By Jennifer Meade, BSN, RN
I had the amazing privilege of going to Haiti this past June with 11 other members of my church, Christ the Redeemer, in Ponte Vedra, Fla. We partnered with Hope Force International, a nonprofit Christian organization that trains and equips volunteers to compassionately and effectively assist victims of disasters. Hope Force’s particular mission in Haiti is to continue to help the people affected by the 2010 earthquake. Haiti also is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, crippled by persistent poverty. Hope Force’s goal is to encourage responders to get involved with the reconstruction and restoration of the area villages surrounding Sous Savanne — the region closest to the epicenter of the quake.
I served as a nurse in a three-day medical clinic and was able to work closely with Hope Force staff members who have become influential leaders in the Sous Savanne area. My fellow healthcare team members included a nurse practitioner and a Hope Force staffer, also a nurse, who distributed medications. Running the clinic was a team effort — one person checked in the families, two others took the height and weight of each child, some played with the kids and others kept the clinic running smoothly.
The children remained vivacious and cheerful despite their present circumstances, and this touched my heart. These children face challenges such as malnutrition and lack of access to education and healthcare every day, yet their hearts were filled with life as they loved and accepted our team. In three days, we were able to consult and treat roughly 150 patients including infants, children, teenagers, mothers and grandmothers.
It is amazing what you can accomplish with just a stethoscope, otoscope and penlight. We treated headaches, abdominal pain, earaches, skin infections and bacterial and fungal infections. We checked temperatures, assessed throats, listened to children’s heart and lungs, and encouraged and educated teenagers and young mothers. Our team distributed antibiotics, antifungals, acetaminophen, multivitamins and prenatal vitamins.
I was encouraged to see that, for the most part, the families in the village were healthy, but it was heartbreaking to see the reality of their poverty-stricken lives. There were many young mothers between the ages of 15-21 who had numerous children and no income or father figure for their children. I saw many young girls who were sexually active, mostly against their will, but they simply accepted this as a way of life. I also saw siblings raising their younger siblings, and grandmothers raising grandchildren abandoned by their mothers.
One particular family left an impression on my heart — a young father and his 3-year-old son, who had an ear infection. The father expressed great concern as he described his son’s symptoms and how he had tried to relieve the child’s pain. I was touched by this father’s relationship with his son, as it was rare for me to see Haitian fathers engaged with their children. His concern spoke volumes of the love he had for his son, and it was gripping to see such love and passion in the midst of the harsh realities of Haitian living.
I would encourage any nurse who is looking to volunteer overseas to partner with Hope Force International. Nurses can have just as much of an impact as physicians, surgeons and other healthcare providers. When I became a nurse about four years ago, I was not sure where my nursing career would take me, but I knew my passion would lead me to eventually serve overseas. Being in Haiti allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and use my passion for nursing to effectively touch the lives of those who literally have nothing. It is rewarding to know that our team was able to meet the physical needs of the people we saw at the clinic, and also see to their emotional and spiritual needs with prayer, love and compassion. In my journey thus far, I have found nursing to be very rewarding, and I find that I always come away feeling blessed.
Jennifer Meade, BSN, RN, works on the orthopedic/med/surg floor at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Fla. Hope Force International provides help to those who suffer from disaster events and chronic, desperate need at home and abroad. The motivating purpose of Hope Force is to provide a pathway connecting compassionate, trained responders with those in need. For more information about Hope Force visit: http://www.hopeforce.org/.
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