Submitted by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Five parishioners from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church recently returned from a weeklong mission trip to Léogâne, Haiti, where they worked in partnership with a local nursing school to provide and support many different services to the residents of Léogâne and the students at the nursing school.
This year marked St. Paul’s third consecutive mission trip to Haiti, with several of the participants returning for a second (or third!) visit to Léogâne. Rector Chris Wendell, Daisy Girifalco, Amanda Hubbard, and nurses Christine Anderson and Michelle Gillig made up the 2016 St. Paul’s team.
On their first trip, in 2014, a St. Paul’s team of four medical professionals worked alongside members of Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester at drop-in medical clinics, serving Haitians who typically cannot access medical care at any other time. The 2015 trip expanded the mission to include education, beginning a relationship with the Faculte des Sciences Infirmieres de Léogâne (FSIL), a nursing school led by Dean Hilda Alcindor, whose mission is to train registered nurses to provide high-quality medical care to Haitians, so that future medical missions become less necessary. Dean Hilda had visited St. Paul’s in 2014 to preach about the school and its mission.
This year’s trip continued work at the clinics and the nursing school, with opportunities for those with and without medical training to have real, measurable impacts on the people of Léogâne, while deepening existing relationships and building new ones as well. St. Paul’s members provided medical assessments and care at daily clinics; visited participants in the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti, a program that trains women in local communities to monitor children from birth to age five and educate mothers about nutrition and family planning; planned and planted a kitchen garden for the nursing school; and reorganized FSIL’s library, so that medical texts and other volumes in both French and English were easier for students to locate and use. Nurses Christine Anderson and Michelle Gillig also offered professional lectures to the nursing students, on geriatric care and labor and delivery, respectively.
The mission trips have become a full-parish endeavor, as members of St. Paul’s who are not traveling to Haiti nevertheless support the trip through their own efforts. Parishioners of all ages have made cloth bags for patients to carry medications home from the clinics. This year the parish also made small bean bags for the children who accompany their parents to the clinics to play with while they wait. Members of St. Paul’s also wrote notes of encouragement and support for the team to read while they were away.
Over the past two years St. Paul’s has contributed over $10,000 for scholarship aid and other support to FSIL, and received matching grants from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to make this support go even further. FSIL is a faculty of the Episcopal University of Haiti, grants full baccalaureate degrees, and has recently established two master’s-level programs. It is widely regarded as the best nursing school in Haiti. Those wishing to support the Nursing School can do so via designated gifts to St. Paul’s, or directly via the Haiti Nursing Foundation, a US-based philanthropic organization, at www.haitinursing.org.
This year’s mission team created a blog on the St. Paul’s website, chronicling their daily adventures and sharing photos and memories from the trip. The blog can be found here: https://www.stpaulsbedford.org/our-ministries/outreach-and-mission/haiti-mission-blog/
Excerpts from the blog entries:
From Daisy Girifalco, on arriving in Haiti: “When we arrived at Port-au-Prince, we were quickly escorted through about 80-degree heat by five or so men through a crowd of people, and our hostess, Olpha, took us to the nursing guest house at FSIL. During the ride we passed through several towns on their market day. We saw people along the road selling any number of items, were approached to buy drinks or breads, and watched as goats, cows (some steer with huge sharp horns), and dogs grazed along the roadside. Driving through these areas was a game of chicken, and often left us not wanting to look out the front, but rather to the side to see the sights.”
From Chris Anderson on the medical clinics: “We piled into the trucks and headed off to Mattheu. As usual, when we arrived at the site, there were already people waiting for us. We started the usual chaos of setting up, and people started coming in to be seen. As soon as things started to get going, I felt this rush of excitement—remembering the experience of doing this two years ago, feeling like you were helping people who would otherwise be without medical care, and working together with this great group of Haitian and Americans. Although it’s totally exhausting and draining, doing these clinics is one of the most satisfying experiences I have had as a nurse practitioner.”
From Amanda Hubbard on the garden and library: “Both projects were things that the school had requested, and clearly appreciated. And both provided opportunity to interact with staff and students, and demonstrate that at least these North Americans were willing to work hard alongside Haitians and get their hands dirty (the library work was almost as sticky and dirty as the garden!). My biggest compliment of the week was “blan fanm travay” (in Creole to a member of the kitchen staff—I think roughly it means “white woman is working!”).
From Michelle Gillig, on how Haiti has changed over the three years she’s been coming: “I am a bit of a Pollyanna, but I think things are a bit better this year in Haiti. My first observation is how lush the landscape is. There are all kinds of crops covering the land. There has been rain on a regular basis and the vegetation is plentiful. Last year there was a drought and fruits and vegetables were less abundant. People were working harder for less and it was quantified in the health of the people.
For me, Haiti is a 1st-line cause-and-effect country. There is no breathing room for its citizens. This year maybe people live a little easier because they can eat and sell a bit of their crops. This year is a good year. But next year, who knows? One little stumble, and there is nutritional and financial uncertainty. This country makes me cry tears of joy at its beauty and reverence, and then weep with sadness over the hardships people must endure just to survive year to year.”
From Chris Wendell on Haiti’s economic inequity: “It seems to me that the challenge of this situation in Léogâne is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. Haiti desperately needs to develop a functional, aspirational middle class. 100,000 Haitians hold 99% of the wealth in this country . . . and the other 11 million people hold 1%. For there to be a functioning middle class to which people can aspire, there needs to be infrastructure (stable power, roads, clean water, health care, etc.). But for these things to become reliable, there needs to be a middle class that is politically empowered to demand them, and then has the knowledge and resources to build the infrastructure they seek.
One ray of hope in this challenge is FSIL. What Dean Hilda and the others are building here is a community of young women and men who aspire to become the Haitian middle class—empowered by knowledge of a skilled profession, the discipline to practice it well, and the self-respect and compassion to put that skill in the service of others. Competent nursing may be the structure, but empowerment to desire and attain a middle class existence in Haiti is at the heart of what FSIL is producing for the future of this country.”