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Posted By: John P. Howe, III, M.D. on July 29, 2010

Labels: Haiti , Humanitarian Aid, Volunteers

Port au Prince, Haiti July 28

 As sleep lifted me from my fog this morning and the aircraft carrying our team descended into Port au Prince, browns and blues formed into the solid shapes of crumbled buildings and tarp-dotted tent camps. And somehow it all seemed so familiar-- a true physical manifestation of the countless news story images and my own imagination filling in the blanks.

But my first day in the battered Haitian capital still proved to have lessons in store. What I have seen in my brief tour so far has shown me that the Haitian people survive on sheer determination. They have walked through fire and come away with an inspirational sense of hope.

We saw the best of humanity in the faces of Theodore Clermelie and her 10-month-old son Joseph Salomon, who waited patiently all day on a crowded outdoor patio at Clinique Sainte Marguerite in the Delmas 75 neighborhood of Port au Prince for a treatment for the boy’s itchy-looking skin rash, a surprise allergic reaction.

Our backgrounds and languages were different, yet the tenderness with which Theodore engaged her son— bouncing him on her knee and using the bright red liquid in a bottle of Project HOPE-donated PediaLyte as an ad hoc toy—was universal.

Never in conversations did we hear talk about the recent traumatic events of the past. There was no looking over shoulders. From a vantage point six months from the date of the earthquake I suppose that I expected more of a focus on personal losses. Instead we saw eagle eyes trained on the future: Haitians engaging the world community in the common quest for bettering the country.

Without exception, the Haitian Ministry of Health has also stepped up to the plate with a daunting request of Project HOPE: to assess the biomedical equipment of Port au Prince’s six largest hospitals (which together possess 60% of the medical equipment in all of Haiti). This month-long project proved to be an intensely productive collaborative experience for the Project HOPE team of four volunteer American biomedical engineers and four of their Haitian counterparts—which assessed and catalogued 931 items.

As Project HOPE now moves into the second phase of this project, the training of Haitian technicians to use and maintain these machines, we are proud to be part of the unglamorous side of the job—making sure that things work for the people that need them.

Today, like many days, I see that where there is crisis, there is HOPE. And I can’t help but categorize what our team has seen into two distinct categories: acute crisis, such as was seen in Haiti immediately after the January quake, and quiet crisis, which can arguably represent what the country is experiencing now—with the focus shifting to the treatment of chronic illness and rehabilitation.

I am firmly reminded that as Haiti transitions from acute crisis to quiet crisis, Project HOPE continues to have relevance and importance for the people that it serves.

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