Medical mission trip to Haiti offers needed help during crisis



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Medical mission trip to Haiti offers needed help during crisis

July 22, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0886}

NOTE: See related sidebar, “United Methodists can help during food crisis,” at: http://www.flumc2.org/FCNN/articles/000049/004976.htm

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

A team from the Florida Conference traveled on a medical mission trip to Haiti earlier this year as a first step in achieving the goals of the Haiti/Florida Covenant.

Ann Eckman, a member of First United Methodist Church, Homosassa, comforts a child. Photo courtesy of the mission team. Photo #08-0938. For longer description see photo gallery.

Amidst the country’s political unrest, food shortages and high food prices, the mission was timely.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). The organization’s Hot Lunch Program provides a meal of rice, beans and local produce for nearly 17,000 school children every day. For many, it is the only food they eat each day.

While UMCOR has worked for years within the country, 2005’s Tropical Storm Jeanne and its resulting floods prompted the organization to establish an official presence in Haiti.

The Florida Conference has also been in ministry with The Methodist Church of Haiti for several years through the Institute of Preaching in Haiti, which was established in partnership with the Florida Conference, and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Teams serving in Haiti. The covenant, signed at the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event, made that relationship official.
 
Leaders of both churches hope to strengthen connections between the two and encourage sharing experiences and resources. They also hope the covenant will foster an equal exchange of ideas and a better understanding among Florida United Methodists about the plight of Haitians.

Providing physical relief

Icel Rodriguez, associate director of the Florida Conference’s mission and justice ministries, says the Haiti/Florida Covenant relies heavily on “United Methodist volunteers and missions going there and offering their services, whether that is medical or construction.”

This year’s mission team included 13 people — registered nurses, a social work graduate student, a paramedic and two pastors. They traveled to Haiti at the end of March and stayed at the conference center for The Methodist Church of Haiti in Petit-Goâve.

“The team was absolutely fantastic,” said Sharon Smith, one of the team’s two co-leaders.
 
Two of Smith’s lifelong friends — both from other conferences — were among the team members. One is a nurse; the other is a social worker.
 
“We figured all together we represented 10 churches and three conferences,” Smith said.

Each day the group opened a clinic for people who needed medical attention.

“We divided into small groups — some of them taking care of the medical aid and others taking care of the treatment, and also some of us took care of the (senior citizens),” said the Rev. Montreuil Milord, chairman of the covenant task force and pastor of South Dade Haitian Mission in Homestead.

Money donated by United Methodist churches before the trip helped the team purchase the medical supplies they needed — bandages, gauze, pain relievers, and lice, worm and scabies treatments. The team also distributed about 600 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste.

“The funds poured in — it was beautiful,” Smith said. “We had all the funds we needed to work with … and we were able to do more than what our goals were.”
 
Team members, churches and individuals donated a total of $15,185 for the trip, according to Rodriguez.

Nurses Bonnie Falk (left), a member of Emmanuel Community United Methodist Church, Wisconsin, and Sharon Smith, a member of First United Methodist Church, Homosassa, care for a patient wounded in a motorcycle accident. Photo courtesy of the mission team. Photo #08-0939. For longer description see photo gallery.

Smith, who serves as parish nurse at First United Methodist Church of Homosassa, said the team operated one clinic for three days and then traveled to another site to open a mobile clinic there. Two physicians from Haiti assisted the team.
 
“(We saw) lots of respiratory stuff … , skin infections, skin problems, one guy that really scraped himself up in a motorcycle accident,” Smith said.

As for their supplies, Smith said they had guessed “very well” about what to bring, but wished she had known prior to the trip that they would have a physician available because other medications would have been helpful under a doctor’s care.
 
“One older lady came into the mobile clinic. She needed a diuretic, and we didn’t have it,” Smith said. “That was really sad because she was very ill, and she was malnourished.”
 
The team taught the woman’s daughter how to wrap her mother’s legs in Ace bandages, Smith said. The woman left the clinic riding between two people on a motorcycle.

Other patients included very sick young babies. “You wonder if they are going to survive,” Smith said.
 
