A Haiti update from our CEO's latest visit
29 May 2021 12:07
Last week, our CEO and Co-Founder Carwyn Hill was super excited to be back in Haiti, spending his time vision setting with the local team and giving an extra hand to the ongoing projects. . Read more about his latest trip with some exciting project updates below:
My recent trip to Haiti was busy, packed with lots of meetings, with lots of people across multiple programmes. I’ve subsequently struggled to write a concise blog about the trip. But, perhaps summarising the visit into three areas on how I spent my time will be easiest;:
(1) Overcoming hurdles
(2) Vision setting
(3) Connecting with the local people
It’s been a tough few years for Haiti, with rising instability (evidenced through the remains of recent road blocks on our way in and out of the country), economic decline and a health system reported to be on the ‘brink of collapse’. Our partner hospital isn’t immune to these national challenges. It’s budget planning time for the hospital and this year we grapple with how to respond to the genuine need of staff pay increases. Our translator Joe shared with me that the cost of a bottle of water has doubled in recent years, so too has his transport to and from work. The hospital already operates on a financial knife edge. Last year we had to reduce our respite centres operating hours by 50% due to these realities.
Aside from finances, even the basics of running a hospital are hard. For instance, electricity…we all take it for granted. But even providing reliable energy 24/7 can be a challenge. To add to these day to day realities, whilst I’m in Haiti a new wave of COVID emerges and our emergency COVID ward is re-opened, receiving more patients than we did last summer. The hospital and HHA can’t really afford to re-open, with more staff and materials needed (costing £2,800+ a month), but we have no choice. One lady arrives on local transport too late and sadly dies before getting into the unit. It’s a humbling reminder of the impact of COVID19, even as things ease in the UK.
However, alongside the challenges, there are plenty of amazing things happening, with the realisation of past visions coming true and new dreams emerging. Too many highs to write about, but here’s a quick summary of some…
- The new wheelchair distribution centre is a dream come true. What a joy to partner with Walkabout Foundation as we move forward, providing 900+ wheelchairs a year to every corner of Haiti!
- Thanks to HHA US I got to see the impact of their Christmas campaign, as the foster families from our respite centre now have their own transport home. I was bought to tears on my last trip hearing of the stigma and abuse mothers faced to simply get a lift home with their children with disabilities. In Haiti, you can’t take these small wins for granted.
- Mon Bijou (a social business bakery that employs persons with disabilities), funded by Haiti Rehab Schweiz was up and running and has now merged with the hospitals cafeteria…a much better space from the dingy kitchen the hospital used to have.
- And then, perhaps most exciting for me, final plans for our new Neonatal Unit extension are now so close to completion! A unit that will dramatically improve the care mums and babies can receive. We hope to launch this new project very soon! It was also a joy bringing new equipment in our suitcases for the unit: 1 x new CPAP machine, 2 x phototherapy units, some pulse oximeters and lots more…
CONNECTING WITH THE PEOPLE:
It’s not just about the problems, it’s about the people. I’ve been reflecting on this a lot recently, and what a high to re-connect with so many amazing people.
Individuals like Miss Jean, heading up our COVID ward who I witness working ridiculous hours in full PPE, in 30+ degree heat and unbearable humidity. Or our Medical Director, who I hear has been personally helping to fund some of the salary needs himself. He’s not alone. The hospital urgently needs it’s dirt road sorted out which is littered with pot holes. A temporary fix will cost about $1500. The Haitian staff have raised 50% of this! We hope to fund the other 50%.
Then there’s our HHA team, Brooke, Rob, Phil and Joe, doing incredible work – what a privilege to have them on board! Our international team volunteer for us in Haiti. We pay for flights, accommodation and a small per diem, but they give 110% night and day.
And of course, there’s the patients. Whether it be a little 32 week old baby I meet who was referred from 56km away receiving lifesaving support in the neonatal unit or reconnecting with some of our spinal cord injury patients. I’m humbled connecting with 3 of our long term rehab patients, one who now lives in the community but receives ongoing care from HHA and the hospital, even though it’s 11 years since he was first admitted. One of the other spinal patients asks what we can do for his future, he’s keen to start a business. Despite being left paralysed from an un-provoked gun attack and having been abandoned by his family; his smile, courage, warmth and hope is truly humbling!
I leave Haiti, grappling with some of the challenges, but excited for the future and touched by the people.
Thank you for your continued support. We really do appreciate it and it really is making a huge difference.