This article is a continuation of a series of posts by Calah Schlabach, one of World Next Door’s freelance journalists. Calah has been working in Port-au-Prince and writing about her experiences with the cholera outbreak.  To read the rest of her articles, click here.

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When I wrote my last article, I was still working at Ebenezer Clinic’s cholera treatment center in Limbe, Haiti.  Now, back in the US and tuckered out from the holidays, I feel like I am a world away.

Shirley gives Mom and me the “cholowa” fist pound. (This became popular after the outbreak because people were more cautious about shaking hands.)

Sometimes it seems like cholera, which consumed my life for three weeks, was only a dream.

When Mom and I got back to the States, we were overwhelmed by the sudden change in seasons, evident not only in Illinois’ sub-freezing temperatures but also by the shoppers’ frenzied pace.

Elio invited us to his house when we got off work one day. He and his sister harvested coconuts from the trees by their house for us to drink.

Whenever we met people who knew we had been in Haiti, they graciously commended us for sacrificing to work in the cholera clinic.  Sometimes they treated us like nothing short of heroes.

This treatment made me slightly uncomfortable.  I was thinking of the real heroes of the situation–the ones who couldn’t up and leave the clinic after three weeks. When I was reminded of the people I had worked with in Limbe, all of a sudden the experience didn’t seem so far away…

Under Control

On our last day in Limbe, we went up to the clinic and found that everything was completely under control.  The staff didn’t need us at all.

It was the perfect thing to find on our last day. Those baby steps had added up. The change we had seen over the past three weeks was unbelievable.

I learned that funny stories and laughter are necessary antidotes in the cholera clinic.

So instead of working, we handed out cookies to the clinic staff and, per Mom’s idea, interviewed them.  We asked each to tell a story about something they had experienced while working at the cholera clinic that had made them happy or given them hope.

Stories of Hope

Eddy, who works in medical records at the clinic in normal times but is now working more than full time at the cholera treatment center, said that he was proud of the clinic for admitting patients early in the outbreak, even when other clinics were rejecting them out of fear.

It wasn’t just our co-workers who thanked us. Our patients and their families—like the woman in this picture—were gracious, too.

Shirley, a nurse and student at the university, used to work in the university’s infirmary. Her boss there told her that she would lose her job at the university if she started working at the cholera treatment center.  Nevertheless, she chose to work at the cholera treatment center because she knew that her community needed help.

As if her boss’ discouragement wasn’t enough, when Shirley first started treating cholera, her husband banned her from their house. When, after a few days, he was convinced that she would not carry the disease home, he invited her back, saying, “I’m getting cold at night (wink, wink).”

Shirley wasn’t the only worker who had to fight against family pressure to work at the cholera treatment center. Elio, one of our translators, often had to visit his sister at the clinic’s gate and answer her worried phone calls while he was working because she was concerned about his safety.

Fear

This just goes to show how great the fear of cholera is in Haiti–and rightly so, given the number of people who are sick and dying… and the number of people who don’t understand how treatable and preventable the disease is… and the number of people who don’t have the resources to protect themselves even if they know how to…

It was hard to leave my new friends behind, even after a mere three weeks.

When we were in Limbe, we heard about cholera patients in some areas of the country who had been hacked to death because their neighbors feared they would bring the disease into the community. In other communities, people killed witch doctors, accusing them of cursing their village with cholera. Some people we talked to said they would rather have HIV than cholera!

Fear is such a powerful thing. Acknowledging the fear of cholera that overwhelmed Haiti made me respect the Ebenezer cholera treatment center staff even more. It takes courage to treat a disease like this.

In our interviews, the staff also bestowed upon us heaps of gratitude and blessings for our being there. This experience proved something Mom has said over and over again–when you serve, you always feel like you receive far more than you give. This is definitely how I feel. I never expected my first encounter with death to be so encouraging; I never expected treating cholera to be so much fun.

And even now that I am back in the States where cholera seems like a dream, I already miss the people who welcomed me to Limbe.  I will continue to remember and be encouraged by their stories.

The stories of real-life heroes…

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Next Steps
    • Pray for all the Haitians working to treat cholera in their country.
    • Donate to help Ebenezer Clinic respond to the cholera crisis. You can do this via American Baptist International Ministries. Send a check to the following address, attention to Eunice Thetgyi. On the memo line, please write “Cholera Treatment--Steve and Nancy James.”

          Missions Vocation Assistant, Volunteers in Global Mission
          International Ministries
          PO Box 851
          Valley Forge, PA 19482
    Next Steps

About the Author: Calah Schlabach is a freelance journalist with World Next Door. She graduated from Calvin College in 2009 with a degree in English and a concentration in long-distance running, then spent a year volunteering in Hanoi, Vietnam. She doesn't know what the next turn her life will be, but is planning to make sure it includes sampling plenty of strange/delicious food!

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