Port au Prince

Port au Prince
"He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." Psalm 40:2

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fountains and frustrations

An hour in and the sweat dripped from my nose while the muscles in my forearms burned as I worked to widen the throat of a $0.50 PVC adaptor. Working with a meager file from a small pair of scavenged fingernail clippers left behind by a previous missions team, I felt like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. An additional 30 minutes later and I finally had my custom adaptor installed to fit a very non-standard “half inch” pipe plumbed to convey fresh, purified water from water retaining tank down 40 feet to a small water fountain and spigot located at the entrance to the hospital. Additionally, the ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system, fresh from its own 3-day substantial overhaul and repair effort, was working like a dream and my personal victory would come the next morning when the fecal coliform and E. coli tests were fully incubated and ready for analysis. Everything was coming into place – but that was yesterday.

Today was our last day at the hospital and orphanage, and I left feeling utterly defeated. The day started with the UV system, which had operated so smoothly the previous day, blaring a cascade of sensor fault alarms and forcing the unit into an automatic shut down. Meanwhile the pump that feeds the UV system wouldn’t even pass a drop of fluid; it had completely seized. Hours passed as I tore apart the pump and the UV system to see if I could figure out what was wrong, but to no avail. “Come on! You are the water expert here, you have to figure this out” was what I muttered to myself between fits of desperate prayer. Eventually Jonathan and Mark happened by and could probably read the desperation on my face. An hour later, Jonathan had the audacity to suggest that we just re-assemble the pump with half of the internal components removed… and to my continued astonishment it worked. Our time was drawing very short and I hastily reassembled the system and bypassed the faulty fail-safes on the UV system. With minutes left things were once again working, if only just. This time the system was more like a deranged Frankenstein rather than the elegant bacteria killing machine resurrected during the previous four days of effort, and worse still I had no time left to train the staff on how to maintain the unit.

 I am deeply concerned that the system will fall back into disrepair. While the current water samples from the UV system came out negative for E. coli and fecal coliforms, other samples from the site that feed water to the disinfection system came back very positive. It will only be a matter of time before the finicky system malfunctions or operator error strikes and the entire supply will be contaminated again.

I left with the sense that the hospital and orphanage deserved better. I was frustrated with my self for not overcoming obstacles and adapting more quickly throughout the week so that things wouldn’t have come down to the wire. On the ride home I stewed on the events of the day and muddled through the negative self-talk. I reflected on 2 Cor 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." May the glory be Yours, Lord.


Double feature: T-Shirts and Pizza

We had almost finished the shirts last night except for the ironing. We needed to iron them to set the color in so they would not bleed when washed. Unfortunatly when ever we tried to iron them there was no power. After much waiting the power came on and we were able to finish them just in time. Things seem to have a way of working out.

We were about to hand out the shirts when we realized we wanted to confirm with the Morquettes’ that they were appropriate to give to the children. We were a little worried after receiving a comment saying the shirts were “carnival” which is like mardi gras and can sometimes be seen negatively in the Christian community. But we doubled and tripled checked and we got the okay.

Valerie Morquette modeling a t-shirt made by the kids

When we handed out the shirts you could see how proud the children were. They had the biggest smiles and it was lovely to see how happy they were. Most of the kids put them on over their other clothes immediately.

After they received their shirts some of the kids preformed a short play they had learned with Stephanie.  And while the play was going on is started to slowly rain. In America it is usually a beautiful day when the sky is clear and the sun is out. But in Haiti there has been a drought and the short rain we experienced we perfect.  It felt like God was so happy to see his children together preforming.


Friday at King’s orphanage was more a day of celebration than of ruefulness that it was our last day there. We celebrated our time and work at King’s orphanage and hospital brought on by the grace of God. There was no lesson planned for the day, other than a short story from the children’s edition of the Bible. The day was primarily used to spend time with the children and to finish up some work at the hospital, with the exception of Mark beginning work on the shelves for the pharmacy. Because there was so little time to build the ten-unit shelf, it was decided that a model shelf was to be built along with the older boys at the orphanage, who would later complete the nine other shelves.  It was also a bit hectic in the morning because the t-shirts the children had made the day before had to be ironed so that the colors would be set. However, there was no power in the apartment for a while, but fortunately Carrie, Kate, and I were all able to get them ironed shortly after power returned.

After lunch, some of the children performed a short play organized by Stephanie and Carrie about the Good Samaritan, while wearing the t-shirts they had made. Both the performers and the audience loved it. In the afternoon, we hosted a pizza party for the children complete with Coke and Fruit Champagne. Mark had planned for Grace and me, who were chosen to get the pizza, soda, plates, napkins, and cups, to spend only an hour. However, he forgot to incorporate the “Haitian time” factor, which turned our one-hour trip to three hours. We ended up going to three different places to get the supplies, stopping at the house three times for various reasons, and stopping at two local stores for unknown reasons. But nevertheless, the pizza party turned out to be a success.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Going to Jerusalem

Today the medical team traveled to a town called Jerusalem in Canaan, which is north of Port-au-Prince.  The roads were so rocky that we could only drive at 5mph, so even though the distance wasn’t far, it took awhile to reach our destination. When we finally reached the church, we immediately greeted the people of Jerusalem, who were awaiting our arrival in the church.

