Friday, February 3, 2012
- Oh,that burnt plastic smell.
Port au Prince has no civic trash management, so our flight was greeted with a typical light haze that smells “scorched”. (That's how the garbage gets processed....goats eat it, or it gets burnt.) It's mild, in the 80's, sunny, humid, breezy. The airport gets more organized and civil every time I come, but there was still the usual wrangling with the baggage handlers. They want that dollar-a-bag so bad, they just won't let go of the cart, no matter how much I try to wave them off. Oh, well. It's a few bucks that they need. We loaded our 6 bulging bags into the Heartline Jeep and got onto the dusty, tore-up streets of Port au Prince.
My main work is with Midwives for Haiti in Hinche, 2-3 hours drive outside Port au Prince. We fly in and out of PaP, however, and visit friends and colleagues here. It's worth getting up early to fly in on a Friday and visit with Beth McHoul, an American midwife who helps run several Port au Prince women's programs with Heartline Ministries. We went straight from the airport to her maternity center. Jessica and I have lots of questions about the little rural maternity center that we are helping organize, and we knew Beth would have lots of helpful info about “how they do it here.” Beth serves Port au Princes' women and oversees this work with balance and grace, and the resilience that it takes to live more than 20 years in Haiti. We entered the house, and soon were dealing with her giant mastiff dog bleeding all over the tile floor-- he'd had a growth on his leg that came open and boy, he was dripping. So, while volunteer midwife Melissa, tried to get some gauze on it with out him biting her- he's old and cranky- Beth chatted with us about Heartline's work with women in Port au Prince.
There are Do-Gooders in this world, we know: many varieties of them. I even aspire to be among them. There are the secular non-profits, the faith-based charities, the mega-NGO's, and then there are government aid programs galore, national, international, and tiny ones. UNICEF. World Vision. Then, there's a class beyond....there are saints and saintly works. I felt I was witness to that arena today.
Heartline Ministries programs are small,but they are comprehensive. Pregnant mothers in the prenatal program come to this maternity center for weekly visits. Blood pressure and weight are checked, and they are given a high-protein meal, vitamins, classes on health and parenting-- with love, and prayer. When the baby comes, they labor and birth supported by volunteer American midwives, nurses, and doctors. It's just a nice, medium-sized house by US standards, but it has oxygen, an ultrasound machine, necessary medicines, and an ambulance to transport problem cases to the hospital.. It is nearly always the nicest place any of these women have ever stayed, and I believe it offers, for free, the best maternity care in this city, with respect and kindness. To see video of the program-click here
After birth, there's a little room where mothers can stay as long as they need to: 12 hours to a few days. If a baby is born sick, the moms stay here until the baby is well. They eat, they shower. They get new, clean underwear. They get the most intensive breastfeeding support known to (wo)man....because breast milk is the most powerful way to keep a baby alive and healthy in Haiti. (Or anywhere. But especially Haiti.) These mothers go home to very, very tough situations- some to tents, some to tiny cinder block “apartments” full of needy people and not much else. But the Maternity program goes on for 6 months, postpartum, offering weekly parenting classes, breastfeeding help, nutritious lunch, and love. Love and prayer.
Heartline does a lot of other things, and I don't want to bore. There's a teen mothers house, where girls can live up to 2 years if they have no other safe place to go. They teach bead and jewelry-making, crafts and sewing, literacy, and business skills. The girls get Family planning services. And love. So I just had to say I spent the day with Mother Ter... I mean Beth McHoul. We got info about how to get oxygen in Port au Prince, and had a very productive discussion about medical waste and placentas. But mostly, we got the hope and encouragement that great things can be done, if you're dedicated to doing it right. We're at the Heartline Guesthouse tonight, where $50 US buys a nice clean bunk with a mosquito net and a fan, a lovely simple dinner (pizza and salad), with WiFi and breezy balconies.
Tomorrow we go up to Hinche by small airplane, and begin to catch up with “our People” at the new “Lakay Nou”, headquarters house. I can't wait to meet the new students, see my Haitian friends, and the MFH colleagues who are already in-country.
Burnt plastic smell or not, it's lovely to be back in Haiti, and tonight, it feels like we can aspire to Doing More Good, if we do it with love.