The Haiti Initiative - Mission Report from Beth Lownik - March 2003

After travelling to Haiti on a Medical Mission, Beth Lownik gave this report to the parish in March 2003.

It’s been three years since we first started talking about our sister parish in Haiti here at St. Mary’s, and by now I can safely say that every one of us has made some contribution to the project. Together we have provided financial support, built our relationship through prayer, laughed with Fr. Tony, and made a great deal of progress in establishing a successful and lasting connection. But with this longevity also comes a sense of repetition, and I know how easy it is to forget about all that this project is accomplishing. Today, I’d like to share with you just that.
As you know, a group of representatives from this parish returned from a medical mission in Latiboliere just one week ago. Despite my complete lack of experience or interest in the medical field, I was lucky enough to be a part of that amazing group. We spent five full days working in the clinic, and it was without a doubt the most difficult yet rewarding week of my entire life. Each morning, we would wake up to a series of 36 rings of the church bell at 5:00 in the morning (yes, I counted), go to mass at 6:00, eat a quick breakfast at 7:00, and then head down the biggest hill you have ever seen to get to the clinic and start work by 7:30. Every day there were hundreds of people waiting in lines to see either the doctor or the dentist, many of whom had walked or been carried for miles just to get there. I personally spent all of my time during the day assisting the dentist. Take it from someone who knows, the next time a person says “it’s like pulling teeth,” they’re lying. Nothing is quite the same as pulling eight rotted teeth from a six year old, or removing stubborn wisdom teeth with basic tools and a flashlight. It was even more difficult on the last day when, after running out of anesthetic, every patient chose to have his or her tooth pulled anyway. But I shouldn’t complain; the medical people saw worse. We treated people for rashes, sores, burns, intestinal problems, arthritis, high blood pressure, fevers, worms, scabies, fungal infections, sexually transmitted diseases, probable malaria and tuberculosis. You name it, and our doctors probably saw it. One man came in on a makeshift stretcher with an arm that had been sliced open with a machete. He lost so much blood that he needed two I.V.’s after his wound had been treated just to remain conscious. Luckily he healed well; in fact, he walked three miles the next day just to return and thank everyone for their help. But it is sobering to think about what would have happened to him had he cut his arm this week. At best he would have lost use of his arm; at worst he would have bled to death. We also became very close to a pair of premature twins, just one month old. Each weighed only a little over four pounds, and even with all of the guidance and supplies that we offered, we can only pray that they live to see their first birthday.
At the conclusion of the clinic, we had helped nearly 1,000 patients, but we estimate that to be only one third of the number of people who showed up to be seen. We accomplished so much, but there is so much more to be done. The average Haitian is lucky to get one meal a day, the World Health organization reports that if situations do not improve, one out of every seven Haitians will not survive another five years. The number of close friends I have made there is far more than seven. I’m scared for the future of my friends and the future of the country, but the poverty is so extreme and overwhelming that the only thing we can do is focus on our individual relationship, and hope that we can continue to make a difference to the people in our sister parish. They have certainly made a difference to me. The innumerable things I learn about life from people in Haiti are not in the realm of finance or economy. I pray for the faith, strength, and courage that is the very essence of who these people are. Most importantly, they have taught me to value my life. If you come away with nothing else from this talk today, at least remember this. Appreciate what you have. It is so easy to get wrapped up in trivial, everyday life here, but so little of that is really important. Haiti has taught me above all to value the people that I love. The least that I can do is pass that gift along, for we truly are blessed. Thank you so much for your support of this project. I stand in front of you as proof that it has changed lives.