Hope in Haiti
An Orphanage Rises out of Ruin
In the immediate aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Dr. Paul Auerbach joined a disaster response team from Stanford Emergency Medicine under the auspices of International Medical Corps. It was an extraordinarily intense and life-changing experience for all members of the team. At that time, he wrote about it in a series of blog posts. Recently, he got the chance to return.
I was invited by my good friend Dr. Edward Geehr to accompany him and a premedical student, Aly Maglior, to visit a remarkable operation for which Ed has been an integral protagonist. The Glory Glory orphanage and Glory Clinic was created by virtue of the brilliance and perseverance of Rev. Sam Metelus, who with the assistance of his parents, family, friends, and other supporting persons and organizations, created a functional living situation that currently houses and serves 52 orphans who lost their parents in the (2010) earthquake. It took him four years to raise the funds, acquire the land, build the facilities in Valere, and collect the children (from very difficult living situations around Port-au-Prince [PAP] and the southern part of Haiti).
Our trip was safe and productive. We were a small team undertaking a visit briefer than originally planned because of political unrest in PAP provoked by, among other things, the price of fuel.
Aside from dropping the rental van key down a drain, it was an otherwise uneventful drive to the orphanage with Sam at the wheel. Heading through PAP in heavy traffic, we passed the site of the iconic government buildings that collapsed in the earthquake. The buildings have been removed, and grass has replaced shattered concrete. While there are still large collections of rubble from the earthquake throughout the city, the busy streets, teeming with people and sidewalk vendors, did not show the desperation and post-earthquake chaos I encountered slightly more than five years ago.
We drove past the University Hospital, where our response team had spent nearly two weeks tending to victims of the earthquake. It was a moment of quiet reflection for me, and evoked memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my days.
In PAP, poverty still abounds and animals roam the streets to scavenge from piles of garbage. But for this particular journey, we were headed out of the big city to a different kind of place.
As we exited PAP, the scene quickly became rural, and I was able to see Haiti with a new perspective. From elevated roadways, I caught glimpses of the tropical sea. There were rice fields and fruit trees. It was a world apart from PAP, and Sam confirmed that things could be going very poorly in the capital city, while the countryside went about its business as if all was well. Despite intense deforestation and stripping of natural resources, there was vitality – people walking, smiling, and going about their daily routines.
We drove through towns with clusters of local markets, where bartering accompanies selling as the method for transactions, and what appears to be disorganized is actually controlled mayhem. As is often the case in developing countries, entire families are perched on motorcycles, weaving in and out of busy traffic, and helmets are nowhere to be found. Roadside vendors scramble to move their stalls when big trucks come by, or their means of livelihood will be cast aside or crushed – literally.
The children swarmed us as we arrived at the Glory Glory orphanage. There were many touching moments during my trip, and this was one of them. Every child greeted us each day with either a kiss on the cheek (from the girls) or a handshake (from the boys). The children were genuine and showed that most remarkable Haitian trait of generosity of spirit and gratitude.
We unloaded medical supplies and worked with the full-time nurse Michaelle Cadet on clinical protocols, and answered her questions about challenging cases she has encountered among the children and community members, including proper wound care protocol and antibiotic recommendations for treating dog bites. Aly was in charge of inventory and medical records, and did a terrific job assisting Michaelle in organizing the pharmacy and supplies, and serving as a scribe while Ed and I practiced medicine.
Sam explained to us that the children would be taught trades they could apply upon one day leaving the orphanage. We noticed that the oldest orphan, 17-year-old Emmanuelle, was a leader, quick study, and very interested in our activities. I asked her if she wanted to one day become a doctor or nurse. Through a translator and without hesitation, she emphatically said, “Yes.” So I obtained permission for her to assist us the following morning, when we would examine some of the children for whom Michaelle sought our input. I saw a spark in Emmanuelle, and hoped she would be present with us the next day.
At the end of each working day, we traveled to Port Salut, where we stayed at the Dan’s Creek Hotel. It was a beautiful beachside setting and of course an entirely different scene than I had experienced in 2010. I continued to adjust to seeing Haiti in a new light. We were not eating ready-to-eat meals (“MREs,” in military parlance), but local delicious Haitian food. We were not in sleeping bags under mosquito netting, sweating from the heat and awakened constantly by buzzing mosquitos, sirens, and helicopters. Our rooms and beds were comfortable. We were so very fortunate.
The next day, Friday, we returned to the orphanage and met with Michaelle to review treatment protocols and conduct some training. Michaelle came to her nursing position through a challenging upbringing and utmost dedication. She clearly is an outstanding practitioner and completely devoted to the children and their well-being. Her assessments and questions were spot on, and she is the sort of problem solver who is immersed in learning and self-improvement. Michaelle handles many medical and operational problems each day, and often stays overnight in the apartment above the clinic to care for sick children. If nurses are angels, she is certainly one of them.
That afternoon, we focused on challenging cases among the children. Most were recent transfers to the orphanage and brought with them a variety of diseases and health problems that had largely gone untreated. These included suspected or known active tuberculosis; seizure disorder; suspected congenital HIV and failure to thrive; dysentery; anemia; enlarged lymph nodes; chronic cough; skin rashes; bronchitis, or possible pneumonia; and allergies. Treatment plans were developed, medications and dietary supplements ordered, and lab tests and/or X-rays, which could be obtained at a local hospital in Les Cayes, were recommended.
To our delight, Emmanuelle was waiting to assist us. She held the smaller children during their exams, and was instructed how to use an otoscope and stethoscope. She never left our side.
Watching her perch the children on her lap and beam with enthusiasm, and explaining our physical findings and diagnostic thinking to her, I was reminded of another young lady, a translator whom I had met many years ago while working in a clinic in Guatemala. Similar to Emmanuelle, she was 17 years of age at the time and dreamed of becoming a doctor. A group of us recognized her potential and sponsored her through six years of medical school – she’s on track to graduate this summer.
If Emmanuelle wished to follow the same path, it would be my privilege to assist her, so I wanted to make her the same offer. I asked permission of Sam, and he graciously allowed me to offer to pay for her to go to medical or nursing school in Haiti if she passes the entry examinations.
On Sunday, before we returned to PAP, we attended a spirited and delightfully musical Sunday service at the orphanage. (Yes, Sam also skillfully plays the guitar and piano. He told us that, “As the son of a preacher, one learns to do everything.”)
We said our goodbyes to the children, housemothers, and Michaelle. It was difficult to leave, and I had a teary parting with Emmanuelle. Not knowing what else to say, I asked her to get busy studying biology. I’m already looking forward to a return trip, because there is so much more to do.
We spent Sunday night in PAP, awaiting a morning flight back to the United States. I had difficulty sleeping, so I wandered at 4 a.m. to the hotel kitchen to find a cup of coffee, only to be greeted by a tall, articulate, and friendly 23-year-old staff member. He asked me if this was my first trip to Haiti. I told him it was not, explained the circumstances of my prior visit, and how different this was from the time of the earthquake. His expression changed and he asked: “Do you have a family?” I replied that I did. He reached out his hand, touched my arm, and spoke in a soft voice: “Then you have everything. God bless you.”
It costs only approximately $100 a month to house, clothe, feed, and pay for schooling for a child at the Glory Glory orphanage in Valere. If you are interested in learning more or making a donation, please visit the Evolution Haiti website at www.evolutionhaiti.com.