Connecticut College Magazine · Fall 2005

Features:

Mach Arom ´89: Rebuilding hope for Thai tsunami victims

Kathryn Bard ´68: Somewhere in Egypt

Who cares about Haiti?

Venturing into Iran: Beyond the warning

Gloria Hollister Anable ’24: Into the deep

Gaida Ozols Fuller ´74: Six months in Uganda

Sarah Trapido ´08: Going 13,000 miles on veggie oil

Yoko Shimada ´99: Fighting the war on AIDS in East Africa



Cover:
The extra mile: Journeys that make a difference

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Who cares about Haiti?

Who cares about Haiti?
Ann Rumage Fritschner ´77 with "Baby Emmanuel."

by Ann Rumage Fritschner ´77


Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross had both pulled out of Haiti recently because of escalating violence. I came to Haiti as chaplain to the North Carolina-based Mission Manna team of doctors and caregivers. My role was to provide spiritual care to the team members and, at best, to help in the clinics.

Mission Manna is a not-for-profit organization founded by two American women (one a college student at UNC-Asheville) and a Haitian man who provide free medical care to malnourished children in Montrouis. The organization had built a clinic with a cement floor and canvas sides as a transition site while a permanent hospital for malnourished children was slowly being built in Montrouis, about an hour and a half from Port-Au-Prince.

My part on this mission was smaller than the proverbial drop in the ocean and yet it was important. One person at a time I helped worm more than 600 children. For a couple of months, their bellies will decrease in swelling, their appetites will return, and, with the vitamins they received, their hair might turn dark again.

In treating these children I also created a situation where the children will regain their lost appetites and their families won’t have enough food to feed them. The most well-nourished children will be the babies who are breastfed. And when the milk is gone, they’ll get swollen bellies and become lethargic and moan and whine a little. The men will leave their family in order to find work or food or money. Mothers will turn to the few men available for comfort and possibly for a small amount of food or money. And AIDS will complicate the daily effects of hunger, diarrhea and lethargy. More children will either be “sold” into slavery or indentured to wealthier families, who might provide a better life for them, or more will die and the future of Haiti will be lost to greed and lack of compassion.

Malnutrition is one of the top two medical issues children face in Haiti. The other issue is the lack of water and contaminated water. There is no systematized water filtration system in the country, and most children suffer from worms caused by the bacteria in the water. Rivers and streams are centers of social activity, bathing, playing and sanitation. There are no sewers or septic systems that serve all the people of the major cities, much less those who live in the isolated hill towns. So people use rivers and streams for potable water as well as sewage systems.

Diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis, worms, scabies and impetigo are easily preventable. Many of these diseases are also easily treatable, but there are very few free clinics in Haiti, and most Haitians cannot afford to pay for a visit to a clinic or hospital for treatment.

In addition to all these problems is the problem of HIV and AIDS. AIDS can compromise the immune system to the point where tuberculosis, pneumonia, heart failure or some other disease finds a host. However, according to various UN officials and World Health Organization, the prevalence of AIDS in Haiti is estimated to be second highest in the world, following South Africa.

During our visit, a man who had heard there were American doctors in the village of Fonn Baptiste brought his two-day-old child to us. The man’s girlfriend had died as she gave birth to their 2.5 pound baby. Her family members were all dead, and so were his. This father had no idea how to care for a child and even if he had the knowledge, he had no extended family to care for the baby while he tried to find work. So a baby named Emmanuel (who in the States would have been in incubation and on intravenous feeding), has a father with no money, no education, and no way to provide his son with a good life. Baby Emmanuel has a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to live much less to thrive.

What are the answers? Magic wand answers include a benevolent dictator who has a Harvard MBA and Yale medical degree. She would develop mutually beneficial economic partnerships for first world countries including the United States to invest in Haiti. She would create a road system that connects the major cities and ports with the harvest regions; a medical care system that provides free basic health care essentials for families; a free education system that is mandatory through high school or its equivalency; a free water system that works as well in cities as in the country; and electric, technology and communications systems that work 24/7. And she would market Haiti to the vacationing public who are looking for an exquisite island paradise close to home.

What comes first? Aid and charity from individuals and churches and well-meaning people like us, political pressure from the powerful who can make the American government take a much more active interest in Haiti, safe water, nutrient-dense food aid, engineering skills to build a transportation system for cars, donkeys and the majority of the country who are on foot, and technology to tie the country together and unify Haiti for business opportunities.

Why won’t this happen? Malnutrition, lack of basic health care and lack of education work together to create a caste system in which the lowest caste can be easily oppressed. Civil unrest makes any rational business person loathe to invest in a country where their employees might be hurt or killed and where the return on investment may be negligible due to bribery, corruption and thievery. Low interest loans, aid and other government supports are, I suspect, skimmed off the top by Haitian political operatives and taken for personal enrichment.

So what do we do if we care?

It will take people who are willing to risk their souls — and physical safety and health — to help put band aids on the very real wounds suffered by children who are being victimized by corruption and greed.

Soul to soul though, we give everything we have to give: money, thought, prayers, time.

It was an honor to work with a team to provide health care for children. It is not enough, and it is all that I have to give.


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