Back in the Saddle
January 18, 2022 - Last week when I got back to Southeastern Haiti after being absent since May, I had a lot of ground to cover. As the director of Hispañola Health Partners, a US-based NGO that helps design and support health programs that benefit the rural Haitian community, I had reasons to visit the remote corners of our 300 square mile region.
Loose rock and powder-fine dust rule the steep roads, but with Sandy's driving prowess, complete with a sound system that blasts Haitian kompa, as we bump across the countryside I feel as secure and happy as a kid on a rocking horse. With the new addition of the aerodynamic parasol, the ride is cooler than ever.
Kompa, the national dance and sound obsession is sampled here by JBeatz:
The first few visits I made were to women who had recently given birth at home. Our program, Ann Bay Lavi Jaret, or "give life a helping hand," was designed by the staff of our partner clinic in SE Haiti, Centre de Santé Union de Grand-Gosier (CSUG). This program helps sharpen the skills of the 18 traditional birth attendants or matwòn who attend the vast majority of the births in our area. Trusted neighbors, matwòn use folk medicine, prayer, and a little Vodou to help women who live in remote mountainous areas with conditions too harsh to reach a health center in the throes of labor. This program fills the gap between the innate skills that the matwòn have and the safe birth practices that our midwife presents in the 5-month course.
Matwòn Cherinor Gustave , 42, received his calling through a dream when he was 18
To visit this 3-generation family, Cherinor, I, and the midwife traveled 45 minutes by motorcycle and 2 hours by foot up a steep mountain path. Our midwife spends a lot of time in the field, making an average of two prenatal and one postnatal visit for every patient the matwòn care for. 15 births/month!.
Weighing babies that are born at home help us get baseline data to use for improving outcomes. This is a hammock my kids used for their stuffed animals years ago, attached to a hanging scale used for weighing fish. We also include age at birth, length, hemoglobin and head circumference as criteria.
On January 12th, 18 matwòn received diplomas for completing the Ann Bay Lavi Jaret course. They are in front of our new birth center at CSUG, along with clinic staff.
Mezon Nesans Fanmi, our new birth center, was built by the community, HHP and Women International Leaders https://www.wil-gp.org/
Another program I needed to visit serves more than 200 HIV+ women in our region. Fanm Vanyan, or "Valiant Women," is an extension of the cervical cancer screening and treatment HHP has been providing women in the region since 2013. Women living with HIV are almost 5x more vulnerable to invasive cervical cancer. Community health workers who distribute the women's medications house to house recruit and educate them about the dangers of cervical cancer and arrange a meeting spot for the testing. I went on a 4-hour ride to find one of these women who did not have the money to pay for transportation. We arrived at her humble home where she lives alone with her 4-year-old son. She was young, shy, and scared but we held her hand and gently coached her while we did the test and treatment right there on her bed. 67% of the HIV+ women we test need treatment.
Last May we didn't think things could get much worse in Haiti as we dodged roadblocks and heard about more and more kidnappings. Then came the presidential assassination and earthquake in the Southwest Department. The misery of poverty, lawlessness, political turmoil, a fuel crisis, and natural disaster, all wrapped up and dished out to the struggling, honest, hard-working people of Haiti just seemed too much to bear. However, 2021 was a stellar year for HHP and our partner clinic, CSUG. We constructed a birth center, Mezon Nesans Fanmi, in 9 months, which now shines like a jewel for everyone to enjoy. The first baby born there (above) was one of our own, his mom is our nurse/pharmacist. There is room at the birth center for medical personnel so Haitian doctors and nurses doing their "social service" can come and work with us for a year, no charge!
Let's hope we can find the joy and inspiration to meet each day of the year ahead. I'm stunned by the beauty of our world when I walk 5 miles down the hill from our clinic to the edge of this mystery.
I wish you could join me, Louise