By Margaret Hartnett
The repairs to the country after the massive earthquake that struck Haiti two years ago are only beginning to be discernible by the casual viewer. It is not a huge stretch to say that the ‘infrastructure’ that most Americans take for granted virtually is nonexistent there. The city of Port au Prince (PauP) is still most remarkable for what still needs to happen: though fewer in number, people still live in tent cities; buildings-both humble and majestic like the Presidential Palace still lie pancaked as they were moments after the quake; garbage fills the canal systems and the unemployed are legion. The tasks in PauP are enormous but that is where most of the large multinational NGOs have their projects, the team I go to Haiti with is different, we head for the mountains.
The Haiti Health Initiative (HHI) is an American non-profit based in Salt Lake City. One of the founders Marc Aurel Martial is a Haitian living in the states and working in healthcare. Directly after the earthquake happened, he and other medical providers in SLC set off for Haiti and joined the ranks of emergency medical teams addressing the immediate crisis. While working there, it became obvious that the rural peasants in Haiti were all but forgotten but in incredible need – both in the moment and ongoing. This was the birth of HHI.
HHI is an all volunteer organization that raises funds for teams to go twice a year to a small community called Timo, deep in a canyon in the mountainous West, about 2 hours from Port au Prince. The team is met at the roadside drop off point in the town of Tom Gato and the hike in begins. Locals bring horses and donkeys to carry in the many large bags of medicine, medical supplies, dental tools, educational materials, shoes and more. The hike is a steep, scree filled path, the trip in takes about one hour. When we arrive in Timo, we are a bit like the “circus come to town.” We are met by a large group of Haitians who help us set up the medical and dental clinics and the educational tents. During the week we are actually in Timo, locals open their homes, give up their beds, cook for us, haul water and act as translators and escorts – we are rarely alone. Everything in Timo is basic, there is a two stall outhouse, that while we are there they designate Male and Female for our benefit; we bathe in the stream that is a 10 minute walk away and use endless baby wipes for interim hygiene.
Over the last couple years, at a rate of 2 clinics a year, we have determined where are the ideal places for the various worksites, especially in terms of crowd control and flow. We see about 1200 people of all ages in five days of clinic. We are up with the roosters and begin seeing patients very early and work into the evening. As in all places near the equator, there is little to no twilight and total darkness descends quickly. I had made an appeal to Light & Motion for some headlamps so that those of us who were entering the clinical data could do so in the dark. We bring generators to run the dental equipment but there is no in place, permanent power in Timo and dental drills and computers have priority over light bulbs. We were really handicapped by the darkness.
Light & Motion responded to my request and sent us a batch of Solite 150 lights. For the first time we could see what we were doing, both reading the paper clinical forms and the keyboards of our laptops. The truly brilliant part of the charging system was the USB capacity, allowing us to charge them during the day for nighttime use. We were all set and then one of the dentists asked if our light was brighter than his – of course it was.
I gave him a newly charged lamp and off he went. I caught up with him midday and he said it was the best light he had ever had and he was using the medium setting. The dental team was set up on the east side of camp under blue plastic tarps to protect patients, equipment and themselves from the elements but it made for a dark environment. It didn’t take long for the other dentist and the hygienists to ask for our headlamps. I was constantly recharging during the early part of the day to ensure they had enough power for the lamps.
It seems so basic, the idea of enough light, until you do not have it, need it and have no way to get it. Through the generosity of Light & Motion we overcame a barrier that though small in some ways was huge in others. Whether they were on our heads or set up as table lanterns they were all we could hope for; their versatility was a much welcomed component of their success in an unlikely application. For us in HHI – they have no equal, they are our light.
Margaret Hartnett is the Data Team Leader for the Haiti Health Initiative.