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Greetings from Jérémie.  As some of you know, Cherlie and I were supposed to be in the US right now, travelling to NY/NJ to visit with family and churches, Milwaukee for a board meeting, Louisville for a medical missions conference and back home before Thanksgiving.  Then, Hurricane Matthew came along and changed our lives forever and our plans immediately.  We decided to stay here in Haiti in order to keep our clinic open and to serve as a bit of hope in the midst of despair.

Cherlie and I re- opened the clinic on Monday, October 17th and our patients have been grateful to see us.  Many of them are coming for medication refills, some have fevers and some are recovering from injuries sustained during the hurricane.  All of them have lost their houses and many of their possessions.  But, most of them somehow held onto their clinic receipt so we can look up their clinic record!  Amazing with all the water around that their receipts are intact (many of them were kept in a plastic medication bag, so they were protected from the water).

Nurse Vetelie Charles does some patient teaching at the start of our first day back in clinic.

Nurse Vetelie Charles does some patient teaching at the start of our first day back in clinic.

 

As we go up and down the mountain, we see signs of re-building, albeit not always polished.  Some people have collected tin that came off of other roofs and have put it on their house.  Others have built both walls and roof out of tin scraps.  In fact, people frequently recount how many people with thatched roof houses now have tin roofs!  Others have repaired part of their roof with tin scraps and used a tarp to cover the rest.  And, others have used the bark of fallen coconut trees to construct a new, little house until they can repair their old one.

Tin scraps cover a house that lost its roof

Tin scraps cover a house that lost its roof

 

Trees are starting to get new leaves, corn stalks are standing up, banana trees have sprouted new growth and the hills are greening up.  No longer is there that “scorched earth” look to the hills and valleys.  The worst is over, better days are to come.

CATCHING UP

We always like to acknowledge our visitors and didn’t have time to write a blog about our last visitors before the hurricane.  I wrote and told them that they were the last ones to see Jérémie as it was, not as it is now!  In September we had a wonderful team from Avera in South Dakota spend a week with us.  The team consisted of team leader and nurse Kathy English, nurse practitioners Theresa Hansen and Greta Martin, respiratory therapist Sharon Haverty, ultrasound technicians Paige Paquette and Aimee Hardy, ER nurse Karen Heideman, ER tech and pre-med student Dylan Goehner and technician Nicholas Romereim.  They helped with patient consultations, brought us an oxygen concentrator and taught us how to use it, taught Cherlie and me to do ultrasounds, painted, sanded and packed lots of medications.  We appreciated their help and their service to us and to our patients.  Thanks Avera Team!

Cherlie helps visiting RN Karen start an IV on a dehydrated patient

Cherlie helps visiting RN Karen start an IV on a dehydrated patient

 

Sharon and Kathy stand beside the oxygen concentrator the team brought down in their luggage!

Sharon and Kathy stand beside the oxygen concentrator the team brought down in their luggage!

 

Nicholas (L) and Dylan (R) paint a door for the pharmacy building

Nicholas (L) and Dylan (R) paint a door for the pharmacy building

 

Nurse Practitioner Theresa in her consultation room

Nurse Practitioner Theresa in her consultation room

 

Cherlie with her ultrasound teachers Paige (L) and Aimee (R)

Cherlie with her ultrasound teachers Paige (L) and Aimee (R)

 

Nurse practitioner Greta Martin helping out with Pap smear exams

Nurse practitioner Greta Martin helping out with Pap smear exams

 

The whole Avera team outside the clinic

The whole Avera team outside the clinic

 

For many years, Avera has been providing funds to build houses for rural Haitians such as those who live near our clinic.  While the team was here, we took them to see the home of a woman who has helped us out with light yard work since we first started our clinic ten years ago.  Marie has raised three sons on her own and they live a short distance down the hill from the clinic.  While they were visiting in September, the team went to see Marie and her home:

Avera team going to visit Marie’s home in September

Avera team going to visit Marie’s home in September

Unfortunately, Marie’s house was one of the thousands that were destroyed by the recent hurricane.  We think Marie and her family need some of those rebuilding funds soon!

Marie stands in front of what’s left of her home after Hurricane Matthew

Marie stands in front of what’s left of her home after Hurricane Matthew

 

THE VALUE OF POSSESSIONS

A few months ago an elderly man came to the clinic for consultation.  When he came into my consultation room, he carefully placed his satchel on the floor beside his chair.  Then, he covered it with an object that caught my attention because I couldn’t, in a brief glance, figure out what it was.  I took a history from him, trying to concentrate when my attention was really on the “object”.  I didn’t want to stare at it and make him feel uncomfortable but I had to figure out what it was!  I found my chance as I got up to listen to his heart and lungs.  He dutifully took deep breaths in and out and I was able to look straight down onto the object of my curiosity and, thus, solve my puzzle.  Here, draped across his old fabric satchel was a threadbare worn out towel.  The fabric had become so thin from use that it was difficult to tell that one day it had been made of terrycloth.  My patient now obviously carried it to wipe his sweaty brow as he walked along the mountain paths from his home.

