Fresh from hurricane-stricken Haiti, where HOPE volunteers continue to bolster the health system and care for families impacted by the most recent disaster, Andrea Dunne-Sosa, Project HOPE’s Director of Global Volunteer Programs and the Americas Region, reflects on the experience of humanitarian aid workers on the ground immediately following disaster situations.
When the alarm went off at 5:30 this morning, I immediately jumped out of bed. Even though I left Haiti yesterday, I wanted to be in solidarity with our team still on the ground.
I am thrilled and reassured to be home with my beautiful son and family, but it is hard to adjust to the regular pace of routine life after days and weeks in such a high intensity environment. In Haiti, the devastation of the storm in the heavily affected areas is inescapable. Relief workers are constantly thinking about the people, the families, the children who have been impacted by the disaster. At the same time, we also have to constantly be figuring out how to balance the resources and security of the relief team on the ground with all the overwhelming needs of the people. Questions bombard your brain.
Have I read all of the latest reports? Is the security team in place for our volunteers to travel tomorrow? Where should our team be to have the greatest impact? Do we have a plan if one of the vehicles gets a flat tire? Will our satellite phone work in a remote area of the country without communications? How can we coordinate with the government and other teams to get ahead of cholera before the next outbreak? What if it starts raining again when our team is hours from home base and the river crossing is flooded?
Every email you send, every meeting you attend, every communication you make, takes on the highest level of importance. Lifesaving importance. Your brain is on fire 24/7, figuring out what are you going to do, at any given time. You are up at dawn and still working late into the night. The situation can change in an instant, so you have to be flexible, ready, available, professional and thoughtful, all while your heart aches in the face of the humanitarian crisis unfolding minute-by-minute in front of you. Life takes on a greater intensity, a greater sense of purpose.
Then you are home, with regular electricity, mobile service, a safe comfortable bed. An email comes in from the office, about a time card deadline. And you realize you are not in Haiti anymore.
For now, I am back at HOPE headquarters in Millwood, Va., supporting the relief effort from the comfort of my office and at home, surrounded by my family. But half of my heart remains in Haiti with the HOPE team on the ground. The team that doesn’t get to tuck their children into bed at night, doesn’t have regular communications and is still working 24/7 to make sure they do everything possible to help those in Haiti still needing care.
Two of those relief workers are Nurse Practitioners Maya Ginns and Lindsey Martin from Massachusetts General Hospital. Maya and Lindsey began work yesterday at the St. Therese hospital in Miragoane, Nippes. St. Therese is a facility 3 1/2 hours west of Port-au-Prince, where 10 of the 28 health facilities in the region no longer have rooftops due to Hurricane Matthew, stretching too thin an already limited health system. The St. Therese hospital has a severe shortage of health professionals, including no pediatrician on duty and support for the maternity ward only four days per week, despite the nearly 70 babies born there each month. The dedication of the current hospital staff is simply valiant, doing the absolute best they can with limited personnel, limited supplies, and an influx of patients.
When I was there, just a few days ago, I saw a family, smiling and holding their absolutely beautiful newborn baby, waiting for services for their infant that just were not available. It was heartbreaking.
But one of the highlights of my relief work in Haiti was when I was meeting with the Director of the St. Therese Hospital, knowing that I was going to be able to send HOPE volunteers to the facility to support the dedicated existing staff, that continues to work, despite the demanding and stressful environment.
The St. Therese Hospital also has a small cholera unit, but only has room for three or four patients, insufficient supplies, and is in desperate need of upgrading. Around the country, 34 cholera treatment centers were completely destroyed during the hurricane. The threat of a cholera outbreak looms heavy in the hurricane impacted areas. That’s why HOPE volunteer Jim Schermerhorn, a Physician’s Assistant and disaster response expert who was in Haiti during the devastating cholera outbreak after the 2010 earthquake, is working with HOPE and our partners to identify long-term solutions to support the health system in case of another outbreak. HOPE is securing plans and resources to help train health care professionals and rehabilitate cholera treatment centers to diagnose, treat and prevent cholera outbreaks in the coming weeks.
HOPE has been working in Haiti since the mid-1980s and is committed to supporting recovery from Hurricane Matthew and helping to strengthening the health care system in the long run. Whether through our dedicated volunteers, training programs, donated medical supplies and lifesaving medications, programs to support maternal and child health, or rehabilitating cholera treatment centers, HOPE is making a difference.
Your continuing support helps fuel our team on the ground in Haiti. Thank you for all you do.
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