The Haiti Initiative - Mission Report from Nancy Hibbard - March 2003

In March 2003, Nancy Hibbard traveled to Haiti for the 10th time. This is her report of her latest experience.

What You Give You Get, Ten Times Over – Yoruba Proverb

I believe our God invites us to recognize Him in nature, in the sacraments, and in all of His people. He also invites us to walk with Him in freeing people from the burdens of poverty. For me, it is an honor to serve the poor in this way.
We arrived in Haiti and spent the first four days at our friend’s house in the capital city of Port au Prince. One of the neighbor kids who was so dear to us last year was not the same—listless, sad, dragging one leg as she walked. The thing I fear most—returning to find that friends have died or are sick from treatable diseases such as malaria and diarrhea—if only the money was available. (And the nagging thoughts recur—Why do I waste so much? Why can’t these simple diseases be eradicated? And why do we pay farmers in the US not to grow food while a million Haitians will starve to death before year-end?) Repeatedly, we asked what was wrong with little Samantha. After various responses from numerous members of the family, we finally determined that Haitian doctors had diagnosed vitamin deficiency and prescribed a dozen Vitamin B12 shots, the first of which had hit a nerve. Hence, Samantha could no longer walk without related pain. The sparkling, vivacious child from less than a year ago, was now somber, scared, and lethargic—hopefully not permanently crippled because either a real doctor was inaccessible or a dollar’s worth of medicine not affordable.
The seven-member medical/dental team arrived four days after us and together we took to the air in a 17-seater headed for a mountainous area called Latiboliere, on the southwest corner of the island.
The Haitians have many proverbs, one of which says, "Health is the greatest of riches." In a country with nothing, health is truly vital. With no high-tech medicine, CAT scans, or cardiac catheterizations, medicine is still an art, not a science. Even though I didn’t work directly with the doctors, I could see that the stethoscope and instinct were the doctors’ most valuable tools. If medicine was available (from the thousands of pounds we had literally carried into the country), it was given. Vitamins, donated from various churches back home, were "prescribed" to all. If money was needed (in serious cases such as the 33-year-old mother of seven), we pooled our personal and donated resources to send her to the nearest hospital for emergency gallbladder surgery. And, in some cases, where comfort was the only remedy (due to illnesses beyond what our medical team could "fix"), everyone did their part to ease the pain of living/dying in an undeveloped country with too few doctors and too little money.
Speaking from my own non-medical background, I would imagine the first-time nurses and doctors felt somewhat inadequate—using translators to decipher diseases they had never seen before, in a culture they did not know. But they learned quickly. They had no choice, for each day more than 200 men, women and children were assembled in front of the clinic well before the doors opened. Diseases they had only read about in books (elephantiasis which enlarges men’s testicles to the size of baseballs or larger, gangrene, tuberculosis, wounds that refuse to heal due to malfunctioning immune systems, typhoid) were now reality.
Hundreds of people with innumerable sicknesses--abscesses to be drained, children with dangerously high fevers, decayed teeth to be extracted, and mothers who held onto hope that the "blan" (white) doctors could fix their severely deformed-from-birth children. Sometimes the results were miraculous: within a day, pus quit draining, 105 degree fevers dropped to normal and antibiotics numbed the pain, if not permanently, at least for the immediate future. Others, such as the 104-year-old man who had walked all morning—barefoot, on jagged stone paths, were extremely grateful--simply for the opportunity to see a doctor at an affordable cost. One delightful 91-year-old woman ambled more than seven miles up the mountain to obtain a simple prescription. Had we not been there, she could never have managed to pay the minute amount.
We saw Haitians help one another and plead for their family members who were sicker than they were. Those able to walk cared for those who could not. As another Haitian proverb says, "Even in hell there is friendship." Always smiling and appreciative, even if they were unsure about what we were doing; that’s part of what makes it all worthwhile.
Amidst the pain and poverty, there is always laughter and fun: The look of surprise on Frantz’ face when we remembered and celebrated his upcoming birthday (something which seldom happens in 3rd world countries) is a memory I shall always cherish. A humble, talented man of 29, he never dreamed he would possess his very own guitar. Naturally gifted, within minutes he was singing and strumming songs he had heard in church and on the radio, all the while grinning from ear-to-ear.
And the expression on 24-year-old Francy’s face when we told him that his teeth could be fixed rather than pulled! Black and decayed, it appeared that all would have to be removed, but the two dentists concurred the teeth could be fixed instead. So, not only the thrill of keeping his teeth, but looking in the mirror and seeing a mouthful of white, beautiful teeth! Repeatedly, Francy thanked us and vowed to write and be friends forever.
The stories are endless—little things for us but life-changing events for the Haitian people.
