Signs of progress in a shattered city

Greg Mercer, writing for Canada’s The Record, looks at signs of progress in the rebuilding of the shattered city of Port-au-Prince.

It’s late afternoon in Haiti’s shattered capital and a pickup truck is bouncing down a winding city road, dodging stray dogs, maniac taxi drivers and pot holes the size of compact cars.

The truck is driven by Alez Dauphin, a Haitian-born anesthetist from Hamilton, who’s taking a group of Canadians on a white-knuckle ride through a city still struggling to rebuild. Piles of rubble from the massive earthquake that struck more that 14 months ago still scar most blocks, and on every vacant lot there are teeming villages of tents and shacks housing thousands still without homes.

The pickup passes some signs of progress, too — the occasional brand new building sparkling with a coat of paint, and the growing army of enterprising street vendors trying to carve out a living in a place where six in 10 adults don’t have a job.

But it’s not until the truck drives in front of a nondescript building next to a hospital that the back seat erupts in cheers.

It’s a warehouse.

In Haiti, this is what passes for a cause for celebration. The men doing the cheering are Peter Sweeney, president of the St. Mary’s General Hospital Foundation, and Jay Ayres, a logistics manager from Brantford.

That warehouse just may be the most tangible sign yet that things are improving at the Universitaire de la Paix hospital, a 120-bed facility that people such as Sweeney and Ayres are helping, thanks in part to money from donors in Waterloo Region.

Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, their group, the St. Joseph’s International Outreach Program, has left its mark all over the little Haitian hospital — they’ve brought new surgical sanitizers, a generator, water treatment system, birthing beds, even buses for staff too afraid to walk home at night.

“I know it’s just a warehouse, but it’s something people can point to and say ‘hey, that wasn’t there last year. Things are getting done.’ The more tangible your project becomes, the more hope it delivers,” Sweeney said.

The warehouse will hopefully solve one of the hospital’s most chronic problems — disorganization. As the “dumping ground” for the world, medical supplies often just show up at Haitian hospitals, whether they’re needed or not, he said. In the past, untrained staff at La Paix piled those supplies haphazardly into whatever room they could find, often not knowing what the supplies were, and not being able to find what they wanted when they needed it.

St. Joseph’s has sent about 100 volunteers to La Paix since the disaster, including about 25 of them from St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener. They’ve included doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, internet technology specialists, handymen and others, and their travel here has been paid for by a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency.

Everything else has either been donated or been paid for by the $1.7 million St. Joe’s raised in the span of a few weeks after the quake, thanks to donors that included parishioners at local Catholic churches, Rotary Club members and employees at Kitchener-based M&M Meats stores.

This month, St. Joe’s sent their latest team to La Paix, which includes another St. Mary’s contingent: ER nurse Kelly Freeman of Baden, and Dr. Bob Wickett, both tasked with trying to turn the hospital’s fledgling emergency department into a 24-hour operation.

It’s Freeman’s third trip to the sweltering Port au Prince since the earthquake.

“I’ve waited for an opportunity like this all of my nursing career,” said the 22-year veteran of emergency rooms who previously worked at Grand River Hospital. “I believe in what they’re trying to do for these people.”

If you’re poor, and most people in Haiti are, there’s no place to go in the middle of the night that can offer ER care, she said. You just line up at the nearest hospital and hope you can survive until the doctors arrive in the morning.

Some don’t have to worry about that, though — there are 24-hour ERs at the private hospitals for those Haitians affluent enough to pay.

“Every night, you hear gunshots from the room, and knowing there’s overnight trauma care here, it’s staggering,” Freeman said. “Unless, of course, you’ve got the money.”

Sweeney, meanwhile, says this seventh trip is a culmination of a long, hard year of work for St. Joe’s and their Haitian partners. Progress is coming, he says, and it starts with humble, simple things such as a warehouse.

“You can’t operate a hospital that’s broken,” he said. “I know it’s still got a long way to go, but it’s a little less broken now.”

For the original report go to–signs-of-progress-in-a-shattered-city

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