The recent trip to Haiti by a group of six girls from Catholic High School had a specific goal of helping plan for future medical missions by doctors and nurses in the Haiti Outreach Program. In 2000 the program’s medical outreach missions began in the town of Boucan Carre, where our sister parish St. Michel is located. With a rectory and full-time priest, St. Michel is the “hub” for several much smaller chapels scattered throughout the mountains. The chapels are located in remote villages, often with no school and no medical care of any kind.
Since 2008 our program has invested a considerable amount of resources in the village of Bouly, where we have built a small clinic and have hired a doctor and a nurse who each month provide primary care to about 400 people from the surrounding mountains. With the Bouly program on a reasonably stable footing, we are considering whether and how we might undertake medical missions to some of the other chapels. The goal is not to build additional clinics, but rather to provide basic medical care to hundreds of Haitians who have never seen a doctor.
We used the recent trip as a “reconnaissance” mission to assess the viability of taking medical teams to additional chapels. The girls determined how long it would take to reach the chapels, whether we could travel by vehicle or would need to walk, what kind of facilities were available to see patients and house the medical staff, and a rough sense of the population that would be served. The trip was an opportunity for girls from West Knoxville to become culturally immersed in one of the most remote regions in Haiti.
As is the case with most everything in Haiti, the young girls encountered a host of experiences for the first time in their lives. After about an hour’s walk in Ferrobien, mud from the recent rains was so deep that vehicles became hopelessly stuck. Children sitting on a dirt floor attempted to learn in a school where the only evidence of equipment was a broken blackboard. The “church” was a structure with a dirt floor, no walls and a rusting tin roof. The hike to the chapel in Bellevue was about two hours from Boucan Carre. The tiny village had a small church that was heavily damaged by the 2010 earthquake, with large cracks in the walls on three sides. The most remote chapel visited by the girls was in Guillaume, located atop a small mountain. With no road, the two-hour trek to Guillaume required crossing the river and climbing a high ridge. When we reached the village, we were met by about 100 people in the little wooden church, painted a pastel green with a dirt floor and two-by-four planks for pews. Their presence left no doubt about their enthusiasm for the chance to receive health care from the Americans. Father Torres spoke to them through a translator and promised we would return.
The information gathered on the trip will be an important part of planning for our next medical mission in December. Over the next several weeks the medical staff will determine if we can visit the chapels, along with the logistical arrangements necessary to move medicines, donkeys and other supplies into the mountains.
Meanwhile, we are in the final weeks of planning our annual medical banquet, held this year on Saturday, October 7 at Sacred Heart School. The banquet is a critical part of fundraising for our efforts with St. Kateri parish in Tabb, Virginia, to provide education and medical care in Haiti. The banquet is free of cost with donations welcome. A Mediterranean dinner will be served at 6:30 followed by a short program. We hope you can join us.
The next meeting of the Haiti Outreach Program will be Thursday, August 31 at 6:30 in room 103 of Sacred Heart School. If you are interested in learning more about our work in Haiti, please take a few minutes to visit our website at haitioutreachprogram.com