Dr. Morquette introducing our team of nurses, doctors, and pharmacist

The nurses from King’s Hospital took vital signs of each patient, and then sent them to see the doctors, Danielle and Grace.  Working through language barriers and diagnoses uncommon in the States, we saw over 100 patients throughout the day (double the amount from Tuesday’s clinic!)

In the pharmacy, I was incredibly grateful to have the superintendent of the local school volunteer to serve as my translator. My Creole could only go so far as “Hello, take 1 tablet 2 times a day. Thank you, Good Bye.” So thankfully, he helped me communicate to each patient regarding the best ways to take the medicine and any possible side effects.

We have been truly blessed to have a team that works so well together.  Danielle or Grace would tell me their diagnosis, and then trust me to determine the best treatment using our extremely limited formulary.  This experience has definitely forced us all to be creative with whatever resources we have available. I never expected to be dispensing Children’s Tylenol in an empty water bottle! At times, it was difficult to be so limited, but often the best we could offer was advice, prayer, and health education.

“Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious Name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.”
Nehemiah 9:5 (verse printed in church)


Today was a bittersweet day for the VBS team.  Another team was visiting King’s Garden this week; this was a first for our Park Street team.  Not prepared for the change in schedule, our teams seemed to have a hard time explaining our goals for the week.  But with the other team having left today, it was our first day to be with the kids and do our VBS as planned. It was a really fun day. We had a great time cramming in all of the fun stuff we had been hoping to do.  One of the really fun things we were able to do with all the kids was make T shirts. We had shirts made that said “li jwenn libete’l." Translated to She (or he) has her (or his) freedom. With the older girls this week we have been learning about freedom and what it means to be free in Christ. The shirts were blocked out and the kids were able to color them in with sharpies. After practicing how to make the shirts I learned that they could look great when done very messy. I had to let go of this since all the kids seem to be perfectionist when it comes to coloring.

At first I thought the older boys seemed uninterested, but then, by the afternoon they were at the picnic tables meticulously coloring in ever triangle. The kids were having so much fun I had them make shirts for their house moms and the Mourquette’s daughter Valerie. It was great to see all the teamwork.

After the shirts were colored in the kids desperately wanted them but we still had to do a few more steps to make them complete.  Alicia and I worked to spray the shirts with rubbing alcohol to make the colors in the shirts bleed to look like tie-dye. The shirts are beautiful and I cannot wait to hand them out tomorrow!

When we were done we pulled out a corn hole game that we had made yesterday out of some old doors and scrap wood. The kids painted them and they really looked awesome. We were planning on teaching them how to play, but they quickly made up their own rules to create some very fun corn hole variations.


Mark painting the cornhole game board

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

More than meets the eye

The VBS team has been hard at work. We are splitting into three groups this year: older girls, older boys, and younger children. Stephanie and I are working with the younger children. Each day we share a Bible verse, a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible in Haitian-Creole, and a craft. During the school year, I am a social worker in an elementary school, and I was keeping an eye on the developmental skills of the children while we were working on the crafts. I have been amazed at how independent and skilled the children are. We did a project that involved sewing felt hearts together as a reminder of God’s love for us. Even the youngest children, who turned 3 today, were able to manage sewing independently with a needle and yarn. While I am in awe at their skills and self-sufficiency, (especially when I think about how my own children can’t even manage to put their own shoes), it is hard to think about how independent they are required to be to survive. The house mothers are caring, and the older children are so tender with the younger, but there is no room for being babied in an orphanage.

The children were coloring today in some books left by another team, and I noticed them coloring exactly within the lines, trying even to copy the exact colors they felt were “right.” Even the three year olds were coloring within the lines. I was wondering if they were able to be more creative, and I asked one boy to draw a person- “personne” - using my rusty college French from 20 years ago. As the drawing emerged, I commented to a fellow team member that this was clearly developmentally behind, until I realized that he had drawn a “poisson,” not a “personne,” and that his fish looked exactly like a fish! He realized my mistake and drew me a beautiful self-portrait that I will take home and treasure.

I was thinking tonight about these beautiful children, and how I wished I could spend more time with them. Some of them just want to sit in your lap for hours, and even the 10- and 11-year-old boys just yearn for nearness and attention. I can now pray for these kids in a way that I have never before been able to pray for children in poverty, and even if I never get to see them again, I can continue to pray for them by name, and that makes my trip here seem worthwhile.