As we departed Latiboliere, I sat with a young priest that I had met briefly the night before. He had spent the morning vomiting and had severe diarrhea. Obviously weak, lethargic, and dreading the day ahead (not only the long, bumpy, curvy car ride to catch the plane, but also the 45-minute flight), Fr. Alain and I didn’t speak--only a nod of his head to say "thanks" or a smile on my lips to express "I really do care." I was concerned not only about the obvious but also because of the bits and pieces I was overhearing—it seemed like this wasn’t a single occurrence. I was thinking about our medical care in the US, i.e., a person such as Fr. Alain would be diagnosed immediately and/or admitted to a hospital because dehydration results from severe diarrhea. How long had he suffered? Who could help? Did he have money to receive the medical attention he needed? But the airport was no place to attempt a diagnosis. I pleaded for him to take a sip of Coca-Cola, void of fizz, to settle his stomach and get some fluid inside, but his worries of diarrhea on the plane overpowered my common sense approach. Not knowing me at all, yet too weak to ask who I was or why I cared, Fr. Alain slept the entire time on my shoulder—mouth slightly agape, parched tongue behind dry lips, as I instinctively held his nodding head from falling forward. At the airport, we briefly exchanged names and phone numbers before hugging our good-byes. I do not know if we shall ever meet again, this side of heaven, but I do know that a part of Fr. Alain will always remain with me.
Back in Port au Prince, I asked Gagnold (my 24-year-old "son") if I could see where he lives. In my mind, I have only imagined where he resides so I thought it was time to see for myself. The first time I asked, he told me "sure." The second time, he told me "later." I began to wonder if I shouldn’t ask again, when Junel, our host called me over to peek inside the window where Gagnold stays. I was shocked at what I saw, so much so that I cannot get it out of my mind—an area about 4’ x 7’ with a small bed propped against the wall so the area can be used as a hallway by day, and bedroom at night. This wonderful young man, as close as my very own flesh and blood, has nothing. He has been moved from home to home all through his life (due to the early death of his parents) and to this very day has nowhere to call his own. I felt compelled, as so many times before, to do more…to help more…to give up more of myself for the sake of the Gospel—for the sake of those I love. Without the generosity of his uncle and the small floor space given him, how could he survive? This is something you read about in books and magazines, or see on 60 Minutes, not something that happens to those you love! Roaming the streets, begging, looking for cars to clean, and trying to do odd errands--there simply is no other way! Without outside help, Gagnold could never get enough money together to buy food or rent a place to sleep. Yet, during our evening times together, he spoke and sang to me in his ever-so-gentle voice--praising God for all God has given him—contentment, patience and me--his "manman." At times, he sang worship songs he had learned in church, in his very limited English, sometimes lifting his hands in praise of God. I cried as he sang. My friend, literally with nothing, has so much more than I will ever possess!
Then there were the heart-rending eyes of the street children we passed daily in the middle of 6 lanes of traffic—noses pressed firmly against our car windows, hands cupped, begging for a penny or two to help curb the pain in their empty little bloated bellies. "What so ever you do to the least of my brothers…." How could we turn away?
Back in the city, robbers attempted to break into our neighbor’s house. Unsure if they were looking for the "wealthy" Americans or simply a coincidence that we were in the neighborhood, our hosts insisted that we stay in a more secure area. Hence, Junel’s best friend, Judge Rosemberg J. Jocelyn (fashionably dressed in a suit and tie) would pick us up each evening in his very own, air-conditioned car! Quite extravagance for Haiti! We joked that he was "bourgeois" as we entered an elite, clean neighborhood with garages, flush toilets, and even a piece of carpet on the floor! Not Pètionville, the rich suburb of Port-au-Prince with a high density of affluent, but living better than 99% of the Haitian people, Jocelyn and his wife, Mary, offered us whatever they had. They and their mother were beautiful, gracious, and giving. Even though blessed with a bit more than the average Haitian, they were not devoid of compassion as is typical of the elite. Rather, they were born to serve the poor, and that included us. For three nights, we and the friends we invited into their home, were welcomed with open arms and treated like family.
Sometimes I am ashamed of the way we, in the United States, treat those who are different from ourselves. Pope John Paul II said, "Darkness can only be scattered by light. Hatred can only be conquered by love." I pray that we may learn from our Haitian brothers and sisters who have so little but give so freely and love so tenderly. May we take this Haitian proverb to heart in all we do and say:

"Yon sèl nou feb, ansanm nou fò."

Alone we are weak, together we are strong.

On her March 2003 trip, Nancy Hibbard worked in Catholic parish in Latiboliere--a small locality situated about 8 kilometers south of Jèrèmie. It is a rural parish located in the mountains. There is nearly no work for a person who is not self-employed. Most of the population survives by gardening. The level of literacy is low. More than half of the students do not have one parent who knows how to write and read. There is no electricity in the area. Not a single student has running water in the house. Food is cooked under a grass shelter on the bare ground with 3 stones to hold the pot over the firewood. There are only two motor vehicles in the parish and the roads are horrible. Hence, the need for 4-wheel drive. With what she has written, you can realize that her mission groups serve a very poor people, and things continue to decline due to severe inflation. Out of a population of 7 million, 1 million will die from starvation by year end.

Nancy thanks you for your interest, support, and for helping her show love in a tangible way.