Working in Haiti after Photo-ops Have Waned

LES CAYES, HAITI (August 31, 2010) – Cindy Hoover, an Evangelical Covenant Church medical missionary serving for a month in Haiti, says she is awed by the resilience shown by the people of that nation despite still horrific conditions and overwhelming challenges.

“They have lost limbs, lost family, or lost function from other health situations,” Hoover says, but “they are embracing life and working hard to be involved.”

Hoover normally serves in Oaxaca, Mexico, but the physician has traveled to Haiti to work with Medical Teams International (MTI), a longtime partner with Covenant World Relief.

Hoover is spending three of her four weeks working in Les Cayes, located on the south coast, where MTI has a rehabilitation hospital, Advantage Haiti. The ministry is providing prosthetics and helping people with disabilities to re-integrate into the community.

Then Hoover will go to Port-au-Prince for one week, where she will help a church that has taken in 70 orphans, all of whom need pediatric care. She also will be seeking out additional partnerships for improving public health.

“By now the ‘romance’ of the situation is waning—those who want to do something with quick results and great photos have gone on to something new, and the slow hard work of building infrastructure and systems while still attending to urgent needs is the day-to-day reality,” she writes on a blog she is maintaining about her experience.

“There’s no doubt there was a huge need for immediate relief after the earthquake,” writes Hoover, who has a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University. “But now is the time that a huge difference that can impact years and decades to come can result from evaluating the situation, the resources (both Haitian and of donor organizations), and the will of the people, and facilitating the building of a new and hopefully better system.”

That system already was in shambles in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation before the earthquake that struck seven months ago, but it is far worse today. The day-to-day reality includes piles of garbage, a near absence of healthcare, and an economy in which 80 percent of the people are unemployed. Mobility is difficult, and there is no concept of making buildings or “roads” accessible for people with disabilities, Hoover says.

“The patients I have seen are amazing in their determination and success,” Hoover says.

Hoover expresses her frustration with some of the items that have been sent to help the Haitians. “What makes people think that things that cannot be repaired and reused in the U.S. can be in Haiti, where there are fewer resources and less know-how?” she asks. “Wheelchairs missing foot rests or without tires, biomedical equipment in need of repair, and items totally worn out are sent here.”

She adds, “Shouldn’t we consider giving good things rather than castoffs?”

At the same time, Hoover is able to identify humorous experiences. “It is really hard to put on powderless gloves when your hands are hot and sweaty,” she says. “After laughing at my attempts, the nurse finally showed me the trick of shaking it out, holding wide the wrist and blowing into it, and squeezing air down into the fingers. It was still a bit of a challenge, but at least my fingers were starting to get in the right slots.”

More information about Hoover’s experiences can be found on her blog.

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