I found myself traveling to Haiti with an arsenal of activities to enrich children, and absolutely no idea how to speak Creole. My traveling companions were from Health Ministries for Haiti, Inc. (HMH), a non-profit based out of Wisconsin. Our group consisted of public health nurses, instructors, students, an orphanage liaison, and my own daughter. Our destination was the Foundation Bon Samaritan En Action (FBSA) and the House of Jesus’ Children orphanage located on the northern outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
I’m not a nurse so my primary emphasis was to support whatever undertakings needed to be completed on this trip. The emphasis was on dental care, primarily fluoride treatments. One of the women from Gulf Coast Friends, the organization I belonged to, donated new toothbrushes. Her donation provided toothbrushes for children at the medical clinic and orphanage. Another major focus was to have the children at the orphanage make cards for their sponsors in the United States. Letters between sponsors and children are also exchanged. We also enjoyed to playing with children at the orphanage and clinic, involving them in the activities I brought to Haiti. It was wonderful to watch the children’s creativity, impatience, enthusiasm and joy. The clinic had an added bonus; I got to play and engage parents of the children waiting to be seen in the clinic. Many of the parents did the activities right along with their children.
Haiti was not sunshine and butterflies; the abysmal poverty was overwhelming. To know that every day 20,000 children in Haiti die from illness that could have been prevented or cured with simple, affordable remedies was challenging for me to comprehend. Yet, I was given hope in the 1st and 2nd year Haitian students I interviewed at the nursing school.
I spoke with six very brave souls about their school, education and goals as nursing students at High Tech Nursing School (HTNS). They did not speak English and I did not understand Creole. All this was done through Wilkens our language interpreter, Alice a student from University of Wisconsin – Madison, who was an iPad keyboarding wiz, also our photographer and myself the interviewer. We did our best to translate and capture their vision of hope.
Hope comes from the commitment these young Haitian adults have in helping their own communities. Each spoke of returning to the areas they had come from to make an impact on healthcare. The FBSA nursing school was founded under the premise that the solution for Haiti depends on Haitians and their students are keeping to that promise.
People ask me why did you go to Haiti. I believe I was sent to witness what the lack of healthcare is doing to the people of Haiti. I have witnessed Haitian people with the compassion and the strength to take action. This writing is my testament to their spirit and to the inequality and injustice that Haitian families face every day. Will you go again I am asked? I’m looking at a folded paper heart that was given to me by one of the boys at the orphanage, written on it in English are the words, I love you. Will I go again? Haiti has bitten me to the depths of my soul.
Katy Parenteau serves on the board of Gulf Coast Friends, a women’s organization that raises funds for local charities in Santa Rosa County, Florida. She is a volunteer at Guardian ad Litem for Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties in Florida. Katy also enjoys spending her time volunteering for the American Red Cross. Katy is a retired teacher and has three adult children.