Islanders learn lessons from Haiti
January 19, 2011 · Updated 12:15 PM
Coupeville resident Amy Hauser, a physical therapist at Whidbey General Hospital, has been to Haiti twice to help rehabilitate locals after the devastating earthquake one year ago. After bonding with the people, and taking on two honorary adopted sons, Hauser brought back one message for Americans: “We have much to learn.”
Hauser said after the earthquake struck, she felt a tug on her heartstrings to go to Haiti, but has never considered herself a first-responder type. One of her friends who was already in the area told her about Children of the Nations, a nonprofit that assists destitute children. In April, she set off for Haiti with the organization in a team of 12. She ended up at a center known as Love a Child, an orphanage, medical clinic, malnutrition center and school set up in a remote Haitian village. Her patients were housed in sloping tents and laid on the floor on mattresses waiting for cots to arrive. She treated people of all ages and saw many amputees and upper and lower extremity fractures.
Hauser said before physical therapists began arriving to the country in February, the patients had to stay in their incredibly hot tents after surgeries.
“They were afraid and didn’t know how to get started moving,” she said. “And they were understandably depressed and in shock over what had happened and not knowing what would come in their future.”
Hauser returned to Haiti again in September and did a lot of scar work employing deep massage techniques.
She stressed that during both her trips she was able to meet and care for incredible people. She said many of the Haitians are living with nothing and yet they remain cheery and sing frequently. She remembers one woman named Guillene whom she treated in April. Hauser gave her a few bottles of nail polish and a pair of her earrings before she left as a simple parting gift.
“She was overwhelmed, and her husband, Maxim, at that point, went into their tent, throwing his hands up in the air,” Hauser said. “I was confused, but Jeff (Hauser’s translator) said Maxim stated, ‘She is giving us everything.’ ... How little we understand about how little they have. They were, and still are, living in tents.”
Oak Harbor resident and WGH paramedic Ian Tully spent two weeks before Thanksgiving in Haiti along with Clinton resident and WGH Certified Diabetes Educator RN Don Miller. Both men’s key takeaway from the trip was similar to Hauser’s.
“There’s a lot of things we take for granted that you don’t take for granted once you’ve been over there,” Miller said.
Miller went to Haiti with the nonprofit Mission of Hope to assist in developing instructional materials on diabetes based on the Haitians’ diet. However, with the spread of the cholera epidemic, he soon found himself helping in whichever areas he was needed.
Tully traveled to Haiti with Medical Teams International, a nonprofit based out of Portland, Ore. which focuses on disaster relief. Tully had been to Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka previously with relief teams and was still taken aback by the havoc cholera has caused in Haiti.
“I imagined it would be very bad, but it was worse,” he said.
Tully worked nightly 14-hour shifts in a small tent crowded with 50 to 60 patients. He said the smell from diarrhea and vomit was thick and that the lights would often go out in the night.
Tully said the makeshift clinic was only manned by six people at a time and the locals would have to walk down from the mountains to get there. He said people would get dropped off at the entrance to the tent literally dying.
“It was really bleak,” he said.
But despite the conditions, both Tully and Miller said they were inspired by the Haitians’ optimism and recall them singing together in the tents songs of worship and joy.
“They are able to get a lot of enjoyment out of a life with few materials things,” Miller said.
Miller said news of the cholera epidemic has lost the attention of many United States media outlets, but that the need is still great and people should consider donating money for supplies through nonprofit organizations.
Last Wednesday, Jan. 12, marked the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti.