Friday, January 28, 2011

'I didn't go to Haiti to help their government. I went for the people.'

School nurse Angel Bunce spent her holiday break treating cholera patients in Haiti. I included parts of her story in my article about Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian relief agency run by Franklin Graham. The 48-year-0ld nurse from Monroe High School's account is very touching. I was really bummed that I couldn't include more in the original story.

The beauty of the web is I can share more of it here. Here are more excerpts from what she told me.

To read more of the published accounts from local relief workers visit home page for This Land. And also take a look at the Observer Special Reports page on Haiti.

Why did you got Haiti in the first place?
When the earthquake hit, I watched the news coverage with horror. The images were like nothing I had ever seen before. As a nurse, I wanted to go to help. The next morning, I was asked to go to Haiti. I didn't realize it but a teacher that I work with is from Haiti and still has family there. I had to apply for my passport, get the needed immunizations etc before I could go. We went to Haiti in June just as the schools there were starting to reopen.

When I say schools, you probably imagine something similar to what we have here. But, what I found was tarp draped over a wooden frame with desks sitting on a wooden ground. Goats ran freely through the "school." There was no running water, electricity, or air conditioning. The smell of sewage was overwhelming. The technology was an old, black chalkboard. But the kids were smiling and playing games. They were happy to be back in school. They started their day in prayer reciting the Lord's Prayer in their Creole language.

I was touched by how thankful the people were. Instead of being bitter for what they had lost or they were praising God for all that they still had. They were quick to smile and quick to hug. They didn't complain but when asked directly, they all voiced dissatisfaction with the lack of response from their government. This was when I saw their lack of hope, the sadness. Many of the people were still living in tents six months later (if they were lucky). Many others lived on the streets, or under makeshift tents. How do you raise a family in an area 8-by-10 feet? How do you wash your hands or use the bathroom. These people didn't even have the most basic necessities. When I left Haiti that time, I prayed to be able to return.

When the Cholera outbreak occurred in October, I couldn't help but wonder if the children that I saw had been sick or even if they were still alive. I knew in my heart I had to go back to Haiti. It was then that I got an email from Samaritan's Purse to go with them to work in the Cholera clinics.

As a school nurse, I am off work during the Christmas season. So, I gladly agreed to go back. When I mentioned it to my coworkers , three other school nursess agreed to go with me. I went December 27th through January 4th. While there, I worked in the cholera clinic in Cite Soleil.

How are you reflecting on the anniversary of the Jan. 12 earthquake?

I worked in the triage tent while in the cholera Clinic. It was where the sickest of the sick were brought for immediate IV fluids. I saw mothers walking for hours, carrying their babies and children, to get help at the clinic. Having a mother hand over her near lifeless baby to me, a school nurse from North Carolina in hopes, that I could get an IV started that would allow her baby to receive the life saving fluids very humbling. Finding an IV on such sick, malnourished, dehydrated babies and children is not an easy task. What a feeling to be able to get an IV started and watch a baby "come back alive."

More amazing was to be able to place that baby back into their mama's arms. Since I returned home, my mind has played a near constant recording of the many miracles I witnessed. To fully appreciate the "miracles", you would have to see it for yourself.

The clinic is nothing more than large tents and barn like shelters. There are flies everywhere. The smell of bleach used to decontaminate is so strong that sometimes it takes your breath away. It is hot and the hours are long. The patients are lined up on wooden cots with holes in them that allow them to go to the bathroom when they are too weak to get up.

There is no privacy for them, no call bell, no meals served. Family members help by emptying the bedpans and they bring in food. These conditions would be considered inhumane, unlawful, and disrespectful in this country. In Haiti, it's the best there is.

I never heard any complaints; instead songs of praise filled the air as familiar hymns are sung loudly in the Creole language. Doctors and nurses from the U.S., Canada, and U.K join in, singing in English. It's a happy time in a harsh environment and lives are being saved both physically and spiritually.

Another experience I had came from working closely with the "Porters". S.P. has employed Haitians to carry the sick from the street to the tents or from tents to tents. Frequently, I would have to call out to the "porter" to come pick up my patient from triage and carry them to the admission tent. I'm from the south and I do have that southern drawl. It became a joke to them (friendly kidding) to see if they could imitate me calling out for the "porter". They taught me some simple Creole phrases (stand, sit, and Can you walk). They loved hearing my southern drawl in their language. I didn't mind their kidding. In fact, I taught them to say, "Haaaay Ya'll".

What do you see as the successes and challenges in Haiti?

When you look around Haiti with the devastation still there from the earthquake, it's hard to find anything to say that is "successful." But, when you travel through the city of Port-au-Prince, you can't miss the blue S.P. tarps that are everywhere. One thing that I personally see as a challenge is people no longer want to give money to help the people in Haiti. I hear over and over that the money "isn't getting to the people". My response to that is I too feel it is true that Haiti's government is not doing all that they can for their people. That being said, I didn't go to Haiti to help their government. I went for the people. I just can't ignore what is happening there. I just can't.

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