The team left extra supplies for future distribution.

“We left all the leftovers with the district superintendent and the pastors who are overseers of the church,” Milord said. “And there is a little pharmacy in the city where people come and (get) the medications. It is very difficult to get access to those medications, and some people are dying because they cannot even get the basics, plus they must have money to get transportation.”

The team also kept busy helping doctors in an eye clinic in Petit-Goave and an American dentist with whom they had became acquainted after arriving in Haiti.

“He saw lots of people,” Smith said. “These people are very anxious to have their teeth pulled, and he didn’t really have the equipment to do fillings (but) he was able to give fluoride.”

The team also visited a Methodist school in the mountains, where the teachers work without receiving salaries.
 
“There are tremendous needs there,” Smith said. “The team gave money to pay their teachers from December to March.”
 
Taking the risk

While preparing for the trip, Smith said she had moments when she wondered if making the trip was such a wise decision and whether she was strong enough for it.
 
“(I knew) if the Lord had put this before me and if he wanted me to go, he’ll give me the strength to do it,” Smith said.

Despite conditions in the country, team members said they had adequate shelter, with plumbing, running water and electricity, as well as three meals a day served by the conference center kitchen staff. All cooking for the team took place on a small, four-burner gas stove or an outdoor grill.

Nurse Aja Simon, a member of First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, sits with an elderly woman who visited the clinic after it had closed. Photo courtesy of the mission team. Photo #08-0940. For longer description see photo gallery.

“The situation was much better than what we had expected, and it wasn’t nearly as drastic a living situation as what we thought we might be in,” Smith said. “We had taken a lot of snack-type stuff along, not knowing what we’d have, but we were treated like kings … people give you the very best they have.”

Personal mission

In early April, soon after the Florida Conference team returned to the United States, political unrest and violence broke out in Haiti over food shortages and prices. On April 11, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to Americans about Haiti on its Web site.

Team member Julie Fleurinor, who speaks Creole, said she felt the country’s pain very keenly. She lived in Haiti until she was 6 years old. Her mother left the country by boat when Fleurinor was 3 years old and was able to bring Fleurinor and her sister to the United States about three years later.

“My mom came first; she came when Jimmy Carter had the asylum policy or act,” Fleurinor said.

Though Fleurinor spent the remaining years of her childhood in South Florida, this spring’s mission trip evoked early childhood memories.

“The (Haitian) kids are sticking their hands inside the van and saying things like, ‘Hey, I am hungry. Give us something — you all have money,’ ” she said. “Nobody could understand them, but I could. It took me back to when I was a kid. We didn’t have to do that, and if God hadn’t gotten me to this stage, it could have been me.”

Fleurinor said the economic and political challenges in Haiti caused her to question why God allowed her to leave that situation and thrive in another country.
 
“I started feeling so guilty, (asking) ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why did you allow me to get out of there?’ ” Fleurinor said.
 
She said a pastor reminded her that God could be preparing her for “such a time as this.”
 
Fleurinor is currently completing a master’s degree in social work at Florida State University and plans to pursue a Master of Divinity degree this fall at Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. In addition to her educational endeavors, Fleurinor says she continually considers the plight of the Haitian people, although she has not yet determined exactly how best to help them.
 
“It’s been a matter of prayer for me to really ask God, ‘What role do you want me to play in this?’ ” Fleurinor said.

Next steps

Smith believes this first mission trip offered an opportunity for the team to look more closely at Haiti and find out what the real needs are.
 
“It was made clear to me that our goal was to pave the way … (in) a moment with the Holy Spirit,” Smith said.

Overall, Smith and Milord said the trip was productive, and both hope there will be other mission teams to Haiti on a regular basis.

“I would work with anyone to make this possible,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of work to be done … they gave us a list of projects.”

Rodriguez said future mission opportunities will be developed and coordinated at the local church level. Individuals interested in mission opportunities may contact Milord at mfmpastor@cs.com or Rodriguez at 800-282-8011, extension 182, or irodriguez@flumc.org.

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*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




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