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Maya (Week 3)

This week I decided to write my update in two parts; part one will be a list of 15 things that I have found interesting or learned about life in Haiti. The second part will be a regular reflection.

Part 1:
15 things I’ve learned about Haiti:

1. The chicken you hear crowing in the morning may just be your lunch.
2. Trash is thrown on the ground and when enough of it builds up, you burn it – sorry ozone
3. Students are educated in French, not Creole, and as you can imagine being taught in another language can make learning difficult.
4. “Sharing is caring”. It is the Haitian culture to share what you have with those who don’t. For example, one bottle of water may reach 15 or 20 mouths before the contents are finished. I’ve come to the conclusion that this “sharing of consumables” is one of the primary modes of transmission of germs and illnesses. Unfortunately, water wasn’t the only thing shared that day.
5. You will find some of the most compassionate and hospitable people in Haiti.
6. Many sicknesses that I’ve seen in the children stem from dehydration and malnutrition.
7. “Going to the market” is not a Target run. There is music, yelling, shoving of fruits in your face, thousands of flies, sweaty people pushing other sweaty people, bargaining, raw meat laid out on blankets, live (and dead) chickens being sold, laughing, eating and so much more. The first time I went it was a complete sensory overload and I was quite overwhelmed. Now I look forward to the three and a half mile bike ride and bustle of the market. I think it’s an acquired taste.
8. There are no stop signs, traffic lights, sides of the road, or speed limits. You drive on whatever side of the road is less bumpy and sometimes this is right down the middle. Walking and motorcycles are the main modes of transportation.
9. Many Haitians eat one large meal a day. This consists of rice (or cornmeal), beans, stewed vegetables, and maybe some fruit. For many of the students at St. Gabriel’s, the meal they receive at lunch is their only guaranteed meal. This makes coming to St. Gabriel’s so important because they’re not only getting educated but also being fed.
10. Haitians are very clothing conscious. They want to look their best despite the dirty and dusty conditions. They will wipe their shoes off before entering the school campus. 11. By law, every student must take the same 16 classes for the whole school year.
12. Kids are “free range” and tough as nails. As soon as a child can walk, they fend for themselves and will go wherever they want whenever they want.
13. Individuals are sexually active at an astonishingly young age, sometimes as young as 14 or 15.  STDs run rampant but are on the decline due to an increase in health ed in secondary schools.
14. Many of the influential community leaders speak three to four languages; French, Creole, English, and Spanish.
15. When a family must choose between medical care or food-they chose food.

Part 2:
Before I came to Haiti, I viewed it as most do through jaundiced eyes. Poor undeveloped Haiti must need my time, talents, experiences, and energy. However, as week three pulls to a close I’ve decided that this isn’t the case at all, in fact, I think I needed Haiti more than Haiti needed me. Living here has helped me realize how real my dream to be a physician is and has also aided in my understanding of the importance of adequate health care.

This week I had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Rodriquez, one of two primary care doctors at the St. Joseph’s Clinic in Pignon. Dr. Rodriquez attended Med School in Cuba and returned to Haiti three years ago to give back to the community of Pignon through medical care. St. Joseph’s Clinic in Pignon is the affordable option for medical attention with a charge of only $11, but still, most Haitians can’t and won’t afford it. For many families this is a choice between feeding their family for a few weeks or getting treated at the clinic, the choice is almost always the latter. This results in many sick children running around on the streets and in the schools- spreading their germs through their “sharing is caring” tradition as mentioned in part 1.

Many residents of Fontaine don’t have the resources to travel the three and a half miles to the clinic in Pignon and then also cover the medical bill once they get there. Instead, many of them get sick and one of two things happen. The first is they wait out the storm and get better, and the second is they get worse over time and end up bed reddened or in extreme cases, dead. I met a woman this week who had a very high fever as a child and is now considered one of the many “deaf and dumb” of the community. Her family didn’t have access to affordable and proper medical care when she was a child, and she now suffers the consequences as an adult. This is the case for many families here in Haiti; feverish children turn into disabled adults and many parents lives are taken by diseases that leave their children “orphans”. It breaks my heart to have a student or neighborhood kid tell me that they’re sick because I know that they don’t have money for food much less medical care.

Every April and December the University of Buffalo Medical School set up a free weeklong clinic at St. Gabriel’s. Hundreds of villagers flock to the school with a plethora of illnesses and high hopes of treatment and recovery. For most of them, this is their only chance to see a doctor so hundreds of them line up at all hours of the day to receive care. This should not be the case. It is a basic human right for these people to have access to health care! They shouldn’t have to tread water for eight months until the med students come around again! So I decided this week that I don’t want my help for Haiti to be limited to three months. I want my help to be permanent and I want it to be sustainable.

I would like to open a clinic here in Fontaine after I graduate. My hope is to have graduates from St. Gabs who have attended (or will attend) Medical and Nursing school to work in the clinic with me, this way they are giving back to the community they grew up in and are directly helping improve Haiti. With a permanent clinic in Fontaine, locals won’t have to sacrifice a week’s salary for a taxi ride into Pignon to get seen and they won’t have to wait eight months to be seen by student doctors. Starting a clinic will take a lot of work and planning and this idea or dream has given me something more to work for. Every dream starts somewhere; it just took me coming to Haiti to realize mine.


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Sarah Goh