Program Manager, Jennifer Lang, March 20, 2012
While unloading boxes of medications, clothing, and school supplies at the Missionaries of Charity (MC), Sisters Mary Philone and Guadeloupe pulled me aside. Long familiar with Hope for Haiti’s Infirmary Saint Etienne, the Sisters asked, “How busy is your dentist right now?”
Low-cost dental care in the Southern city of Les Cayes and its surrounding rural community was unheard of before Hope for Haiti opened its Dental Clinic in 2008. For 15 goud—or about 27 cents US, patients can see Dr. Esperance Dupervil, who specializes in preventative education on dental hygiene. Despite seeing an average of 10 patients per day, extractions remain the central fixture of the second-generation dentist. The Infirmary is regularly forced to turn patients away because the demand for healthcare so exceeds our limited resources.
Still, when the Sisters asked about the availability of dental care for their population, we had to help. Hope for Haiti’s partnership with the Missionaries of Charity includes provision of medications and supplies received as in-kind donations in our Naples office, financial support for overall operations, and inclusion of referred patients in our specialized emergency care network. The Missionaries of Charity Les Cayes facility features both in-patient and out-patient medical care, food distribution, and a malnutrition recuperation center. Moreover, it hosts an orphanage facility equipped for children with handicaps – a rarity in Haiti.
Many of Sister Guadeloupe’s pediatric residents have never before received dental care. Often abandoned outside the facility, the orphaned children with handicaps receive healthcare and education including first-rate developmental therapies. Despite the adequate supplies of donated toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss, many of the children clench their jaws, require significant orthodontic work, or have never received a cleaning. In the newest extension of our partnership, Dr. Esperance established Tuesday dental clinics specifically for Missionary of Charity residents.
Dr. Esperance educates both children and staff members on proper dental care and hygiene. The Sisters prepared each patient in advance by dressing them in their Sunday-best and talking about what to expect at a doctor’s office. Dr. Esperance works hard to make their first interaction with a dentist a positive one. “The children always love me,” Esperance says laughing. “A lot of the time they’re scared of the instruments when they walk in. So I talk to them for a little while, let them get to know me and trust me. Then they want to open their mouths.”
After three weeks of the special dental Clinics, Dr. Esperance has successfully treated 23 Missionary of Charity patients thus far out of an estimated 60 in need of care. Each week, Dr. Esperance works diligently. She has given medications for gingivitis and inflammation and made follow-up appointments to make sure that the most severe cases receive the best care. “The Missionary of Charity consultations take more time. It is very difficult to record the typical patient data because of the lack of previous care and in many cases unknown birthdates or missing family histories.” Still, she says, the consultations are rewarding to both the patients and to herself. Working at the Infirmary Saint Etienne serves the poorest of the poor. “But the children always have huge smiles when they walk into my office, its great!”
Program Managers Jennifer Lang & Paula Prince, March 7, 2012
It is an understatement to say that Kanaval in Les Cayes was a memorable experience. As members of Hope for Haiti’s full-time International Management Staff, we have spent nine months thus far in Haiti. Working together, we have experienced many of Haiti’s challenges first-hand—including limited access to healthcare, the spread of cholera and the difficulty of emergency response, and the impacts of poverty and malnutrition on education.
|Dancers adorned in costume dance through the streets.||Dancers representing Comme Il Faut the Haitian cigarette company dance through the streets during the parade.||Float passes by in Les Cayes representing the Governmental Ministries.|
Still, much of our tenure has been spent hiking through lush forests, talking and laughing with program partners and community leaders, and walking pristine beaches. We eat Haitian food, speak Haitian Creole, and consider our office and team a new home and family. After the December announcement by President Michel Martelly that the national Carnival festivities would move to Les Cayes for February 2012, many were skeptical. We chose to stay and experience the event that so many around us recalled with such pride.
The music and colors of Kanaval were unparalleled. In less than a month, street stands were cleared away for the construction of massive stadium viewing of the passing parade. All electric wires were re-strung to make way for the speakers piled high atop semi-trucks. The normally sleepy port city had new restaurants opened, a flood of cars at the only stoplight, and a caravan of ambulances waiting for any emergency.
|Float representing the Governmental Ministries passes by in the parade.||Haitian band RAM’s float passes by during the parade.||Students at Paul VI gather around the Hope for Haiti truck to dance to Carnival Compa beats.|
The city lit up. Following the 2010 Earthquake, the tradition of Carnival largely went unnoticed during the past two years. A feeling of frivolity tainted such celebrations throughout the festival’s previous home in the capital city of Port au Prince. But this year, the fete moved South. Under the slogan, “Ayiti ap dekole; Okay prann douvan,” meaning Haiti is “taking off” with Les Cayes in front, the community came together to support the nation.
A local business owner from neighboring Port Salut spoke of the opportunity that Karnaval provided. “I built a completely new restaurant in Les Cayes in 12 days. It sounds crazy, but for me it was important to support the festival. The South of Haiti is ready to attract development and tourism, and a successful Carnaval is one way to prove it to the world. Everyone in Haiti is watching Okay this week.”
The team of Hope for Haiti also made special preparations. Program Officer Pierre Francois volunteered for the American Red Cross. Healthcare Director Dr. Steeve Victor participated in Department-wide government meetings to coordinate hospital response prior to the influx of crowds. Infirmary Saint Etienne Director Dr. Elmide Nazaire asked all staff to be on-call for the holidays in case of emergency. Friends and family members joined Les Cayes residents from rural areas, Port au Prince, and even Miami so that they could be a part of the historic celebration.
|Traditional dancers fill the streets of Les Cayes.||Women dressed in beautiful bright colors
made the parade a smashing success.
At a bi-annual monitoring and evaluation site visit the Monday before Carnival, Pre-K students at Hope for Haiti’s partner school Paul VI were already celebrating. Program Manager Paula Prince looked on as 4 and 5 year-old students gathered around Hope for Haiti’s truck with heads bobbing and hips swaying to the Carnival tunes. All the radio stations promoted the fete, encouraging people to drive to the South and dance in the streets. After the celebrations came to a close, Paula spoke with a teacher at partner Cornette Primary school about the festivities. Teachers explained how they made the 1.5 hour hike down the mountain and 1 hour drive to Les Cayes to participate. When asked about their impressions, teachers couldn’t find words to express their excitement. “Everyone was so happy. There was joy all around”, they explained.
We were proud to represent Hope for Haiti at this year’s Carnival. The patriotism, enthusiasm, and fun were both palpable and contagious. We danced the night away with mothers and grandmothers in elaborate costumes, talked with traditional kompa musicians from around the country, and watched fireworks rain down on us in a crowd of thousands. From all of us in Haiti, Bon fete Kanaval – Happy Carnival season!
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We work to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children.