April Newsletter:  A Personal Look Into La Gonave's Healthcare System

April Newsletter: A Personal Look Into La Gonave’s Healthcare System

I have just returned from a remarkable trip to Gran Sous.  Well, so far all of my trips to Gran Sous have been remarkable in their own right, but this trip was extraordinary in many ways.  I felt privileged to be part of a trip that the community had decided was of particular importance to them.

On March 19th, Vida Kent, a midwife from Minnesota, and I, met Chad in Port au Prince for yet another adventurous crossing (by sea) to La Gonave, and then on to Gran Sous via truck.  Our first impression was that of shock and disbelief.  It was dark as we began the truck portion of the trip, and we couldn’t believe the spectacle that unfolded as the truck’s headlights illuminated the dust-laden trees, shrubs and buildings that lined the roadway.  It has not rained on La Gonave since November 2010, and every inch of the landscape gives evidence of the drought.  As we disembarked from the truck, our feet sank into inches of dust, so fine it reminded us of sifted flour.  The physical conditions, always challenging, appeared considerably more daunting than usual; the dust was everywhere, little children playing at their usual games were covered with dust, the animals are covered with dust, trucks and motorcycles rolled by and caused temporary dust storms.  People wore cloth over their faces to keep the powdery dust out of their eyes and mouths; the entire scene looked more like a desert than a tropical Caribbean island.  Yet, the people move through their daily lives with their usual patience and perseverance, an immediate lesson to me of the old refrain, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!”

Our trip was dedicated to the goal of a combined midwifery workshop and information gathering week spent with local health workers, midwives, and pregnant women and children.  Both Vida and I had been part of a trip to Gran Sous in March 2010, during which time we had met with a group of local midwives to talk about their wishes for further training.  Many of the ideas expressed at that time exceeded the medical support system available in the areas, but others were obtainable.  Based on those requests, Vida and I put together a curriculum for three days of workshops with two other days dedicated to information gathering.

We are indebted to the American College of Nurse-Midwives for the inspiration found in their Home Based Life Saving Skills Training Program.  Although this program was not suitable for our present needs, given time constraints and language barriers, it provided us with the spark necessary to light our combined thought processes.

We gathered together bright and early each morning with twelve midwives from Gran Sous and neighboring towns as well as members of the Health Commission (a sub-committee within APDAG), Chad Bissonnette, and our interpreter.  Thanks to the able translation skills of our local interpreter and Chad, the language barrier was gracefully overcome.

It was our goal to keep the workshops culturally appropriate and sensitive, with adequate opportunity for the midwives to ask questions and offer opinions and comments as we went along.  Each day was devoted to a particular topic that had been requested previously.  As we presented a topic, we used visuals that were completely illustration-based.  These proved extremely popular.  At the end of each session every midwife received a packet of the visual aids used that day so they could keep them as reference and share with their fellow midwives who were unable to attend the workshops.  It was great fun to see their enthusiasm for these packets and to hear on their return the next day how they had reviewed and shared the information already.

In our opinion, only slightly biased, the sessions went very well, even better than we might have anticipated.  The midwives were gracious, humorous, both eager to learn new and different ways of approaching problems as well as to share their unique knowledge with us.  One of the most heartwarming impressions that both Vida and I came away with was their collective wish to do the best possible job in delivering healthy babies and protecting the health of the mothers.  The similarities in our goals and experiences far outweighed the differences.  As we shared together, it was evident that the local midwives were relieved to find that the same kinds of maternal/child issues exist on differing levels the world over and that the problems they encounter were not exclusive to Haiti because of the harsh conditions the mothers and babies endure.  They were genuinely amazed that with all our “foreign” technology childbirth difficulties cannot always be predicted.

One of the most basic tenets of safe childbirth is the availability of a clean birth environment and clean equipment.  This is of particular concern for the island of La Gonave. The midwives are well aware of their limitations in this area and continued to express their frustration with the lack of dependable “clean birthing kits.”  This had been a major area of discussion during our information gathering last year.  Providing a large quantity of these kits became my personal mission.

Fortunately, through generous donations from my local chapter of Altrusa International, this project became a reality.  I was able to purchase enough materials to put together 200 plus kits.  I was aided in this laborious task by several loyal friends and my long-suffering husband.  One of the basic principles of Roots of Development is to make certain that each project we undertake is sustainable.  To this end, I have made a five-year commitment to provide an ongoing supply of supplementary clean birth kits, while working with the Health Commission to find a reliable local solution.  The distribution of these kits to the midwives will be monitored by the Health Commission.

On the days not spent in workshops, we were fortunate enough to interview pregnant women and meet women having recently given birth.  These women discussed pre-natal care and local access to healthcare in the area.  We also met with a nurse who runs the local World Vision-funded dispensary as well as with one of the local health agents, also financed by World Vision.  Through these meetings we were able to gain further insight into the kinds of services they provide.  We also spent time with the Health Commission to discuss their goals and forthcoming projects.  All of this information will prove invaluable as Roots of Development continues to support APDAG’s plans for the future.

All in all, Vida and I agree, that this was time well spent.  An excellent opportunity to better understand the economic, social, and medical needs of the local population.  I can’t wait to return again!

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