the pediatric disabled program and we will follow up with Father Rick. We left a small personal donation for the children.
We then took the 45 minute drive to meet with BRAC. We arrived at the new BRAC facilities – which is housed in the renovated home of a local physician, already reconfigured and outfitted for the much needed limb and brace clinic – at approximately 5:30 p.m. and were met by the staff of doctors, patients, and therapists and were given a tour of the Clinic. Unfortunately, the equipment for the Center had not arrived yet due to a three month delay. The equipment is there but they have not been able to have it delivered. However, the management at BRAC have already been busy hiring staff, doctors and therapists and recruiting patients. We had the opportunity to meet with everyone and the opportunity to meet two of the patients, Ariston Jenord and 9 year old Renade Bernabe. Ariston was pinned under the rubble for many days and had injuries to his back, shoulders, knees and legs. He somehow survived but has a lot of difficulty with the rehabilitation of his left leg. Ariston will be given a brace at the clinic and months of therapy so that he can walk again. (see photos). We were all overcome with emotion when we met 9 year old Renade Bernabe. Renade, who is a twin with two older brothers, was in a house with her parents and when the house collapsed, she jumped off the roof and shattered her leg so badly that it had to be amputated. The amputation was accomplished irregularly with one bone left longer than the other necessitating an additional surgery at a later time to preserve her limb. Renade has a temporary prosthetic and gladly removed it and showed us her “leg”. Renade was asked to sing a song and dance for us and she was a real showman. She managed to get all of us up to dance with her and is the most delightful young girl with a winning presence that will get her far in life. (see video and photos).
We had a working dinner with Susan Davis, Founder of BRAC USA and current President of BRAC and Rachael Pierre, Program Manager, Education for BRAC Haiti. Rachel has a Masters Degree from Columbia Law School and was born to Haitian parents in the US. The Senior Manager of the Brac Limb and Brace Center, Dr. Ripon also joined us. Dr. Ripon is from BRAC Bangladesh and will remain in Haiti for 8 months until the clinic is up and running. We encouraged Dr. Ripon and his team to consider educating and training the local Haitians – including the patients – to become prosthetic practitioners and technicians toward the long-term goals of possible employment and sustainability of the clinic/center. We told them of our experience with such projects Grapes/US has supported and the established programs worldwide.
BRAC originated in Bangladesh and is a development organization dedicated to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change in their own lives. BRAC was founded in 1972 and reaches 110,000 million people. Rachel and Susan did an outstanding job of making arrangements at the Hotel, hiring a driver, and giving us advice during our trip. We could not have made this trip without their help.
Board member and sports activist, Kevin Burns decided to bring deflated soccer balls with a hand pump to inflate on the trip, and spent our initial travel time blowing up the balls in the back of our van. As children playing in fields or in the streets were seen, Kevin often got out of the van and would toss them a soccer ball. The exhilaration and joy expressed on each of their young faces says it all! A picture is worth a thousand words, and thanks to Kevin and his caring, another mission is in process.
Friday, August 27, 2010 – Up again for an early pick up by Claudel who was 2 hours late because his van had a mechanical problem requiring immediate repair. Claudel spoke no English, only the native Haitian Creole language, and only knew the word “pay”. However, Claudel was a great driver and kept us safe in what felt like a “war-torn zone” amidst the extreme poverty, rubble and debris that was everywhere crippling mobility and spirit, and he was responsible for making the 3 hour drive to Deschapelle memorable. He transported us with Haitian pride and with concern for our welfare.
Klinick Hanger was created after the earthquake by the Ivan Sabel Foundation. They rent a wing from Hôspital Albert Schweitzer– which was founded by Larry Mellon and Gwent Grant Mellon in 1956. Hôspital Albert Schweitzer is an integrated rural health system that provides medical care for 300,000 impoverished people in the Arlibonite Valley of Haiti (Deschapelles). It is highly respected as an outpost and oasis of hope for both the area as well as the entire country.
A Haitian Amputee Coalition was created after the earthquake which included Physicians for Peace, The Harold and Kayrita Anderson Family Foundation, the Catholic Medical Mission Board and Donald Peck Lessie, M.D. Since its founding on February 22, 2010, the practitioners of the Hanger Klinik have provided prosthetic care to 500+ Haitian amputees. A training program to educate local Haitians to be come prosthetic practitioners and technicians has also been established.
We were met upon our arrival by Ana Avakian, an ABC Certified Prosthetist-Orthotist. In February, Ana had just rented an apartment in Washington, D.C. but never had the opportunity to move in because she was summoned to Haiti. She has been there for nearly 4 months and has now finished her placement, however, wants desperately to return next year. Vern H. Hostetler will now be operating the Hanger Klinik. We met Javier Mejia, from Richmond Va., and Chris from Iowa who are all certified prosthetists/Orthotists. All of these men volunteer their time in Haiti and are paid by Hanger Orthopedic and it was such a pleasure for us to see their enthusiasm for helping the people of Haiti. We were treated to an amazing lunch of local Haitian food and then had a tour of the facilities which are some of the best we have seen so far in any country that we have visited. The Klinik was pristine and very well organized. The individual examining stalls were painted by local artists and some of the amputees. Please view the photos and videos. The Klinik Hanger is more of a grass-roots organization.
Christine spoke to the local artists who are very interested with helping establish the Philip Craig Arts Program. There are doing some initial research for us and we just found another organization affiliated with Hanger, which is interested in pursuing this.
Saturday, 6:00 a.m. – depart for the airport. It was a scene of utter chaos that one cannot even imagine. There were over 1,000 people on line and Robert Pierot navigated and used his negotiating skills with a magic touch and somehow managed to get us to the front of the line. Standing on line, we met a young female surgeon, Kelly Brook, from Duke University who was working at HOS and the Chairman and son of the Founder of the Hospital Albert Schweitzer, Mr. Larry Mellon.
On January 12, 2010, the Haiti earthquake devastated the Haiti Nation and the world. In New York, in the course of getting their driver’s licenses renewed, Christine was standing in line talking with Robert Pierot – one of GFH/US’s long-standing donors and supporters — about the unthinkable devastation of it all. Bobby asked, “What are you going to do about it?” – meaning what was Grapes/US going to do. Christine responded, “What are you going to do, Bobby?” Instantly a purposeful mission, Grapes for Humanity/US Haiti Relief Effort, emerged. Within two days, without a single event, but with an enormity of effort from two concerned and caring citizens, $110,000 was secured from Grapes/US friends in the worldwide shipping industry. All monies were collected within days of this inception. The Board of Directors added to these initial funds, making the total of $150,000 that will be distributed to our two designated projects specifically for amputees. Our mission is rather like the butterfly that flaps it’s wings, but a strong force is created!
While we know there is much to be done, we returned from this trip, thinking that we have nothing to complain about, have everything to be thankful for and with a renewed compassion for helping the people of Haiti. We have a heightened determination to support the professionals we met and the extended success of the projects we’re funding there in all ways possible.
Respectively submitted by the “Grapes Haiti Team”
August 31, 2010