As we are now “experts” in village building in Haiti, another organization is seeking out advice for the village they intend to build. They wanted Cliff to go with them to see the land and told him it would only be an hour away. When I heard where the land was, I knew it was at least two hours away. That reminded me of how the Health Care Worker program got started.
In the late 90’s, I took a team of doctors and nurses to an area near the Dominican border called “the pine forest”. It is a beautiful area of Haiti in the mountains, surrounded by pine trees. As our clinic was in full swing the pastor of the church we were seeing patients in mentioned to me that one of his parishioners had broken her leg and asked me to go see her. I agreed but the clinic started early as mobs of people tried to get in to see the few doctors that were there. By the end of the day we would always be exhausted.
Well, it was on our last day as we were loading our vehicles that the pastor reminded me again of the lady with the broken leg. I asked him where her hut was and he pointed to a hut on the next hilltop, five minutes away. As everyone was already loaded in the vehicles I asked them to give me a few minutes so that I could go see this lady.
The pastor, a nurse and I headed down the hill and back up the next hill and walked right past the hut he pointed to. I again asked him where the hut was and he pointed ahead and said “not too far”. As we walked past more and more huts and the time continued to pass, I continued to ask where the hut was and he said “just a few more steps”. As I was getting exhausted from the walk in the mountains and we were ready to turn back, he finally said “Just one more step”.
After almost two hours we arrived at the ladies hut with a thatched roof, mud floor and interwoven wood walls. The nurse and I went in to see the lady. She had a compound fracture of her lower left leg. The wound was covered with cow manure and tied with a piece of cloth. I knew that this was the work of a witch doctor. I was confused and asked her if she was a Christian.
She said “Yes”!
I then asked her why she would go to a witch doctor for medical care if she were a Christian. Her answer changed my focus in Haiti for a long time.
She said “Because there is no one else”!
I knew that there were no doctors in the provinces’ of Haiti but the reality of what that meant to one needing care only then became clear to me.
For the next ten plus years we designed and taught what is basically a “barefoot doctor” concept in the mountains of southern Haiti. Since the earthquake, we turned the program over to a Haitian doctor to teach and oversee, and it continues to prosper. There are presently over fifty “health care workers” in the mountains of southern Haiti treating thousands of patients. We also have an agreement with a mission hospital to take seriously ill patients and allow us to pay for their bill once we return.
The main requirement to be a health care worker is that the individual is respected in his church and recommended by his pastor. Now, if the Haitian needs are physical or spiritual, they only need to go to their church for care. No need to go to the witch doctor anymore. . .For now there IS someone else who will make one more step.
John H Leininger