The Morquettes have been so hospitable, and the team has wonderful dinners together every night when we can talk, learn more about Haiti, and process our day.  We’ve had beef, chicken, turkey, and a meat I can’t mention because my son is reading this blog and it involves a certain animal he adopted at farm camp last week. It was good too though! (sorry, T.D.) I am so grateful to be able to stay in their house and hear about Haiti from people who love this country so deeply.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

First mobile clinic

Today our medical team travelled with Dr. Morquette and staff from King’s Hospital to a mobile health clinic several hours to the east of Port-Au-Prince towards the border with the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Morquette greeting the patients and explaining the operation of the clinic

Our driver Belazar pulled up to the church where the mobile clinic was organized. We saw patients from morning to afternoon with a variety of ailments. Thankfully, we had the most wonderful Creole interpreter and nursing student, Nicholas, to help us communicate with our Haitian patients.

Dr. Grace and I took turns seeing patients and offering each other support, especially on conditions we do not often encounter in our clinical practices. While we had expected to offer our medical skills to help treat patients, with a limited formulary and no access to laboratory equipment, what we often found was the most powerful medicine was our ability to listen to patients talk about their physical and emotional suffering and to offer to pray with patients about it.

Grace examining a patient 

As a doctor, it is often hard to be confronted with what the limits of your (human) power is, but it was nice to be reminded that the healing power of God is limitless.

Pharmacists in action

In addition to examining patients, we were able to offer a limited onsite pharmacy where patients could fill medications if we had them. Our amazing and creative pharmacy staff made do without bottles or bags to dispense medications to over 50 patients. Sarah even learned how to write medication administration directions in Creole!

Thank you to everyone who prayed for our safety travelling to and from our mobile health clinic site. We look forward to going out again on Thursday to the north of Port-Au-Prince and continue to appreciate your prayers for the Haiti team!

- Dr. Danielle

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Working" in Haiti

Our first day "at work" was a good reminder that our perceptions of our skills are not how God views what we can do for Him.

Danielle and I were posted in the clinic ready to see patients. Patients I've encountered in Haiti can be really challenging. Longitudinal care by a primary care physician is unusual. Physical manifestations of emotional or psychosocial problems are common. A patient can walk into a clinic with tuberculosis, malaria, or typhoid, conditions that are not so easy for American doctors to treat. On top of that the interpreter may not always understand what I may be asking (try explaining what a "prostate" is).

But in three hours we saw one patient. With a simple problem. Who also spoke English. Who had a PCP back in Miami.

So we spent the rest of the day in the operating room supply area. What would a pharmacist, a hospitalist, and a psychiatrist know about surgery? Sarah brought her pharmacy skills to the task of inventorying the materials and identifying expired supplies. Danielle was a surgical intern in a previous life. And we all liked to organize.

Who knew there were so many kinds of surgical sutures? (Danielle did.)

As an update, my leg is feeling much better and the infection appears controlled. Thank you for your effective prayers!

As far as I could see VBS "work" consists of loving!

May we let God's work be our work!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sabbath in Haiti

We arrived safely.  This is not to be taken lightly, because weeks of preparation have gone into the travel procedures from the airports in Boston to Port-au-Prince and through the airport. It was indeed a chaotic situation, and we had to work to stay together but here we are in the Morquette’s home safe and sound and very well taken care of. 

Yesterday when we arrived we went straight to the orphanage from the hospital.  What a delight to see the children again!  I was talking to one of the younger children and felt some arms go around me.  It was Sara Lee – a sweet girl that I spent a lot of time with last year.  She hugged me so tight and for so long I didn’t think she would let go. That moment right there was worth all of the preparation and planning.  That sweet simple hug from Sara Lee.  

This morning we walked to a church in the neighborhood.  It was an English speaking church with a congregation made up of Hatains and foreigners.  In the sermon the pastor asked us all “What is your ministry? If you are a Christian you have a ministry, what is it?”  On my trip Haiti last year I felt a singular sense of purpose and ministry that I don’t quite achieve in Boston, I allow my life to become complicated with so many things to do. Here in Haiti I wake up every morning and simply ask God “What do these children need from me today?  What can we do to help at King’s?”  I am already feeling that happening again on this trip.  That simple and direct sense of purpose.  Uncomplicated and joyful.  Simple.  

Now for a not so simple prayer request – Grace fell in Boston while out on a run and got some very bad scrapes on her hand and leg.  This morning it looks like it is moving into a deep infection – beyond Neosporin.  We are going over to the hospital today and are hoping we an access the pharmacy and that they have an antibiotic that will work quickly.   Please pray with us for this infection to improve quickly and to become completely healed.  

This afternoon we will return to the Orphanage to have church with the children.  The kids take leadership roles in the service and it is quite a wonderful experience.  As for me?  I’m hoping that while I’m there I get another sweet, simple hug from my friend Sara Lee. 


English-speaking church in the neighborhood

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 Team

Emails have been flying this week as our team prepares to fly to Haiti this Saturday, July 25!  They will be there until Sunday August 2 working in the orphanage, in the pharmacy, doing some water sanitation work and mobile clinics.  Please pray for safety for them and that they would be a blessing to the people they interact with.  They will post updates here as they are able.

This year's team is:
Kate Cutlip
Carrie Dyball
Danielle Dahle
Nathan Hancock
Grace Huang
Sarah Norton
Jonathan Saleeby
Stephanie Snell
Mark Snell
Alicia Zhang