One’s natural inclination would be to replace the old towel with a brand new one, presented to the patient in a grand manner, as evidence of our wonderful generosity.  But, looking at the towel carefully draped over the satchel, I began to think.  “How many brows has that towel wiped,” I thought.  “How many tears have been shed into its worn fabric?  How many gallons of bathing water has it absorbed for its owner and how many visitors has it served in his small, simple rural house.

I didn’t say anything about the towel that day.  Some time, when the time is right, I’ll offer him a replacement.

The object of my curiosity

The object of my curiosity

 

By Executive Director Catherine E. Wolf, MD MPH

I finally have a slow but present internet connection so I can give you a personal update with regard to our situation here in Jérémie, Haiti.  As you’ve seen on the news and read on our website, Hurricane Matthew was a devastating storm with widespread destruction and Jérémie sustained the brunt of it.  We were without cell phone contact from early morning on Tuesday, October 4th, until Friday evening, October 7th.  Internet was down entirely until late last week.  We are grateful for all the prayers, emails, phone calls and concern that has been shown to us and to our staff here in Haiti as well as the people in the communities we serve.  We praise the Lord that all of our staff are safe, although several of them lost their homes.  Let me update you regarding our present situation and share some reflections about the tragedy and what it means for the future.

  • Our house in Jérémie was entirely flooded due to water coming under the windows, but we’re fortunate that no windows or doors were broken. We lost our solar panels, so we go without electricity except for a few hours in the evening when we use our backup generator or inverter and batteries.  Our water drums on the roof blew off and most of the plumbing pipes were broken, so we’re in the process of replacing them.  In the meantime, we have water in a cistern and are using buckets of water for bathing.  All the wet boxes have been cleaned up and the house is getting back to normal.  Our driveway, which was entirely filled with fallen coconut trees, finally got cleared last weekend and our yard helpers are cutting up fallen branches and clearing the debris.  A few flowers actually survived the storm!
  • The clinic was flooded also as many of our new, wooden windows broke in the strong winds and fell off. The room that had the most damage was the pharmacy, where bags of pre-packaged medications were blown onto the flooded floor and medication bins were blown off the shelves.  Cherlie and I spent three days last week up at the clinic cleaning things up and re-organizing the pharmacy.  We had to wash and re-package hundreds of medication bags in order to re-stock the shelves.  Some medications were lost entirely when water seeped into the plastic medication bags.  But the work is now done and we’re planning to re-open the clinic on Monday, October 17.
  • The drive up the mountain to Gatineau last Wednesday was a sobering one for Cherlie and me as we passed houses, churches and schools with varying degrees of missing roofs, broken walls and changed lives. Everyone we passed just shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders in resolute acceptance of the tragedy that God allowed to pass.  The Haitian fatalistic world view was evident in full force.  There was one thing that tied us all together, though.  As one person put it so simply, “Everyone got a piece of the cake.”  In other words, everyone was affected by the storm in some way.  Houses that weren’t destroyed were flooded, everyone’s crops were destroyed and livestock died, no matter who owned them.   As such, everyone has a burden to bear.  Many lives were lost, especially the elderly, some of whom were our patients.  For them we all grieve.  Many farmers who were up in the high mountains harvesting beans at the time of the storm perished, as their flimsy stick houses blew away, and steep mountainsides slid out from under them.  Our hearts ache for their families.  Some pieces of this cake were harder to swallow than others.
  • As we passed landmarks in town and along the road that are now changed, a landscape that will never be the same, lives that have been impacted forever, I realized once again how resilient and long-suffering are the Haitian people. When 2 rooms of their house fall down, they pack all 10 family members into the 2 rooms that are still covered.  When the whole house falls down, they put up tin walls and a coconut leaf roof and sleep inside.  When there’s no food for them to cook, they boil water and make sweet tea.  And, everywhere you look, you see smiles.  Smiles?  After a tragedy like this?  Yes, smiles because they’re alive.  And, that is cause to celebrate.  No attempts to blame anyone for anything, no analyzing to determine how the situation could have been handled differently, no moaning and groaning about lack of government services or safety net.  The Haitian safety net is the Lord and it’s obvious to all that He’s in control.
  • The last thing I want to share is the amazing rebirth that has already begun. Banana trees are starting to sprout from their cut-off trunks, leaves are starting to re-appear on the trees, grass is beginning to grow and wilted corn is beginning to stand up.  Things will never be the same, but the Lord and nature shows us that there is a future.  And, that’s what we are looking towards – rebuilding homes for people in the communities we serve, replenishing livestock, re-planting gardens and fields.  This is what you and we together can do for the Haitian people that we serve through our clinic.  Relief agencies are at work trying, in spite of security obstacles, to distribute tarps and food supplies and we are helping when we can obtain supplies from these larger organizations.  But, our focus is on the future, when the “big guns” have left and our people are hungry and in need of permanent housing.   We’ll be there for them, to help them rebuild their homes and their lives, to help them improve their health and to comfort their aching hearts.  We’ll be there with them, working alongside them, caring for them.  We hope that you’ll be there right beside us!

