Friday, May 30, 2014

10 Things I learned in Haiti

10 things I learned in Haiti-

  1. Life for women in developing countries is incredibly hard. Finding water, making a fire, cooking food and washing laundry takes hours each day.  Women who have no “time-saving devices” work hard just to keep their families fed and clean. That means there is little time to read, to create art or to do more than try to survive.
  1. In Haiti relationships are the source of happiness.  Most Haitian families have few material belongings.  Conspicuous consumption is not possible in Haiti.  Only a tiny fraction of Haitians could find self-worth in what they possess.  When you do not have things, cannot shop when you are depressed, do not have more or less stuff than most of your neighbors then it is your relationships that define the richness of life.
  2. Even the simplest of medical procedures can be life-saving.  Routine procedures like taking a blood pressure or measuring the amount of protein in urine can save a life.  These are things we do every day for our patients in the U.S. and I lost my sense of their importance until I went to Haiti where most pregnant women are not receiving prenatal care.  Without these simple tests women can develop life-threatening high blood pressure.  They will not know they are desperately ill until it is often too late to save them and their baby.
  3. Education is the most valuable treasure a country can have. In Haiti it is very prized by children and adults and is seen as the only hope for change. At night you will see children reading under the only street light in their neighborhood or in the dim light that comes from a window at the back of a store. They walk miles to school and have great pride in their uniforms and books. To get their children into a school may be a parent’s greatest dream.
  4. Taxes and government are under appreciated in the U.S. If you don’t have a functioning government and an adequate tax base you can’t have the public infrastructure that supports private enterprise.  You don’t have paved roads, clean water, sewers, garbage collection, free public education, trusted police protection or an honest justice system.  If you believe your taxes are too high and that “government is the problem” go to Haiti and you may decide that for all its flaws American government works pretty well. 
  5. When death is common your view of life changes. Here we live in denial of the inevitability of death. Because death is a common experience in Haiti, Haitians have a stoicism, resilience and an ability to carry on with life after a tragedy. They have the same pain from the loss of a child as we do. They are just as sad and grieve the same but they have accepted that death and life go hand-in-hand.  I believe this attitude changes what they value and how they treasure each other.
  6. In Haiti people still remember that they are descended from slaves and they retain a proud connection to their past. Here in the U.S. we often have a sense we are living in a unique time of our own making and have lost the realization that the world we live in is a consequence of those who have gone before us, those who have worked for hundreds of years to make our lives better.  We owe a debt to our pioneer men and women, a debt to be paid forward.
  7. For every task you want to accomplish in Haiti there are unpredictable barriers. To get anything done in Haiti you have to have perseverance. For every organization that is succeeding in making good changes for Haitians there are twenty that just gave up.  A friend once gave me very valuable advice, “There are so many problems in Haiti that the only way you will succeed in solving one of them is to put blinders on to all the rest and concentrate on spending your life-time solving just one of them.” The problem I chose to focus on was the lack of skilled care for pregnant women.  And I think even that has been too broad at times.
  8. The midwives who come to Haiti to volunteer believe midwifery is a calling. They are not there for the money, the fame, or the fun. They are there because they believe deeply that midwifery is a special gift to women all over the world. They know medical interventions can save lives but bringing compassionate care and dignity to childbirth is equally important to them.
  9. Compassion is the universal language.  We may not understand the medical jargon or barely grasp the detailed explanation the doctor is giving us but we intuitively know when someone really cares about us.  If they care then we trust.  With unrushed attention and a caring touch midwives speak a universal language of compassion to comfort their patients, whether they be American or Haitian.  Haitians recognize when someone is genuinely interested in helping them get well, get the best care, get to the bottom of the problem.  They are truly grateful for the compassionate care given to them. For some it is their first taste of compassionate health care.  I still get teary eyed when I think of the story told by one of our volunteers about the 16 year old soon-to-be-mother she help through a birth.  That young woman told her she wished she had something to give her in return but she had nothing to offer but her thanks and the words, “you have been kinder to me than anyone has ever been in my life.”  Little did she know how her words were treasured.   

1 comment:

  1. Thank u for all your help towards my people. As a Registered nurse I wish I can one day give them some medical care and save some lives.