Life and Death in Rural Haiti

On a recent inspection visit to Haiti with my friend Dr. Monte Wilson (Trainer/Coach/ Philanthropy promoter and blog author @ (http://legendaryleadership.blogspot.com).  I observed once again Haiti is a land of such extreme poverty and suffering, it strains the imagination to describe. Many commentators have documented the tragic circumstances that keep a nation of nearly 8 million people in such suffocating conditions.  While there have been some minor improvements in the urban landscape of Port au Prince since the historic earthquake of 2010, the daily struggle for survival for the vast majority of the 3.7 million people who reside there, is still the most difficult battle in the Western World.

Our primary destination was the Real Hope for Haiti clinic and Cholera center, some 3 1/2 hour drive north of Port au Prince with a rented vehicle and interpreter. We wended our way for hours through the choked traffic and widespread rubble of Port au Prince  through the bleak and arid desolation of the outskirts, then north along the teeming roadside communities on Highway 1. One irony I have observed in third world citizens is the inexplicable wit and liveliness in so many of the people and children as they live out their hours amid the filth and wreckage of the environment.

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As we rolled up to the busy, dirt street scene outside the clinic compound gate, the location presents the typical milling, passive, wide-eyed curiosity of rural Haitians. However, once we passed inside the gates, a whole other world exists. Order, purpose, companionship and healing pervade the open courtyard surrounding the inner sanctum of the clinic. I had the sense of coming out of a hurricane into a harbored refuge, a space protected and shielded from all the grinding chaos and ruin around it, and attended by a Presence that comforts, eases, puts at bay the forces working to destroy everything around it.

 After being greeted by the Real Hope for Haiti staff and given a quick tour of the administration, pharmacy and emergency room we were led to the children’s clinic where those too sick to be released are admitted for treatment. At the moment there are 14 children lying on mattresses being medically attended. The stillness that prevailed in this infant care unit in rural Haiti was breathtaking. It was like a sacred place, a holy place. We learned that yesterday in this room the last fragile grip a child had on life, loosened almost imperceptibly, while 14 others quietly slept quietly in the vigilant care of their nurses.

 The passing of a child, though not rare, is not casual nor is it ever taken for granted in this place. When it happens, all cell phones are turned off, any unnecessary business stops, as the urgent routines of the focus of everyone’s attention (keeping babies alive) is interrupted to prayerfully acknowledge the solemn reality. An individual just passed into another world. Arrangements are made to give due honor to observing a proper burial before the whole team fully resumes its vigorous defense of life.

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 I felt curiously captured in their large innocent eyes as I moved slowly across the room. Such beauty, such tenderness, such promise hanging in the balance, without guarantees but not without hope.  I gently picked up one little girl, 9 months old and only 6 pounds 15 ounces in weight and held her in my hands as she studied me, too weak to resist or celebrate my attention. Soft, clean, arms and legs as thin as a twig, her neck too weak to hold up her head, I cupped her neck to support her and we looked at one another and my heart melted. Days later I found myself remembering her wondering, curious, eyes looking into mine. .

 Time seemed to temporarily be suspended while I was in that room, each child seemed bigger than life, more important than schedules or agendas or plans. I moved like a bee in a field of flowers, from baby to baby, touching them, holding them, caressing their little hands and feet. A hundred feet away, outside the gates were the streets of Haiti, but here in this room was a garden of fragrant flowers.

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Many of these children are brought down from the mountainous highlands by their mothers on trails that sometimes require 10-14 hours of descent just to reach our partners clinic. Often the mothers are as desperately weak and starving as their children but must return to care for several other children. Depending on the severity of the child’s malnutrition, it is almost miraculous what a modest amount of food, (specialized dairy products, eggs and therapeutic protein products) can do to restore a child to a normal and healthy state of play and happiness.

 Many of the families have never been taught to understand that a hen’s egg has the life giving protein their children need to survive so the chicken goes in the pot for dinner. A training program of introducing the life giving value of eggs has been introduced to help introduce more protein in their diet. Eggs are a relatively inexpensive supplement we can provide to help alleviate much malnutrition. For less than 20 dollars, four children can have an egg a day for a month.

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