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Rhonda’s Reflection on Haiti “Unless”

Painting on Birth Center wall in Port au Prince



It has been a week of resting and reconnecting and trying to catch up. I have had some time to think about our trip to Haiti. My feelings about the trip are complex. It seems that everywhere we traveled I experienced a very broad range of emotions. I was moved from tearful lows to extreme highs.  

     Starting outing in Port au Prince I felt shocked when I saw the amount of rubble that was still present. Collapsed buildings with twisted steel rebar were everywhere. It reminded me of the images from Mad Max, only this was real. Rubble was still blocking about half of the roads. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles were darting everywhere, barley missing each other and the pedestrians as they swerved around abandoned cars, pot holes and rubble. Riding anywhere in Port au Prince was like Toads Wild Ride, but amazingly, there were no collisions. It seemed orchestrated and I am elated to have survived.  

    Of course I knew there were still people living in tents, but I never expected to see the long deep stretches of tent cities. They seemed to go on forever. As we rode by on the streets, I felt like a Peeping Tom. By just looking in the direction of the tents, you could often see people carrying out intimate acts of daily life like bathing. Without trying, I could see into the tents and noticed the few possessions and multiple people sharing small space. Little children darting around near the roads bothered me the most.  

     At the same time that I was taking this sadness all in, I was blessed to meet amazing people who were selflessly working very hard to restore peace and dignity to the survivors lives. People like Beth, John, Dr. Jen, midwife Joanna, Chris and Beverly who work tirelessly to see to it that these people have good medical care and safe clean places to recover and heal. Beth and Joanna’s beautiful birth center and plan of care for the women of Port au Prince were truly a beacon of hope in this sad place. The birth center and what it stands for was so awesome, I felt very proud to know these two women. Beth and Heartline Ministry have also been active in teaching women to sew. Their plan includes reading and writing so that the women will be able to run a small business for themselves. This education is genius in the fact that once these women finish the program, they will be able to support themselves and their children. This is a heroic plan to break the cycle of poverty and could potentially improve the quality of life for generations to come.  

    The mountains of Haiti are beautiful but bare. The over harvesting of trees for charcoal has left the soil poor and has a direct impact on growing and feeding ability. As we traveled across Goat Mountain, I started to wonder why I had brought medical supplies to donate. It seemed to me that I should have brought 80 pounds of saplings instead. The contrast between my beautiful, green mountains of Floyd and the denuded mountains of Haiti really illustrated the interconnectedness of the ecological health and the physical and social health of communities.  

    La Maison Fortune is a safe haven. I was sad to think that 200 boys and 50 girls lived there were orphans. Pretty soon it was evident that they were clean, being educated and were happy. Jean-Louis, Brother Mike and Brother Harry provide a safe and happy home for these children. I was inspired by these strong, good men who have dedicated their lives to helping others.  

    My time at Azil was the most difficult and touched me the deepest. Seeing so many infants there for malnutrition made me feel incredibly guilty. So much we are given in life depends not on our hard work, but rather where we tumble out on this earth and into whos arms we fall. In other words, I feel that we have very little control over our good or bad fortune. Those of us with good fortune often take credit for achieving the wealth. Just being lucky enough to be born into a family that can feed us is a tremendous head start in this life. The infants of Azil have moms that desperately love and want them, but cannot afford to feed them. Malnutrition rides a fast horse in Haiti and often brings opportunistic illness along with it. I realize that I have been privileged to never see my children go hungry.  As sad as this vision was, I know that these are the lucky kids. They will be fed and treated and then returned to their moms. If not for the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa’s group) there would likely be no help at all for these children. I am again inspired by people who dedicate their lives to helping the “least” among us.  

    During our week in Hinche we were reminded of our mission. One night yielded one maternal death and two still born infants. All tragic, but was unavoidable upon presentation to the hospital. We observed the care of a woman who had seizures eight hours before a c-section could be obtained. Amazingly, the woman delivered her baby vaginally when at last moved to the operating room. I was thrilled and amazed to hear both will recover. My time in the hospital in Hinche showed me what was possible. While supplies and water are scarce, Cara told me of all the progress that was being made. Nadene Brunk’s ingenious plan to reduce high maternal and infant mortality rates by teaching midwifery skills to Haitian women is now in its third year in Hinche. Working with the hospital, other NGO’s, and volunteers, Midwives for Haiti is making an impact both in the hospital and through the use of mobile clinics. The outreach of the mobile clinics will be tremendous. The Midwives for Haiti trained women were professional, compassionate and delivered outstanding care in an environment that would bring me to my knees. Knowing this is just the beginning of this program, excites me. Nadene’s work will touch the lives of so many. As our time with the midwifery students was ending, they started thanking us profusely. I honestly did not give them any real help. I thanked them back and praised all the good work they were doing and told them that I had not done anything for them. They replied “we are thanking you because you care enough to come and stand beside us; you give us the strength and courage to continue on.” I was humbled. These strong beautiful women work so hard and ask so little of us. They make me want to be a better person.  

    One night I noticed one of the volunteers staying at La Maison Fortune had a copy of The Lorax with her. We are at an orphanage, so  many of us have brought childrens clothes, books, and toys. (I brought soccer balls for my son in law)  Because this book has been a favorite of mine for years, I am very familiar with the story. While lying in bed awake my last night, I started to think about The Lorax. Suddenly,  the book took on two levels of meaning for me. I thought about how the trees that the Lorax tries so desperately to save are intricate to the survival of Haiti. Suddenly, I realize that the trees are both trees and women and children. It hits me.  The Lorax is not fictional! The Lorax is alive and well incarnate. If  you look close enough at Nadene, Beth, John, Chris, Beverly, Dr. Jen, Midwife Joanna,  Brother Mike, Brother Harry,  Jean-Louis, Midwives for Haiti volunteers, Missionaries of Charity, Partners in Health, Medishares,  and all the other volunteers, I am sure you can get a glimpse of him. I did and the Lorax has left me inspired to do better and be better.  

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”  

Dr. Seuss The Lorax  


Thanks Frontier School for trusting us and allowing this trip and beautiful partnership.  

Rhonda Arthur  

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