In early April, Moab Regional Hospital nurses Tammy Tucker and Rosanne Lewis and medical technologist Debra Paxman will spend almost two weeks in a remote Haitian village, bringing supplies for the residents along with much-needed medical care.
The three will be part of a team of volunteers with the Haiti Health Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides medical care and ongoing education to residents in remote areas of Haiti. The volunteers will be helping at a temporary medical clinic in the remote village of Timo. It will be Lewis’s second trip to the country and Tucker’s sixth since the earthquake.
“I was initially called by the church ... as a sort of reservist when the earthquake happened,” Tucker said, adding that she was in Haiti for three weeks. “I just kept going.”
Tucker said she keeps going back because she loves the people.
“The people there are the poorest in the western hemisphere,” she said. “The conditions are atrocious, but the people are so happy and loving. They want to learn. They’re starved for knowledge.”
To get there, Tucker, Paxman and Lewis will fly to Port Au Prince, drive about 50 miles, then hike several miles to the mountain village, carrying backpacks filled with their gear, equipment and supplies.
“There’s no way to get there except to hike,” Lewis said. “There are no bicycles, no cars, no motorcycles.”
Tucker, Lewis and Paxman will spend about 12 days in the village, which has no access to a hospital, stores or hotels. While there, they will provide healthcare and education to the residents.
Tucker said the doctors and nurses see up to 300 patients each day.
“They start lining up at three in the morning,” she said. “Some of them walk up to 30 miles just to stand in line for 10 to 12 hours, but they never complain.”
Before they can see a doctor they must sit through several educational seminars covering a number of topics, including nutrition, hygiene, pregnancy and even the importance of wearing shoes, Lewis said.
“We teach them the importance of wearing shoes because their feet are tender, and if they get open sores they can get hookworms,” Lewis said.
Young children who finish the class receive a pair of shoes.
“It doesn’t do any good to teach them about wearing shoes if they don’t have any to wear,” Lewis said.
Sitting through each of the seminars counts as a sort of payment toward the medical services the people receive, Lewis said.
“The group doesn’t do handouts,” she said. “Something is required for everything they get.”
Once they’ve finished the seminars, Tucker helps triage the patients.
“I assess them and decide which medical station they need to be seen at,” she said, adding that the group provides dental care and vision care in addition to medical care.
Tucker also accompanies the doctors on hikes to visit residents who may be too sick or otherwise unable to attend the clinics.
“We’ll walk five or six miles a day,” she said. “We get to go into their humble little homes, which are basically just shacks, and they’re so happy. They offer us whatever they have to share.”
The medical volunteers also teach the traditional birthing attendants new techniques so they are better prepared to deal with childbirth.
“We teach them proper care of newborns, neonatal resuscitation and how to identify complications in pregnancy and childbirth,” she said.
The group will take a variety of medical supplies with them. Lewis said they will take childbirth delivery kits, newborn kits for mothers who either have or are expecting new babies and 100 reusable sanitary pad kits for school girls.
“This allows girls to attend school without being expelled, worried and embarrassed,” Lewis said.
Lewis said people throughout the Moab community have donated supplies and time in order to provide all the necessary kits. The group has received donations from Moab Regional Hospital, the Moab LDS Church, the Winter Sun 10k, WabiSabi and many other organizations, businesses and individuals.
“All of the supplies we take are distributed after appropriate education,” Lewis said. Haiti Health Initiative provides six months of supplies, including medication and vitamins, during each trip. Another medical group will travel to the area in October.
Altogether, Lewis said the group of volunteers usually consists of approximately 18 people, all of whom pay their own way to Haiti and receive no compensation in return.
“It’s just amazing working with these people all week long and doing everything you can to see everyone you can,” she said. “You feel like they’re family after spending all week with them.”
Dave Cozzens, a Moab contractor, will also head to the area in May to work with the group’s water and agriculture team to help provide clean water for Timo residents.
“These people are so poor, they just can’t get their heads above water,” Cozzens said. “We’re going to try and make clean water more accessible.”
Tucker said the group has installed more than 15,000 feet of water pipe to provide the residents with easier access to a clean water source.
“We did it so women and children don’t have to walk five or six miles a day to get to clean water,” she said.
Volunteers also installed water filters and a water station.
“Now they can get fresh water to drink, eat and bathe,” Tucker said.
Cozzens will help install another 8,000 feet of pipe and nine new faucets, all connecting back to three clean water sources.
“In the future we’ll have to look for new springs to develop, but for now, it’s just those three,” he said.
The organization also provides funding in other areas such as scholarships to Haitians who want to go into specific fields, like engineering. “The long term goal is to educate the people so they’re less dependent on us so that some day we may not be needed,” Lewis said. They are also currently trying to raise money for a Haitian child in need of a heart transplant.
Tucker said her time in Haiti has changed her outlook on life. She said she’s learned to love the simplicity of life there. “When I’m there, I forget that I’m not one of them,” she said. “I come home, and I just want to throw away all of my worldly possessions that we Americans hoard.”
Lewis said that people who are interested in helping the organization can donate either money or supplies, or travel to Haiti with future trips. A labor and delivery nurse, medical assistant and clinic nurse are needed for the October medical trip, she said.
Volunteers are also needed for the group Cozzens will be working with in May.
“There is a need for a group of about five or six people to go with me in May,” Cozzens said. He said local villagers will help, but extra hands are needed.
He said anyone interested in going needs to be healthy enough to hike into the village carrying supplies.
“Knowledge of water systems is a bonus,” Cozzens said.
It costs approximately $1,500 for each volunteer to go to Haiti, including transportation and food for the trip.
“If people can’t come on their own, they can contribute money to help someone who can,” Cozzens said.
Fore more information about the Haiti Health Initiative visit: haitihealthinitiative.org.