This past January, I had the opportunity to return to Haiti on a medical support trip. Talk about rough conditions! Two other nurses and I visited the House of Jesus’ Children orphanage, where we applied fluoride varnish to 108 children’s teeth. Dental care is scarce in Haiti, so any help is appreciated. Shortly before we arrived, there was an attempted robbery at the orphanage, leaving a staff member wounded and one of the two robbers dead. My experience in critical debriefing was helpful in supporting the staff.
In addition to working at the orphanage, I also went to the school of nursing in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, where I presented lectures on grief support to two groups of nursing students. Both classes at the High Tech Nursing School (HTNS) were fully engaged in sharing and discussing their concerns. The average temperature in the classroom is 85 degrees. Like the orphanage, the school has no electricity, so air conditioning and on-site well water is out of the question. Seeing the students enduring such difficult conditions for their education, I was impressed by their dedication. No struggle was going to hold this group back. And I thought my anxiety of attending classes at Edgewood College was rough!
Jennifer Weitzel RN, MS, a public health nurse and an instructor at Edgewood College in Madison, founded the nonprofit organization Health Ministries for Haiti (HMH) in 2007. HMH is a collaborative sponsorship program that supports children at the orphanage and HTNS in Croix-des-Bouquets. HMH has also collaborated with Foundation Bon Samaritan En Action (FBSA), which is a Haitian foundation assigned by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population. This clinic provides medical and social assistance to more than 70,000 residents of Croix-des-Bouquets with over $58,000 in food, medical, and direct aid. Having seen the lingering effects of the earthquake first hand, I was struck by how much of a difference even the littlest contributions can make. (And any subconscious skepticism I had about where my money was going quickly vanished.)
In 2011, HMH raised over $30,000 to break ground on a new building, which will bring together the students of the nursing school in Croix-des-Bouquets and the FBSA clinic. Having the clinic and nursing school physically connected will create a beneficial partnership for everyone involved. The first class of nursing students started in 2014 and will graduate in 2018. This four-year degree program has the capacity to enroll up to eighty students with two enrollment periods throughout the year. The HTNS is now seeking accreditation from the Ministry of Education.
Nurses in Haiti are in great demand since there are few doctors. In Haiti, nurses deliver babies, do suturing, and provide other advanced practice procedures. HMH plays a vital role in supporting the financial needs of these up and coming nurses, providing tuition aid and equipping classrooms with basic teaching aids. Because so many of the nursing students come from extreme poverty, the financial assistance HMH provides is vital.
Their smiles were warm and inviting. Children at the orphanage take care of one another, and I frequently saw them holding hands. The nursing students, like the children at the orphanage, were exceptional in the face of extreme hardship. As disparate as their living conditions are their optimism was inspirational to say the least. It helped me remember fondly the benefits I enjoyed during my training, and made me want to contribute to the effort to help these young people.
Peggy Weber volunteers weekly at St. Mary’s Adult Day Center, is on the boards at the Triangle Ministry , Apostolate to the Handicap, and United Way Self Reliance and Independence for Seniors, facilitates a monthly Cancer Survivor Group and several grief groups in area churches. She also enjoys teaching for Wisconsin Health Literacy Medication classes for Immigrants and Refugees in Wisconsin. Peggy is a retired RN, graduated from St. Mary’s School of Nursing, BSN and MSN from Edgewood College. She lives with her husband in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin.