Life, Death, Politics and Helicopters

9 03 2010

I just returned on the 5th of March from Jimani, Dominican Republic where I had been working since January 25th. I am taking an unspecified amount of vacation to try and recover from over a month of days without eating, nights without sleeping, explosive political situations, unbelievable miracles, wonderful volunteers, idiotic volunteers, beautiful paitents, and running a hospital with short and long term memory loss.

During this time I will probably be hiding out somewhere in Santo Domingo, Haiti, Washington State, and maybe even California. My body, my mind, and my spirit are all exhausted. I can no longer put together coherent sentences in spanish, and my english makes little sense. I don’t know where I will be tomorrow more or less where I will be in the next few days. But I do know I will be trying to rest.

They tell me I am older now, they say that I gave my butt to Haiti (which is quite sad, because I believe I used to have a very nice butt). I have become quite self focused and it seems I have spent all of my compassion, patience, and most of my love. The wilderness is calling me. God is calling me, I don’t know where I am going or how I am getting there, but I know I must go. These next few weeks will be peppered with short stories of my time at the Buen Samaritano Surgical Center (it used to be Hospital, but they changed, hoping some peeps in charge would look more favorably at that name) in Jimani, Dominican Republic, which is the border town that you must go through if you are traveling from Santo Domingo to Port au Prince (or vice versa).

As I squish the ants crawling across my computer I can’t help but feel like recovering from this is going to take a long, and very short time. What that means, I do not know. But what I do know is that I’m being called back here soon, and that while I take this time now to regain my strength, it won’t take long before I will feel compelled to go deeper into Haiti. Where? I don’t really know. But what I do know is that God is here, and he is everywhere.

If you are friends and family, please forgive me for being aloof. I love you all dearly and am so thankful for all the love, prayer, and support that you have all sent me. There are no words to express my grattitude for all of you. I hope to see you all soon, but cannot give any dates as of yet as I do not know when I will be coherent enough to make a decision.

Much love, much peace, and please for the love of everything that is good and holy, remember the next time you are fighting with someone over something that may be really important to you, that in the big scheme of things, maybe it isn’t that important. Bring a little peace to your life and others and let it go.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God”





Finally heading back to the border

24 01 2010

I’ll be back on the border for the next week getting things ready for our teams. Things are starting to slow down and the needs are beginning to change from trauma to longterm post op care.

All your prayers and thoughts are appreciated. I’ll be updating when I can, but it might be a while.





My time in Jimani, DR

20 01 2010

I spent the last three nights at the border in Jimani at a hospital/orphanage with about 7 hours of sleep, helping different sized medical groups transition to attempt medical relief. During the days we could function but during the nights 95% of the doctors would be forced to leave, and all that was left where a few doctors, a few nurses, two support staff, and hundreds of suffering patients who have lost everything. The days were full of hope, but the nights were a struggle for survival.

I watched as desperate men and women waited days for their child to receive attention. I watched patients with spinal fractures die, because there was no place that could treat them.  One of my staff watched a small orphan boy with an amputated arm disappear in to the chaos of patients. I changed dressings of infected legs that would later be amputated. I watched groups of experienced doctors completely overwhelmed by the immense suffering searching for someone, anyone, to tell them what to do. I lay awake at night listening to the screams of patients as they were moved in and out of surgery. It was order during the day and chaos at night.

I watched as medical volunteers from Spain, Chile, US, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Poland, and Canada come together across seemingly impossible language barriers to bring badly needed relief to these suffering people. I watched missionaries from many different denominations coming together to care for these people by passing out food, singing, and holding them. I watched people translate between four different languages to help one person. I watched as family helped patients go to the bathroom in the open with as much dignity, love and care as could be given. I watched violent situations be calmed by listening.

Not only medical help is needed, but basic logistics. We need people to drive cars, to deliver gas, to move patients, to make food, to hold babies, or to just sit and help paralyzed people eat. There are literally hundreds of thousands orphans, widows, and widowers who need our help. Anything from a donation to coming down and helping rebuild the lives of a people who are suffering is needed; not only now but in the next six months, and the next five years

I have heard from people in Port au Prince that the only aid being given right now is from small groups of missionaries with little to no resources, Dominicans who came in with limited food and water, and Haitians. I have heard that the US and UN are not distributing aid that is coming in on one hundred air craft’s every day. There have also been rumors that the U.S. is hesitant to enter because they don’t want another Afghanistan to re-build. Why is it taking so long to get help? Where is the US? Why is it, the only people helping are those who have nothing, and those who have everything are waiting?

If you would like to donate or help here are some organizations that are committed to Disaster relief for the long haul. I have personally worked with all of them and I vouch for them.

Foundation for Peace- www.foundationforpeace.org

Cure International- www.helpcurenow.org

One Day’s Wages- www.onedayswages.org





Jimani, DR on the border of HAITI; My experience

19 01 2010

I spent the last three nights at the border in a hospital/orphanage with about 7 hours of sleep, basically helping different sized medical groups transition to give badly needed help. The days we were able to get things done, but during the nights 95% of the doctors would leave with their groups, and all that was left where a few doctors, a few nurses, a small support staff, and hundreds of suffering patients and family who have lost everything. The days were full of hope, but the nights were a struggle of survival.

A low estimate of patients treated would be 300-500 in three days (They just kept being dropped off from Port Au Prince and other hospitals. It was difficult to tell how many), but without the facilities to get everyone surgeries, they were triaged, stabilized, the worst ones were sent to surgery for fixators or amputations. And the others sent to refuges.

After our first night a Haitian woman came looking for supplies. She told us that she had 3,000 injured Haitians on the other side who did not have food, water, or medication. We could not give them our supplies because we had very few for our patients. When she was getting ready to leave her truck broke down and we were able to get her to a mechanic who was able to fix it for free. In the end we were able to give her a box full of antibiotics and some water from a nearby water system.

ALL THE WOUNDS AND INJURIES ARE NOW 7 DAYS OLD AND INFECTED. AND THERE ARE LITTERALLY TENS OF THOUSANDS OF HAITIANS WAITING FOR TREATMENT, WHO WILL DIE IF THEY DON’T GET HELP SOON. WE ONLY WERE ABLE TO HELP A HANDFUL AND EVERY HOSPITAL ON OR NEAR THE DOMINICAN BORDER IS OVERFLOWING.  Before this the hospitals in the DR were hardly able to help the few patients that would come in. None of them have the supplies to even begin to help what is going on. Not to mention that the majority of patients with fractures and open wounds will need weeks, months, and even years of follow up care.

 

We as organizations need to be in this for the long haul. Your support is needed now, 6 months from now, and 5 years from now.

 

I watched as patients desperate for help waited days to receive attention. I watched patients with spinal fractures waiting to die, because there were no places for them to go.  One of my staff watched a small child with an amputated arm who had lost all 6 members of his immediate family disappear in the chaos of patients. I changed dressings of infected legs that would later be amputated. I watched groups of doctors with limited time do their best to try and give what little relief they could to a handful of patients. I laid awake at night listening to the screams of patients as they were moved in and out of surgery.

I watched as medical volunteers (ranging from one person to a group of 100) from Spain, Chile, The United States, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Poland, Canada and more who came together across seemingly impossible language barriers to help these people. I watched missionaries from many different denominations coming together to care for these people by passing out food, or singing, or just being with people. People translated from Creole to Spanish, Spanish to English, English to Japanese. I watched family members help patients go to the bathroom with as much dignity, love and care as could be given.

The suffering is unbelievable.

Not only medical help is needed, but basic logistics. People to drive cars, to deliver gas, to move patients, to make food, to hold babies, or to just sit and help paralyzed people eat. To help people go to the bathroom. There are literally hundreds of thousands orphans, widows, and widowers who need our help. Anything from a donation to coming down and helping rebuild the lives of a people who are suffering is needed. Not only now but six months from now, one year from now.

I have heard rumors that the US and UN are unable to distribute aid to the people in port au prince because of logistical problems. There have also been rumors that the U.S. is hesitant to enter because then everyone else will think that they are occupying them and taking on the responsibility of re-habilitating them.

I have heard from people in Port au Prince that the only aid being given right now is from small groups of missionaries with little to no resources, Dominicans who came in with limited food and water, and Haitians. Why is it taking so long to get help? Where is the US? Why are those with resources and security not helping those who don’t have any? Why is it a week after and hundreds of thousands of Haitians have not been helped.

P.S. I am hopefully going back in two days. I will hopefully have internet access at that time. As well and will be updating my facebook and blog.





CAES; School for the Deaf in San Pedro

17 10 2009

So this Tuesday I worked with a group from Texas to do hearing tests and fit about 70 people with new hearing aids. The week before I got a chance to visit it and decided to write a little history of the school for the foundation and people back home. So  here it is…

CAES; School for the Deaf in San Pedro

                Arriving at CAES the first thing you notice is that it seems extremely quiet for how many children you see running around. The smiles and quick hand movements show how excited the students are to have visitors that look so different. Quickly glancing around I noted that there were two main buildings with unfinished second floors, a bathroom, a small cafeteria shack, and what looked like small offices. There are also several trees, a basketball court and a large garden. Along with the children are several adults, some of them are speaking and others are signing. We are introduced to Jose Montilla, the founder of this humble school. As we sit in the shade on some benches he begins his story.

                Jose used to fix shoes for a living. He and his family were able to use this skill to feed themselves and send him to university. It wasn’t much, but at least it put food on the table. One day a young deaf mute came to him and asked him to repair his shoes for free. Jose conveyed to this young boy that he had to eat and he couldn’t do it for free. The young boy had nothing to give him, so Jose decided that he would teach him how to repair his own shoes. The next day the young boy returned with three of his friends, who were also deaf. The next day 5, and the next day 10. This was the beginning of his school for the deaf. During his story I couldn’t help but feel that this very unassuming man was not only bright, but brimming with compassion.

                As more and more people came to Jose and he began to realize the needs of the deaf community in San Pedro, he needed a space. He was able to use a small piece of land and meet with students in the shade of some trees. They then built a shack so that they could study out of the elements. One of the biggest problems they faced was that they needed light so that the students could see lips and signs. Because there was no electricity and no money to buy candles, Jose decided to teach the children how to make them. This not only gave them light, but taught them a valuable skill. The children would make the candles for the class room and sell them to help support the school.

One day, while in Santo Domingo he saw an advertisement for one of the main private schools for Deaf children. Contacting them and showing them the school they quickly wanted to help. They contacted some of their supporters at the U.S. Embassy and with the Japanese government. The U.S. Embassy donated the funds to buy the materials and build the main school house, while the Japanese government donated the funds to build the technical school, and another government agency donated some computers and the school and the community did further fundraising to buy more computers giving them a large enough lab to get approved by the local university as a training center.

The public schools in San Pedro and all around the Dominican Republic don’t want deaf children and turn them away. As more and more people heard about Jose’s school, they would send him more and more unwanted deaf children. Now this school serves the entire East side of the Dominican Republic. With the little resources that he had he refused to turn these children away. “If you have a loaf of bread and five people are hungry, you share it between them. If you have that same loaf of bread, but 100 are hungry, you share that loaf of bread with all of them.” There are now four centers for the deaf in different areas of the Dominican Republic, all of which have a teacher and meet wherever they can. CAES serves a total of 250 deaf students, and many more alumni.

CAES has now been running for 18 years. The school teaches lip reading as well as Sign Language. (They have just developed a Dominican Sign-language which matches the culture and country where these students will live the rest of their lives). It is one of the only schools in the Dominican Republic which teaches both. The two main private schools in Santo Domingo teach one or the other. The institute also teaches reading, writing, basic arithmetic, and trade skills.

Their technical school has four rooms. The first is where they teach the students basic maid service skills so that they might obtain a job in the local hotels and resorts. The second room is a computer class where students learn basic and advanced computer skills. The local Dominican technical university has a partnership with the school and students that complete the program leave with a certified computer technical degree. The third room is the beauty school where students learn the basics of being a beautician. The last room is the massage school. Here students learn massage therapy skills so that they might be able to get jobs at the resorts. Each of these rooms gives students skills to do more than just survive. These rooms give deaf children and adults opportunities to live. Out of the other schools in the Dominican Republic they have the highest success rate of deaf graduates finding jobs.

The school also has a program that provides cows to adult alumni of the school. The cow’s milk helps give nutrition to the adult and their family. They are required to give the first calf away to another graduate. After this they then are free to use the cow however they see fit. Whether to continue breeding and develop a side income from selling calves.  They currently have 24 animals in the project!

Jose also shared with us the struggles that people with disabilities face daily from families, the local communities, and their government. When you go to a family of a disabled child and ask after them, many of the parents will not recognize their name. After persistent questions, the parent will recognize that you are talking about their “crazy one”. Having a child with disabilities in the Dominican Republic is considered by the culture to be disgraceful. Many wealthy families will send their children to special schools where their maidservants will bring them food and things they need. But they won’t see them for months on end.

We met a young girl who was deaf and mentally handicapped. She greeted all of us with a large smile, a hug, and a traditional Dominican kiss. She had no father, no mother, and her only brother put her in a “crazy house” when she was a small child. She had somehow found her way to this school and Jose. When she arrived, he saw her and when he found out she had no one or a place to stay, he couldn’t turn her away. So now she stays in one of the class rooms at the school during the night and attends school during the day. Jose informed us that her story isn’t that uncommon. There are many adults and children there who don’t have a safe place to go at night, but there is no place to put them at the school. He wishes that he could build a dormitory or a place so that students who really needed a safe place could have one.

The school does its best to work with parents of the children and the community to try and battle the stigma that surrounds physical and mental handicaps. They invite people to the school and do their best to get the parents involved. They also host special trainings once a week for teachers, parents, and community members.   40-60% of the parents attend these meetings which is truly remarkable.

The teachers of the school are paid 4,500 pesos a month (Roughly 120 U.S. dollars). Many of them are fresh from university with two or three months of training from both of the private schools in Santo Domingo. The government refuses to recognize the school and pay the teachers.   Even though it is stated in their constitution that education should be free few schools in the country are able to meet that standard. All of their salaries come from outside support. When talking about this, Jose expressed that he knows if the Secretary of Education or the First Lady of the Dominican Republic were to come and visit this place they would be moved to tears and would galvanize the government into helping. But as it is right now, they are surrounded with advisors and groups of people who keep them ignorant of the discrimination that these children face.

Because of the lack of funding, the Institute cannot compete with teacher salaries of local private schools. So when a teacher has spent enough time and has the experience to effectively lead a classroom, the private schools usually come in and offer 30,000 pesos a month (Roughly 850 U.S. dollars). As of right now there is one teacher at the school who is qualified to teach special needs children, while the rest of the teachers are only qualified to assist, but are forced to teach their own classes. There are over 200 students at this school with too few teachers.

With the limited space and teaching staff, many of the classrooms have 20 students in them and have several grade levels packed into the same tight space. Besides the noticeable quietness of the classrooms the first thing you notice are the smiles. Towards the end of our conversation they served us Habichuela con Dulce, a traditional Dominican desert only brought out on special occasions. As we finished up our conversation sipping on our steaming hot treat, we noticed that the students were getting loaded into a 12 passenger van. Jose had explained to us that because they only have one van, and it costs 1,000 pesos for each trip, they have to fit all of the kids into it. 32 children later, the overcrowded van was ready to leave. “When it costs a quarter of a teacher’s monthly salary to make one trip, you cannot take more than one.” Jose and his staff would love to have a bigger, safer, vehicle, but they have to make do with the things that they have. “When you only have one loaf of bread, you must share it with everyone.”

As we were getting ready to leave, Jose thanked us for coming and as we were saying our good-byes I could only think about how CAES was giving these students an opportunity to learn how to express themselves. I was blown away at the compassion that this man and his staff had for these beautiful men, women, and children. Their chains of silence are being shattered by the wonderful teachers at CAES. They are not only giving them an education, but also a voice in a place that sees their silence as a reason to ignore their humanity.





The best way to see Guatemala

30 08 2009

The best way to see Guatemala is hanging from the door of a chicken bus at 40 miles per hour. I just arrived in Xela from the Mountain school today. Four weeks flys by so fast. I had a big break through with my spanish last week and it felt really good to be able to undrstand 99% of what was being said to me, but frustrating that I still have trouble finding the words I need (but that is the beauty of spending an extended amount of time in Latin America, one day it won´t be so hard).

I am spending the night in Xela and then going on to Chimaltenango to join a group of SPU students who are working in schools on  a Sprint trip. I will spend four days with them and then I will head out to the Dominican Republic. I have been having a great time here and have met some amazing people. there is so much processing left to do from this trip and it will be really good (for me, maybe not for you).

The struggle for survival down here is extremely difficult. There are so many stories and struggles. I see so much struggle, and at the same time hope in seemingly hopeless situations. I am faced with the people and reasons why I want to go into healthcare every day. Even more, I am growing more and more aware of the things that need to change before a country can become healthy. I am growing more and more aware of the history of struggle this country has gone through and how people with a voice need to be active in changing the direction of where history is leading.

One last thought. Before I left for my trip i was having a conversation with someone about how this economic crisis was affecting developing countries. When there is a global crisis, who suffers the most? I stated that it is the poorest countries that are hit the hardest by global crisis. My friend (who, sorry, I honestly can´t remember who you are but I still love you) retorted that no, developing countries just stop developing during crisis, they maintain where they are. That made sense, developing countries just stopped developing. After being here for a month I see now that my friend was mistaken. During a global crisis, developing countries loose what economic development they have gained and the reality is they starve, and people´s lives are on the line. For the last week, men from the community near the mountain school have not been able to find work. more than that the economy here is slowly worseneing. Guatemala relies on western civilizations for tourism, and money sent back home from migrant workers. when we have a hiccup, they have a crisis, when we have a crisis they are living in life and death situations. Sorry to be such a downer, but next time someone in the states thinks they have it bad, affirm them in their struggle and how difficult it is, but also remind them of what they can be thankful for. Thankfullness is how people survive down here… and honestly, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.





Common Mistakes in Spanish

23 08 2009

Here are a few of my favorite mistakes.

1)When you think a child is saying inappropriate things straight to your face like calling you a duragatory name, make sure you listen carefully to what they say and know the common insults of the region. If you don’t you could rebuke a small child who just wanted a picture because you thought he was calling you gay in a very mean and malicious way. (Photo sounds a lot like Hoto, which in Mexico is a derogatory name for homosexuals, but in Guatemala it doesn’t mean anything).

2) When telling someone their name make sure you conjugate te llamas right or else you might be telling them you love them (Te llamo Tito sounds the exact same as te amo Tito which means “I love you Tito”). This can be semi-embarassing.

3) When asking for Tea make sure you put the te part after the quiero part or else you are telling them you love them, or if you just confessed your love using “te quiero” (I want you) and you are embarrassed you can cover it up by saying “quiero te” which means “I want tea.”

4) When learning Spanish make sure you allow yourself to look foolish and make mistakes, or else you end up at the border of Honduras instead of Mexico (I didn’t experience this one exactly but came close).

5) When speaking to a drunk man who is trying to speak broken English, don’t respond in English. Respond in Spanish it will help them out a lot (and keep you safe if they think you don’t know English).

6) The name for fleas is Pulgas (This isn’t a mistake, but it is important to be able to tell your host family when you have fleas in your bed, they aren’t very good bed mates, they keep you up sometimes, even if they aren’t there.)

7) When speaking to a Guatemalteca (or teco depending on your gender preference) and you don’t understand what they are saying, mix up your “si” and “no” answers. That way you keep them on their toes and you have a 50/50 chance of refusing their marriage proposal.

8) When someone says something about a number they are not always asking about the time. (“blah blah blah tres blah blah blah”. Don’t respond, “no el tiempo es 4:30.” This happened to me at a birthday party when three women were sitting on a couch with me and they made a joke about 3 to 1 ratio and I thought I was being cool saying no it’s 4:30 pm. They laughed for a long time.)

9) Make sure you have a translator double check what prescription you just bought or else you could take Malaria medication for a stomach virus (this happened to one of the men at our school and he was not doing well). Adding night terrors to your diarrhea is never fun.

10) (Mistake to be avoided by women) If you are traveling with a man and you are just friends it is better to act and say you are married than to let a potentially drunk perverted man think you are single. The preception of singleness can lead to a very uncomfortable 3 hour bus ride, and many preverse jokes at your expense. And if you are traveling by yourself, try sitting next to women.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.