by Carolee Carolee Besteman, RN MS, Clinical Consultant, Michigan Primary Care Association (as published in the Michigan Primary Care Association’s newsletter, News & Notes, Spring 2010 issue)
The country is only a two hour air flight from the United States but – really – it is so far away. At this point I am not sure why I arranged my life so I could go there, but I did. I volunteered at an orphanage called Children of the Promise near Cap Haitien. It is located on the north coast of Haiti, 90 miles to the northeast of Port-au-Prince. The buildings and roads there were not destroyed by the earthquake, but it still takes 30 minutes to drive the six country miles from the airport because the road is so full of large potholes, most of which are filled with water. I’m told Haiti imports most of its food and unemployment is 80%. The suffering in Cap Haitien is not from the effects of the earthquake; it’s just there.
The 20 children at the Children of Promise orphanage were my world for one week. A 5-month-old boy arrived four days before I did. In some respects “orphanage” is a misnomer. “Creche” is more appropriate because, although some children have been abandoned or are truly without a family, some are brought there to be nursed back to health. This little guy was starving – his mother had died and his father was unable to care for him. His little legs were so thin and his ribs could easily be counted through his shirt. So we fed him and we loved him. We called him a flirt because he was so interactive with us – which clearly says that, even though his family couldn’t afford to buy much formula for him, they loved him and talked/played with him during his five months of life.
The Baby House was a long narrow building with a wide hall where much of the living took place. I made up my best games with a couple of 2 year olds. Every morning, they’d each take one of my hands and we’d march up and down the hall. When it was time to turn a corner, we’d play Crack the Whip and their skinny but sturdy legs would run to keep up. They’d laugh and laugh! A duck pull-toy was a favorite from among their few toys. It usually came along on our walks but it slid along on its side. Its wheels didn’t roll very well. A least they didn’t until I gave it a major wheel alignment.
Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that I made it my business to evaluate the immunization status of all the children. The Haitian schedule is not complicated and only includes BCG, Oral Polio Vaccine, DTP, and Measles Vaccine. One boy in the orphanage was complete!! However, 45 vaccinations were needed to bring the other children up-to-date for age. They will be given by the Haitian Public Health Nurses sometime in the near future. I’m so sad I won’t be there when that happens. What a day that will be!
So – sometimes it is dramatic as in health care reform, campaign trails, immigration reform, new access points. And sometimes it is just a wheel alignment. We all do what we can, don’t we. I thank God for all of you.