We began the New Year, as always, with a combination of opportunities and challenges. Foremost on our minds was the political situation in Haiti, where for several days in November public demonstrations against the President turned violent. The demonstrations led to the withdrawal of family members from the US Embassy. The withdrawal convinced us that we should postpone two December trips.
The situation in Haiti appears to have improved. Embassy family members have returned to Port au Prince, a signal that violence has receded and security has improved. All international flights have resumed as scheduled.
As a result of these events, we have plans for three trips over the next 90 days. Dr. Dean Mire will be taking a medical mission team to Haiti in February. These trips usually include doctors and nurses who see about 350-400 patients over a three-day period. Dean has been leading these trips for about fifteen years, often going to some of the most remote regions in Haiti’s Central Plateau that are accessible only by donkey.
In March during spring break, we will once again take a group of high school students to Boucan Carre. They will stay at the new rectory at St. Michel parish and spend time with the students at the primary and secondary schools we sponsor. The most adventurous will take the six-hour hike over the mountain to visit our clinic in Bouly. This year the kids from Knoxville will be joined by several students from St. Anselm parish in St. Louis. St. Anselm has been a tremendous partner, having funded several capital projects at the elementary school and the parish, including the rectory.
Meanwhile, as a volunteer organization we continue to work on ways, both large and small, to improve the way we operate our Haiti mission. We are in the process of upgrading our website and improving the ability to make credit card donations. On a larger scale, we are still seeking ways to simplify the process of purchasing medicines for our clinic. We have tried buying medicines at a discount price from the Netherlands, but that strategy has proved to be unreliable with costly delays getting the medicines through customs in Port au Prince. We have been able to get a limited number of medicines free in Haiti, but not enough to keep the clinic’s inventory full. For our most recent purchase we were forced to go to the Dominican Republic and bring the large load of medicines back across the border to Haiti.
We have not given up. Conversations with another Haiti group in Memphis have given us hope that we might we might be able to work through the Pan American Health Organization to purchase discount medicines in Haiti. Since medicines represent about 6 percent of our annual budget and are crucial to the operation of our clinic, we will continue the effort to establish a stable and cost-efficient process for purchasing them.
Anyone interested in learning more about our program can visit our website at http://www.haitioutreachprogram.com. Our next meeting will be Thursday, February 7, at 6:30 in the library of Sacred Heart School.