Healing our broken world: Resilience in a Haitian village

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Americans in many congregations nationwide are preparing to fly to Haiti this summer to play their small roles in healing our broken world. Our earlier report on Haiti’s recovery at the two-year anniversary of the earthquake contained links to other helpful stories and resources. If you turn to that report, please note the links to our coverage of Kent Annan and his Haiti Partners projects. In April, we also published news about an inspiring documentary film from Haiti, called When the Drum Is Beating.
We invite our readers to tell us about inspiring work you are doing in Haiti, this year.
Just email us at [email protected].

One reader who is helping us highlight these important themes in 2012 is Cynthia Alloway, a nurse therapist and a Presbyterian minister in New Jersey who co-founded Foundation for Peace and volunteers in Haiti. Earlier, we published Cynthia’s inspiring story, Why I Am Inspired to Volunteer in Haiti.
Today, we are publishing another story (and photos) from Cynthia …

A Community of Resilience
in a Haitian Village

By Cynthia Alloway

Tears ran down my cheeks and dropped to the dusty ground. Upon arrival in this village, I could not contain my sadness at the poverty. Our medical team of nurses and other volunteers had formed a big circle holding hands with the Haitian people of the Vilaj Kanes near Lake Azuei, a salt lake in the center of Haiti.  Now, I was crying and I didn’t want the others to see my tears, so I kept my head bowed low, watching the drops hit the dirt until the prayer was finished. Then I jumped up into the back of our tap tap (open-air bus) to find a tissue. Soon I would be asked to greet a crowd on behalf of our Presbyterian Church in Morristown and the Foundation for Peace. I had to pull myself together.

My tears surprised me because I normally do not cry when I am in the presence of the people I came to care for. As a psychiatric nurse therapist and a pastor, I have witnessed many sad situations. But the conditions in this village moved me: the primitive dirt-floor shacks, the barren land surrounding them and the poverty of these families.

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-0528_a_nurse_plays_with_children_at_a_clinic.jpgA nurse plays with children to set them at ease, before a clinic opens.At 10 am, the hot sun mixed with the humidity coming off the lake and created a tropical atmosphere. The only sheltered place available for the free medical clinic was under the one large shade tree in the center of the village. Twelve University of Pennsylvania graduate nurse practitioner students and the Foundation for Peace, Haitian and US team members, spent some time shaking hands and introducing ourselves to the kids and adults who were waiting for us to arrive. We played with them by blowing bubbles for the kids to jump up and pop. And we let them touch our stethoscopes and gloves as a way of warming them up to the idea of being examined by these strange white nurses.

After singing a few hymns in Creole and saying a prayer of thanks for this opportunity to be with our brothers and sisters in our global family in Haiti, I felt spiritually more at peace. This was our third medical clinic of the week and we came prepared to care for whatever need came forward to the best of our abilities. I was so proud to be a nurse/pastor among this team of graduate nurses who never complained about the hard work of providing free healthcare in desperately poor communities almost every day of our trip to Haiti. 

As the nurse practitioners set up mini open air exam areas with a few card tables and chairs, the rest of the team opened the suitcases full of medicines and wound-care supplies and created a “pharmacy area” with two wooden benches. Then the Haitian pastor-leader of our group, Pastor Valentin, began to call people up to the designated intake area.

The people of Kanes watched all of this activity patiently and understood that they would all depart with vitamins, anti-parasitics or other medicines as needed. Each family unit also would receive a bag containing beans, rice and cooking oil.

Each community we were sent to by the Foundation for Peace had little to no access to healthcare prior to our arrival. But Kanes was suffering more than the others. Many of the children were covered with bug bites probably acquired from sleeping on the dirt floors in their little huts.  Some of the children were extremely weak due to a lack of water and food. Three infants with high temperatures needed rehydration immediately upon arrival at our clinic.

A few months prior to this clinic the Foundation for Peace (FFP) staff had discovered this fishing village was unable to fish due to broken fishing boats. Now with help from the FFP, they are starting to fish again; but the time of desperation when they had lost their ability to fish took a toll on their spirits and on their bodies. Many seemed depressed and ill with parasites, body aches, and other signs of malnutrition.

So where does one start working in partnership with a group when confronted by a place with such overwhelming need? You look for signs of hope and start there. The goal is to empower them to build upon the strengths they already have.

At the end of the day I found a group of the healthy looking kids swimming in the lake near the fishing boats. One little girl in a blue dress grabbed my hand as I walked toward the water. She had a huge smile on her face and spoke a few words of English.  When she beckoned me to go for a swim with her and some of the other kids already in the water, I quickly caught her attractive smile on camera (the photo above today). Her name is Adrienne. And she gave me hope for Kanes. Adrienne’s resilience shines out through her smile, and her clever engaging personality.

Although these children have many challenges, they have advantages our children lack as US families become more isolated inside large high-tech homes. Their village is a cohesive community that cooperates, plays and works together. Their care for each other was demonstrated by the way it was nearly impossible to distinguish blood relative from neighbor as they came forward in the medical clinic as “families” with each other’s children. We discovered mothers were breastfeeding one another’s babies. They cared for all the children as their own. No one family had a shack much larger than the other. And as we handed out the food, it became clear that this attitude of sharing all their resources was the key to this village’s survival. All of the food would be shared throughout the village rather than kept by just one family.

In contrast to the overwhelmingly sad feelings I experienced upon arrival at this beautiful lakeside Haitian village, I departed with a sense of hope that by working together in partnership they can be empowered by building upon their strengths: community cohesiveness, deep abiding faith in God’s love and care for them, compassion for one another; and their strength of resilience that is clearly within those who have endured many years of hardships.

I came away with a blessed realization that Americans have much to learn from the Haitian people about mutual care, cooperation, and faith for the development of resilience within our own communities. I look forward to returning to Kanes in the autumn to learn more from these resilient Haitian people.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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