Friday, 01 September 2017 07:00

Helping Haiti a life-changing experience for S.W. Sask. residents

Written by  Andrea Carol
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Bill Gergley and Jean-Marc dig through hard ground to install a water line to the Haiti Friendship Centre. Bill Gergley and Jean-Marc dig through hard ground to install a water line to the Haiti Friendship Centre. Photo by Andrea Carol

This past June, a group of people from southwest Saskatchewan had the opportunity to work side-by-side with villagers (and survivors) in one of the poorest countries on the planet.

A team from southwest Saskatchewan set out to transform a home into a school in Source Matelas, Haiti. The renovation project came with many challenges as basic as proper sanitation. A group of seven individuals from southwest Saskatchewan and area set out in June to bring some hope to anyone they could find in Haiti. I was one of those people.
During my first trip to Haiti in February 2014, I fell in love with the people who survive daily in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. We spent our time planting trees, painting houses and visiting schools.
Behind the walls of Mission of Hope, a Baptist organization headquartered in the southern states, we had a taste of Haiti.
Our latest trip was more than a taste as we did not stay in a safely-guarded compound, but rather a home in the middle of the community of Source Matelas, just a stone’s throw away from Cabaret.
Nothing could have prepared us for the complete immersion into Haitian culture that we experienced there. We spent our time painting, cleaning, repairing water lines and stocking the home for school this September.
In Haiti, we quickly realized the word “need” was not defined to us properly by our North American upbringing. Items such as water, sanitation, safe food and even medicine are scarce in a third-world country.
We were only in Source Matelas a couple of hours before jumping on the back of the local motorcycle gang’s bikes (aka Haitian cabs) to go to the hardware store. The hardware store was not as we know it in North America, as it was a small shack the size of a garden shed, but we needed to put in a water line and we needed supplies.
It felt brave to get on a motorcycle as a foreigner with a man whose words I could not understand, wearing nothing but shorts, shirt and flip flops. There were three or four of us on a single motorbike. As we passed people on the streets, they would point to us and call out, “Blanc, Blanc” meaning ‘white, white’. I felt like we were safer than most riding, as we didn’t have a goat or chicken tied to the front of our bikes as so many others. My Haitian cab driver gave me a hug after and asked me not to forget him. I definitely won’t forget him or the crazy ride over cobblestone and unpaved streets to the hardware store.
A few days later, one of our team members fell ill. I was painting the exterior of the school when Patti, one of our American team members, came and got me.
“Lianne needs you, Andrea.”
I followed Patti to the women’s dorm (a bedroom in the house). In the middle of the floor lay Lianne Strik on a sleeping pad next to a pail. Her eyes were sunken and dark and she appeared to be severely dehydrated. I searched my first-aid kit for some sort of suppository to stop the vomiting and diarrhea. It was 105 degrees out and dangerous dehydration was setting in. One of our guides offered to bring me to a pharmacy in Cabaret. Little did I know the local pharmacist was an elderly lady with a big straw hat and bowl full of pills sitting on the edge of the street. I pride myself in being an excellent communicator, but asking a translator to ask this woman for a suppository was more difficult than I imagined. My hand gestures and repeated attempts to explain what a suppository is to the young Haitian translator had the rest of my team in hysteric laughter.
We were out of luck. The woman on the street sold me some pills and we weren’t about to take a chance giving them to Lianne. Upon my return to the dorm, Lianne’s conditioned had worsened. Desperate times meant desperate measures and I found myself making a homemade suppository.
I’m not sure who it was more traumatizing for, me or Lianne. Realizing Lianne’s condition was severe, I sent a message to a doctor friend of mine in Indianapolis asking for advice and our team sent for a nurse. Doctor’s orders came back promptly. Put in an IV and get an injectable of Gravol into her. Where were we going to find that in a small village in rural Haiti?
Now if it had not been for our fantastic team of people, we would not have found the nurse, saline IV or injectable of gravol that ultimately ended up saving Lianne’s life.
Lianne was sure she was being given her last rights when Lemese, a young Haitian man prayed over Lianne in creole. We are almost certain she had been infected with cholera and she will tell you herself, she was close to death.
Despite the IV leaking and scorching temperatures, Lianne made a full recovery in a few days.
Although there were a few bumps along the way such as taking out a powerline and sick chicken, we managed to get the school ready.
Many people ask me if I would go back to Haiti considering the risk to our safety and lives. My answer is “absolutely”. This beautiful nation may appear to have nothing to offer, but they are good people and you can’t help but fall in love with them.
Many of us have experienced a fantastic holiday on the same island at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. It’s difficult to imagine that just over the border abject poverty consumes an entire nation. Most people think of Haiti as a dangerous, dirty, hot and unstable country and they are right, but what they do not know is that despite how impoverished this nation is, the people are pure, loving and happy. Yes, they are happy. Bright smiles flashed across the faces of almost everyone we met. So much so, I started questioning why we, being from one of the wealthiest nations in the world (in the top 20 per cent), are also plagued with depression, anxiety, soaring suicide rates, loneliness, obesity, addiction, and the list goes on. Only 20 per cent of the world is privileged the way we are, yet we are also one of the unhappiest people on the planet. What are we missing?
Here’s a snapshot of Haiti.
Native Haitians called the country “Ayiti,” meaning “Land of Mountains” — a term that evolved into “Haiti”. Haiti makes up the western one-third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. The eastern two-thirds of the island is the Dominican Republic. With a population of approximately 10.4 million, the unemployment rate hovers around 40 per cent. Eighty per cent of Haitians live under the poverty line and 54 per cent live in abject poverty. Haiti has the highest number of orphans of any country in the Western Hemisphere. With poverty and despair comes corruptness and Haiti’s world rank is Number 5.
In 1963, thousands of Haitians lost their lives when Hurricane Flora hit the island’s shores. In 2010, the death toll from a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit the most populated part of the country was in the hundreds of thousands. On the heels of the natural disasters, Cholera breaks out in Haiti taking thousands of more lives. Of the people who survived, only 53 per cent of Haitians can read and write and only 40 per cent of school-aged children attend school regularly. School is not free, but a privilege for only the elite.
So, now you know just the tip of the iceberg of devastation this country faces. Why is it our problem? Charles Perrault said, “You were born to privilege, and with that comes specific obligations.”
With the inundation of news media reporting of areas in the world hit with tragedy, it has been a childhood dream of mine to lend a helping hand to those in need. Being born and raised in one of the greatest nations in the world, we have so much to be thankful for and so much to give. Items such as clean water, food, housing, access to a medical facility and sanitation are things we all take for granted far too often. We joke about having “first-world problems.” Unfortunately, the gravity and severity of third-world problems often go unnoticed. In Haiti, you have to watch where you step because pollution, sewage and the odd rotting carcass lines the streets. Rivers are black with pollution while children wash in the water.
There is now an operational school in Source Matelas that has opened its doors to give hope to disadvantaged children thanks to Mike and Irene Ritskes. There is a chicken coop in the yard where Frankie and ABC the Haitian hens will soon be laying eggs. A variety of fruit trees flourish in the yard and the word ‘welcome’ is hung over the school room door.
This refuge school will provide an education, a meal, school uniforms, faith and opportunity to those who would otherwise perish. We should give when we have the ability to give.

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