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What an unbelievable first day.
Our bus from the Dominican Republic arrived at 6am. We had a few hours to wash up and unpack, then headed straight out to the village of Chambrun. The team of doctors and nurses I was traveling with traded notes on the supplies they had brought as I stared out the window in amazement.
Here, in a city I had visited just three months before, was the definition of devastation. Buildings lay in rubble, walls had tumbled down, and just about everywhere I looked were people sleeping in tents, still afraid to go inside.
As we drove up the dusty road to the Nehemiah Vision Ministries clinic, I saw a handful of people milling around outside. “Huh,” I thought. “I expected to see a whole lot more…”
But then, as we rounded the corner, I was struck by the sight of hundreds of Haitian men, women and children sitting on benches crammed into the whatever shade they could find.
People were huddled under trees, sitting shoulder to shoulder on benches… Word had spread that there was a free clinic happening in Chambrun, and they had all come for help.
The doctors, nurses and pharmacists from our team began setting up and familiarizing themselves with the clinic. After wiping down a dental chair and moving a tub of medicine or two, I started to feel a little useless. So I broke out my camera and started walking around to get a sense of the bigger picture.
Outside the clinic’s doors were around 200-300 people hoping desperately to be seen by one of the doctors that day. Some of the patients had walked for miles to get to the clinic. Others came from the nearby villages.
It became clear right off the bat that most of the patients were not direct victims of the earthquake. There were only a few who had broken bones from falling rubble. Most people were there for different reasons.
The fact is, two and a half weeks after the initial shock, most people with severe wounds from the quake have already been treated or have died due to infections.
No, these were not direct victims of the earthquake. But almost every single person I met was indirectly affected.
For example, one elderly lady came into the clinic with twin infant girls. As the doctors asked her questions, she sobbed in fits of hopelessness. This woman’s daughter had been killed in a building collapse and now, with no food or family to help, this aging grandmother was responsible for these two newborn babies.
Another woman I met sat helpless as a nurse treated her tiny daughter. The attending doctor asked her how often she feeds her baby. The woman burst into tears and said, “I have no food!”
With elementary schools closed across the country, many children that used to eat once a day at school now go for days without eating. Nation-wide, hundreds of malnourished children are dying each day as their parents look on, helpless and alone.
Several of the doctors in our team said afterwards that they had heard something odd from many parents. They heard several times about children that liked to “lick the dirt.” After discussing it a little bit, the doctors came to a conclusion about what was causing this peculiar behavior. These children are so deprived of essential minerals that their bodies have begun to crave dirt to get what they need.
What I saw on my first day was not at all what I expected. Instead of gaping wounds and gushing blood, I saw starving children and adults ill from water-borne diseases. Instead of performing amputations, our doctors were handing out vitamins.
These weren’t the earthquake victims we’ve see on the evening news. These were the helpless masses that have been left in its wake. I realized for the first time that in a nation as devastated as Haiti, it will be food, medicine and clean water that lay the groundwork for reconstruction… Not dump trucks and cranes.
As we neared the end of the first day’s work, local volunteers from NVM closed the gate. No more patients could come in…
But there were still hundreds left outside.
I started to feel a bit hopeless. With millions of people in need of help in this country, what could we even accomplish? We couldn’t even help everyone in one small village.
And now the government is clearing land for a 50,000 person tent-city on the main road just a 10 minute walk from the clinic in Chambrun. Tens of thousands of hurting, starving people in need of medical help, in need of food… of water.
It all seemed so hopeless.
Last night, however, as I went through my pictures from the day, I realized something significant. I saw a picture of a tiny child whose mother now had vitamins to give him. “We helped them,” I thought. I saw a photo of an elderly lady walking out of the clinic with brand new crutches for her swollen feet. “We helped her too…”
Photo after photo. Face after face. These are the people we did help. And without our clinic, they would still be completely helpless.
“One at a time.” That’s the phrase that keeps running through my head right now. One at a time.
The only way we can ever make a difference in Haiti is if we are willing to help people one at a time. The moment we get lost in the overwhelming misery of a country brought to its knees, we run the risk of losing our hope in the beautiful work that is happening here.
The truth is, children are being saved. Families are being fed. Hope is still present in Haiti.
Even if it only shows up one person at a time…
- Nehemiah Vision Ministries needs your support to continue serving the people of Haiti. Will you consider supporting them?
- The current medical team has a big need for multi-vitamins (children's and adults'). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to donate!
- Please continue to pray for the people of Haiti and the many families struggling to find food...
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.