Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series about a Ripon medical team’s humanitarian effort in making a difference for the people of Haiti.
RIPON - Two young medical assistants in a Ripon doctor’s office followed their physician mentor to Haiti to experience the first humanitarian effort in their lives.
Sisters Melissa and Sarah Tye weren’t sure what they were actually getting into or the actual devastation and heartache they would meet; but without hesitation they boarded a plane in San Francisco last month with the other two members of their medical team, Dr. Kent Hufford and Gaya Forest, RN.
One of the women would work in surgery and then in a clinic set up in tennis courts in Port-au-Prince while the other used her medical experience to work in a field lab looking for indications of typhoid and malaria in patients.
“There were a lot of helpless looks and a lot of desperate people,” they recalled. There is a need for counselors to help the homeless – many of whom are afraid to return to their homes that were not totally destroyed in fear of another earthquake. Fear haunts them all not knowing what the future has in store for them and their families.
Sarah was saddened by the number of children that had undergone amputations from earthquake injuries. They said that many of the youngsters would be pushed aside by the community and by their families as well, because they wouldn’t be able to do their part on the farms or in the textile mills. One arm or one leg was not enough and all too often they were just cast out.
She recalled a small boy who had been taken in by the Inter Faith Missions at its compound, because the parents didn’t want an amputee. They lived in the mountains where they did a lot of farming and their son would not be able to work without one of his arms. Some of the children have received prosthesis limbs, but there are not enough to go around replacing the lost arms and legs.
The poverty and the sickness the two witnessed had a great impact on both of them, Sarah said. Without question they saw the contrast between the hopeless living conditions in that island nation to the homes they would return to in this country. Being able to readily have clean water in their daily lives would be an unspoken luxury in Port-au-Prince not to mention the lack of food and clean clothes.
“Coming home and being more appreciative of what I have here,” was a definite realization and appreciation, she said.
While they didn’t speak the language, they easily saw the positive reaction, especially by the mothers, to what they were trying to do for their children. “The sickness and the need definitely touched a soft spot in my heart,” Sarah said, “while we provided the little bit of food that we had and the little gifts we had to give them.”
The smiles from the children were indelible memories they received for the smallest gifts of stickers that quickly went onto their clothes and shoes. The mothers – appreciative and thankful – reacted with happiness toward the Americans, but also showing a mix of frustration at the same time. Speaking to the people was difficult without the use of a translator, but the two women carried their hearts on their sleeves – there for the taking.
Melissa added that she found it’s the little things like washing and brushing with clean water when you get up in the morning. It’s not what they found in Haiti where there is no clean water and where people are fearful of returning to their homes opting for sheet-covered shanties in tent cities that won’t collapse on them in another quake.
Those sheets are never washed nor are their bedding or their clothes due to the lack of soap and water.
Melissa said it didn’t take much to entertain the kids – they used surgical globes they would blow up like balloons to bring on the giggles. Children – unable to speak English – would crowd around them and say “blow!” The sisters knew just what the children wanted and would pull out another couple of gloves from the box in exchange for instant smiles.
what we have in US
Melissa said the mothers and their children had never seen a digital camera before and were awe struck to see their images on the screen. The mothers would ask that they take a picture of them with their youngsters.
“Other times if children saw that you had a camera, they would come up and ask you to take their picture,” she added. “Very rarely was there a child who didn’t want his picture taken several times.”
Melissa said she was impacted by how little the people actually have to live their lives in the 21st century – how hard they work for what they do have – and how we can easily have access to anything we want here in the United States.
“Where those people have to work to get their water, for us we have that at our fingertips, basically anytime we want,” she said. “We have clean water, unlike them. The greatest impact is the realization that we have nothing to complain about here – we think we do, but we don’t.”
She noted that the people of Haiti have undergone a horrific tragedy, but even before that they didn’t have much. “You look into most of their tent houses and there was nothing inside of them – just the sheets or the tarps that they had. It makes you very thankful for what you have,” she said.
She said she knows everyone is not called to volunteer in Third World countries, but if everyone could experience what they experienced just once they would see a difference in their hearts and in their attitudes about life.
“So many people complain – me included – but you can’t come away from something like that without being touched,” she said.
The two women said they couldn’t use the running water in the mission compound to even wash their teeth. They had to use bottled water.
“Something as small as that we take for granted.”
Sarah said the looks on the little ones’ faces they would never forget. They would smile and wave as they drove by on the back of a flat bed truck they used to commute the 35 miles from the mission compound to Port-au-Prince.
It was on that truck they used small school-sized chairs for seats – chairs that were mounted on the bed and of course had no seat belts. They would often pick up Haitians on the roadside to give them a ride into the market. The team members said they had a lot of fun on those long, rugged commutes. They often fell off those chairs when the driver hit the brakes unexpectedly. Others sat on the bed of the truck or on ice chests.
They said the amount of destruction they witnessed was overwhelming not being able to imagine how it would be cleaned up. The news doesn’t even begin to show the devastation accurately, Sarah said. There were the one-armed children knocking on your windows for food or for money that devastated their hearts and getting their warm prayers in return.
“Until you get there and see it at face value, the smells and the trash – compared to what you see in the paper and on TV – you can’t imagine,” Sarah said.
Dr. Kent Hufford has set up a connection with the mission that will see any local donations going directly to the impoverished people on the streets in the form of food through the International Faith Mission. Donations may be made through his Ripon medical office, 150 Vera Avenue, Ripon, CA, 95366.