Impact Makers in Haiti: Part 1

14125075_10154273894395673_1748940050530550677_oWe are so proud of our !mers. Katy Dynes and Jessica Clatterbuck are currently in Haiti supporting our pro bono partner, Midwives for Haiti. Here is Katy’s account of the first couple days of their meaningful trip.

Stay tuned for more Haiti stories to come!


Haiti is amazing!  The people are warm and friendly.  It is important to them that their outward appearance is appealing; people are always very clean and their clothes are pressed, which is amazing when you see the kind of poverty they live in and deal with every day.

Our first day in Haiti was in Port au Prince (PaP), having breakfast of pancakes, sausage and fresh squeezed passion fruit juice at Heartline where we stayed the first night (this is definitely better than I get at home!).  Our MFH driver arrived at 11:30 to take us to “Servhotel” to meet Steve and Nadene for lunch.  They had hot showers at their hotel. After we shared lunch with Nadene, Steve, and the drivers, we got in our vehicles and started to head out of PaP for Hinche, or so we thought…

After about an hour of starting down one crowded road after another only to be met with an impassable traffic jam, we ended up back where we started and contemplated spending another night in PaP.  Now that I’ve seen Hinche, the tension in PaP is palpable; more people, more evident poverty (if that’s even possible), more traffic, more burning trash.  We finally found a route out of town and were very happy to be on our way.  The countryside of Haiti is quite beautiful; hilly, mountainous, green – it was raining.  The drivers had put our duffels and bags on top and covered them with a tarp.  Some of my stuff got wet despite the tarp.  The ride was quite bumpy; roads here are either nicely paved of cobblestone or horrendous, muddy, with huge lakes from the rain.  People walk alongside the roads everywhere.  Death by traffic accident is a strong possibility here, especially if you are a pedestrian.

We passed the “Lac de Péligre,” a manmade lake built by the Army Corps of Engineers.  It’s a beautiful lake, but a sad story about all of the farmers that were displaced to build the lake, leaving them with no way to earn a living.  Many live in poverty because farming was all that they knew and they had no other land to farm.  It takes 2 ½ – 3 hours to drive from PaP to Hinche (pronounced “inche” in Creole).

If you know about third world countries you know that there is seldom a middle class.  Such is the case in Haiti.  The well-off, tourists, foreign workers and such live behind steel gates and razor wire.  Everyday Haitians live by the side of the road or in the city in very simple homes.  I don’t feel any animosity or envy from Haitians. People either greet me or respond when I greet them kindly.

20160829_151045Dinner the first night was really yummy; chicken legs cooked in lime juice, rice and beans, fruit.  The girls who live and work at the house on a permanent basis sometimes make their own food because the cooks tend to make the same dishes week after week, but it has been quite interesting to Jessie and me.  Neither of us had eaten goat before; if cooked right it’s quite tender and tasty (especially if I don’t think about how cute they are).  There are goats roaming free everywhere here.  I understand they do belong to people, but it’s hard to believe.  Jessie and I were quite tired and it gets dark here at about 5:30 p.m. (we’re on Central time), and light at 5:30 a.m.

Day 1 at Midwives For Haiti was Sunday, which is a chill day here; it’s one of the few days that the staff really doesn’t do a lot of work.  We went to the Episcopal Church with Nadene Brunk (Executive Director of MFH).  The church was packed.  Most Haitians are very religious, spiritual people and go to church every Sunday (and hedge their bets with a little voodoo).  The service was long at two hours, but everyone stayed and I recognized hymns and prayers from my upbringing in the Episcopal Church.  We took books to read during the sermon and other speaking since it was all in Creole.  After church and during the remainder of the day Jessie and I read and chatted with the staff, and napped – it’s very hot midday, and that takes a toll on you and saps your energy.  After a dinner of rice and beans, fruit and really delicious goat potato soup, we met with Brittany to review the first training class for the midwives and our schedule for the week.

Day 2 at MFH – Monday was the first day (of three) of two-hour training sessions on the new CommCare app for the midwives. Brittany has done a great job planning and facilitating the training.  Jessie and I introduced ourselves and thanked them for coming as Brittany said is customary here.  Some things are universal. Both Jessie and I had translators arranged by Joanne, the Volunteer Coordinator for MFH; Isabel and Pleasure respectively.  Both are really excellent interpreters (although Pleasure has never been out of Haiti he speaks French, English, Spanish and Italian).  This first day of training was focused on MFH tablet procedures and also general operation of the tablet that we don’t think much about; on/off, home, swiping, brightness and volume control, entering passwords (a real challenge for some to do before the screen closed on them!).

The midwives also completed two surveys that Brittany had designed to help her understand how they feel about their current process, and how much experience they have with smart phones, tablets or computers and what they think about using them for mobile clinic data collection.  Some were a little intimidated, (quiet) but Jessie and I both noticed that several indicated they thought it would be a better method than their current paper method. Brittany had the midwives break into two groups; those who work the large mobile clinics (large villages where the Land Cruiser is used both to transport the midwives to and from the clinic, and to transport women to the hospital from clinic), and those who work the small mobile clinics (smaller villages where two midwives go out on a “moto”, or motorbike). The task was to enter all of the questions they ask their patients on stickie notes and put them in order of when they ask the questions.  Our snack today was water and Kind bars I brought from home. I had brought a bunch because it is customary to share snacks with your translator and I didn’t know how many I would need.

Joanne had arranged a tour of Hinche and creole lessons for me and Jessie.  We began with the tour and Kelby as our tour guide.  A lot of the transportation here is done by moto.  We had two motos, two drivers and Kelby acted as both tour guide and driver.  Several translators and drivers are employed on a regular basis by Midwives For Haiti.  They have numerous volunteers come from the states (50/50 midwives and other volunteers) and more are beginning to volunteer from the UK, Germany and other countries.  On our tour we saw the city square, which is also the center of Hinche and the center of the country.  Next to the square lies the oldest cathedral in the Caribbean.  It’s quite simple and beautiful.  It is still used for prayer services and community gatherings.  Kelby also took us to see the new cathedral which replaced the old one.  We traveled by moto through the six block area that makes up the market place; mostly dirt streets packed with wall to wall vendors selling everything that you can imagine.

I told Kelby I didn’t know how he manages to avoid hitting people when he drives through an area so packed with people.  I learned the traffic pecking order later from Brittany Tusing at dinner.  Since pedestrians are the smallest, they are at the bottom, then motos, then small vehicles, then larger vehicles.  Both motos and vehicles are constantly beeping their horns to alert both people and vehicles of their intentions.  The myriad of stray dogs, small children, horses and many goats just seem to know to stay out of the way.  We also went by the Hinche cemetery, which was quite beautiful, but unkempt.  When we returned to the house we had our first Creole lesson.  I tried hard to remember by year of French in 6th grade – before I switched to Spanish.  Dinner was a different goat soup (goat is the main meat here), rice and a really delicious brown sauce with onions.  Eating leftovers from lunch is always an option for dinner.

After dinner Brittany, Jessie and I compared the two mobile clinic lists (large and small, or “gwo” and “ti” from training, and realized they were similar enough that they didn’t warrant two separate forms within the CommCare app.  Jessie then incorporated the midwifes’ feedback into the tool.  This analysis and configuration took a few hours.  Then off to our mosquito-netted beds!

– Katy Dynes, !mer