Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Living in a time of Cholera

As a western trained health care professional, names like typhoid and cholera send chills down my spine.  I was in the states as the current epidemic was worsening.  I wondered how we would find life and living when we returned home before Christmas.  I needn't have worried tho' because as usual God's grace and the resilience of the Haitian people continue to astound me.
While cholera is terrifying simply in it's speed of destroying lives, it can be dealt with so easily.  One of the first things most of us who live here did was spend quite a bit of time and resources educating people. I learned long ago that the cooks here were skilled at preparing safe food.  They could take a piece of fresh meat from the market, "wash" it with lemons (acetic acid) and thoroughly cook it into a yummy, edible dish.  Those that tend to get sick (often foreigners) , are those who fail to use these methods.  Trust me, folks, our cooks know what they are doing!
But with cholera now endemic in our area, the main difference is needing to treat quickly.  Normally, if someone gets sick in our neighborhood, they'll just stay home and groan for a few days suffering through fevers, etc.  With Typhoid and malaria, this was okay.  But cholera's severe dehydration can kill in hours.  My nephew, a newly graduated physician in the Dominican Republic, has reported to me that there have been quite a few cases there, but very few deaths because of people seeking treatment quickly.   The 4,,000 plus deaths we've had in Haiti are largely due to people not responding quickly enough.  The terrible tragedy to me is that the treatment is available to most people in their own pantries.  Oral re-hydration solutions can be made with sugar, salt, and clean drinking water.   If someone would just start drinking as soon as they have symptoms, they would in all likelihood survive.  In severe cases, only one dose of Doxycycline should be sufficient.  If all this is true, why the panic?  Because old reflexes die hard, at least in this old registered nurse.
So besides spreading the word about how easily this is treated, we are practicing prevention with visible measures as well.  For example, all of our students have been taught the importance of hand washing.  The little ones can chant rhymes and songs of the needs to wash hands..  On our school campus, we have well water (thanks to Rotary International) which our guards carry to the classrooms.  The younger students are helped to wash their hands before eating, etc. so it's a constant reinforcement of how to stay healthy.

Overall, life has changed very little up here in the north central plateau.  Occasionally I'll see a cot being carried by some men (our version of an ambulance)  to the cholera treatment center in our community that is being run by Doctors Without Borders.   But the good news for us is that most of these cases are coming from outlying areas and very few cases from within the community.  We are so grateful that the education seems to have had an impact.
One reason I think all this is on my mind now is that I know some folks are considering coming to help out in Haiti this coming year, but this cholera stuff is just too scarey.  Trust me, I can understand the trepidation, but this is our reality.   I have learned long ago after raising my children here, that God has ALWAYS provided what we needed, often in very unexpected ways.  Ten years ago  I broke two bones in my right hand in a freak accident.  After it was diagnosed via Xray at our local hospital, there just "happened" to be an American surgeon and Occupational Therapist specializing in hands visiting that week who could ensure my hand was set properly.   I think it was just God's way to reassure me.  Over and over, I've seen things like this, until I realized I really could trust God to provide what we needed when we needed it.
Anyway, I'm not going to mislead people and say there's no risk of anything here in Haiti.  But I've learned that living in a time of Cholera is just the same as any other time, proceeding one day at a time, being cautious (rather than shaking hands, everyone now "hand bumps"), and trusting in God's provisions.  

Thursday, February 03, 2011

If it takes so little to help, why is it taking so long for some?

     I've long ago realized how relatively small my husband's ministry and my impact is in the tumult of  need here in Haiti.  But what I can't figure out is if we can do a lot with relatively little, why is it that many big NGO's are so slow to be able to accomplish much?  Just this week in the Haitian newspapers I continue to see well known organizations just now hiring staff to start their projects or to do research to justify needs for a project.    If I observe them too much, I get disgusted.    But, I'm seeing again the high impact that is possible in individual lives with a narrow focus empowered by skilled, local leadership.
    This week, I was asked to document a simple micro-credit project.   The ministry had received several dozen large igloos (the kind North Americans use for tailback parties).  Caleb thought up a plan where we could give the igloos to some folks in need, along with a loan of $300 HD (around $40 US).  The idea being that they could use the start up costs to stock cold drinks and other items they could then resell.  The group was asked to repay at $25 HD each month until they repaid the full amount in a year.  Most of the recipients have already repaid their loans ahead of schedule so we could start with another group this month:
It's such a small thing really, but is able to provide these women and their families with some much needed income.  This isn't the first time we've done projects like this, just the most recent.
      Another example of small cost but high impact outreach:   Last fall, we had several students on a waiting list who were needing help to attend our ministry school.  Even the small amount that we must charge students in tuition was beyond the ability of their families.  This week we  have a team here from Pekin, IL (yes, they escaped the terrible Midwest blizzard).  While working on refurbishing office space at the school facility, one of the gentlemen, Dustin, decided he'd really like to help a student here.  We were able to introduce him to 7 year old Mike (see below):
     Dustin asked to be able to meet Mike's parents as well so we asked them to come in this morning.  I had the privilege of translating for them as he got to meet Mike's mother and hear their story which helped explain her still shell shocked facial expression.  Mike and his family were in the capital last January and in the middle of the earthquake.  When their home was destroyed as well as his mom's place of work, the mother decided to come back to her hometown where she had some family. I asked her if she had stayed at the camp facility last year and she told me she had considered it, but decided to leave places for those people who didn't have any support at all.  I found her humility and willingness to make room for those in greater need really touching.   As we parted today, I told her I hoped she saw that it wasn't the blan (foreigners) who were helping her, but that this provision came ultimately from God whom she could trust for the future.  It isn't easy to go on when you've lost everything like Mike and his family, but when you see the Lord's hand through the help and generosity of others, it does give hope.  
I want to encourage those who are in a position to give, to continue to do so.  Please check with the organizations you are giving to, and ask them if the funds you are sending are reaching those in need and how they are helping now.   It really doesn't take much to help.