 

Photo by Associated Press.  Saint Anne church lays totally destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin. Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.

Photo by Associated Press. Saint Anne church lays totally destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin. Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.

By now, we’ve all heard of the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean and within our borders. News channels have been documenting how Hurricane Matthew has destroyed communities of people, now surviving on the mercy of others. As a Haitian living in the United States, I sat in the comfort of my home and watched as the people of southern Haiti lost everything overnight.

I don’t know if any of us that have not been through it will ever understand how it feels to lose EVERYTHING in a matter of hours. Picture after picture of families you know, places you’ve lived, monuments that brought pride to its people, now gone. Trees that once provided food, ripped straight from the ground, roofs of homes that served as humble shelters lifted by Matthew’s ferocious winds, and the PAIN on the faces of the thousands of people. It is simply unbearable.

Approximately 80% of the people of Jérémie, Haiti are now homeless and with the loss of crops and livestock, the number of those in HUNGER from the lack of food will soon be incomprehensible.

I believe that there is a divine reason for everything, and I also believe that when we as people work together, we can move mountains. The devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew, although a large mountain, can be moved if we work together.

The first thing you can do is to make a donation to Friends for Health in Haiti’s Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund. We have people on the ground in Haiti who will ensure that 100% of your donation gets to the people who need it most.  I choose to believe that this mountain of pain and despair caused by Hurricane Matthew can be moved, if we lock arms and work together in rebuilding Jérémie and ultimately the lives of its people.

FHH and I are asking you to lock arms with us, by making a donation today to the Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund.

Together we are strong!
Judith Romelus
Director of Development

Now that regular communication with Dr. Wolf has been restored, we are learning of the full extent of the devastation from Hurricane Matthew and what assistance is most needed. Dr. Wolf explained that better than 95% of homes between Jérémie and Gatineau had tin roofs. Virtually all of those roofs were blown off and any household belongs within were largely destroyed by the ferocious wind and torrential rain. In many cases, the walls of the homes then collapsed as well. Thousands of people are now without shelter. In Gatineau, hundreds had gathered on the porch of our clinic to take shelter during the storm and have remained there since, their homes now gone.

The primary immediate needs are for temporary shelter and food. We are looking to procure large durable tarps to serve as temporary roofing for the homes that are still standing. Because we need these urgently, Dr. Wolf plans to make a trip into Port au Prince to procure tarps and supplies there. Any donations received here will go directly and completely to this effort. For those concerned about how their donation will be used, rest assured that 100% will go to helping the people affected by the hurricane. Any overhead costs for our organization have already been funded by our regular donors, so please don’t be held back by the fear that your money will not be well spent. If you want more information about that, please reach out to us and we can provide you with the details.  Click here to donate now!

We will also be looking to partner with other well established relief distribution organizations to help us get supplies from the U.S. shipped quickly to Haiti. We then hope to facilitate the local distribution of these supplies in and around Jérémie and the clinic to prevent that from becoming a corrupted process. Since Dr. Wolf and Cherlie have lived there for many years and we have a network of local community members we already employ, we are fortunate to have the network to get the supplies delivered securely to those in need. As is often the case, a key concern is rampant looting. While people have fled their destroyed homes, others are looting them and taking anything of value that remains. So reestablishing these homes quickly as safe shelter is critical to prevent the theft of what little they still have.

There is more to come, but for now please know that we are already taking action on the ground in Haiti to help those in need. With Dr. Wolf now able to communicate regularly, we will be posting frequent updates on the needs and our progress in delivering aid. Praise be to God for bringing good people together to help those in need.

 

This will be a brief update because, like so many of you, we are still awaiting news of Dr. Wolf and Cherlie.  We have spoken with contacts in Port au Prince but none of them have been able to reach those in Jérémie as of yet.  It is common after major storms for the communications to be down for up to a couple of days.  Hopefully they will be restored soon.  All we know at this point is that Jérémie was hit very hard and is dealing with severe flooding, many destroyed homes and damage to a key bridge, though we don’t know if or how that is affecting travel to and from Jérémie.  We will update this page and our website if and when additional information becomes available.  Your continued thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated.

We received news this morning from Cherlie’s sister Yasmine who spoke with her earlier. As of 5:50 AM, Dr. Wolf and Cherlie are safe but they are without electricity and have been up most of the night battling flooding in their home due to the high winds and rain. We have no details about damage in the area or across Haiti at this time. Winds and rain are near their peak with wind speeds of 140 mph and gusting over 160. The next several hours are expected to be the most ferocious period. The path of the storm did cross almost directly over Jérémie, Haiti where they live and the massive storm is now centered just east of them as it continues to move slowly north. For further updates and information, check back here, our Facebook page, or on our website at www.friendsforhealthinhaiti.org.

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