Balboa was one of the first Europeans to see Les Cayes in 1504, a Haitian port town in the south that exports coffee, sugar and vertiver. Homemade cargo ships with no motors dot the coastline.
On May 16, 2019 we hit the tarmack of Toussaint Louverture International, Port-au-Prince, with a different plan in mind. I usually head for our clinic in the southeastern mountains as soon as I can, escaping the suffocating grip of the capital. This time I, board member Peter Halle and our resident doctor Daniel Antoine were heading out in the other direction in order to visit a well respected birth center near the southern city of Les Cayes (Okay in kreole, from Aux Cayes).
HHP is helping to create a birth center at our clinic, plans are to hire a midwife and be in full swing by the fall. It was Friday of a holiday weekend and we had a 2 pm appointment for a grand tour at Maison de Naissance in Torbeck. Half way through the 5 hour trip from Port-au-Prince our bus refused to move and we spent 3 hours sitting by the side of the road with a blown clutch. We finally arrived there at dusk for just a cursory look. Maison de Naissance is one of a mere handful of midwifery centers in Haiti, providing the hospitality of a home rather than the impersonal feel of a medical center.
Presently 95% of our mothers give birth at home because there is no other logical alternative if your baby decides to come after clinic hours. The situation contributes to several negative outcomes - infection, hemorrhage, prematurity, infant mortality. The birth center will provide support for moms with family planning, prenatal visits, 24/7 on-call service and a training program for the traditional birth attendants who have been the only support system for pregnant women until now.
Okay's architectural je ne sais quoi
Bumping across Okay on foot the morning of Haitian Flag Day, we had to skirt around a manifestasyon in the city center; there have been demonstrations against the government since last summer when a corruption scandal was exposed concerning government confiscation of funds meant for social programs.
The country has been paralyzed by patchy violence which has caused the nascent tourist industry to tank as the US State Dept ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel and ranks it a "Level 4: Do not travel." Knowing all this, I left for Haiti this time with a twinge of fatalistic dread. Yet besides a few roadblocks, police in balaclavas with rifles and remains of burning tires in the street, I never felt unsafe.
It helps to weave into the Haitian fabric, using public transport and traveling with Haitians instead of inside an NGO's SUV with tinted glass. In fact, I was delighted by the funky surprises of Okay like this old drug store.
While in Okay we stayed at the guesthouse of the Business Technological Institute, or BTI, Haiti's first community college. Opened in 2004 by the Episcopalian Church of Haiti, BTI had 140 students in the first graduating class. This year 1200 students will graduate and 70% of them will find jobs in their field. A big chapeau to its intrepid leader, Dr. Ajax, both a visionary and a really nice guy. Oh yeah, the food at the guesthouse is AMAZING and there are cases of wine in the dining room...love those Episcopalians!
Dr. Kesner Ajax, an Okay treasure
Getting back to what I came here for: Centre de Santé Commune de Grand-Gosier, the clinic in the remote corner of southeast Haiti that HHP has been partnering with since 2013, is thriving. With programs in hypertension, cervical cancer screening, children's vaccinations, family planning, prenatal care and soon-to-be a midwife-centered mezon nesans, we are on fire. Attracting more support from the Haitian Ministry of Health, foundations and the private sector, we are grateful for the energy fueled by your sustained belief in this little miracle.
Thanks so much, Louise
A recent grad from our hypertension project - her bp dropped from 224/150 to 130/84.