The Rotary Club of Key West

Service Above Self Since 1916

Rachel's Chronicles From Haiti July 2010

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Rotarian Of The Year Rachel Oropeza reports from Haiti as she represents our club in a humanitarian mission at Hospital Albert Schweitzer:

July 11, 2010

Just want to let all know that I have arrived in Haiti. I am at the Hotel Vis waiting for 2 other ladies to arrive. We will then all head to HAS. It will take about 3 hours to get there.

The heat reminds me of Phoenix, where you are drying your hair with a hair dryer in the oven! There is still a large militry presence at the airport. My driver speaks a little english and I speak no french!

Got over my anxiety once we were in the air and I asked the flight attendant the name of the town I was going too.....of course I don't know the name myself....I simply can't remember but she said there was only 1 hospital with that name not to worry. The driver is younger and dressed nicely.......the last ac I will see for the next week will be ther 3 hour drive!

Not sure how much time is left, so I am going to sign off for now. All is well and very, very warm. I can tell you that this makes the slums in India look like a real palace......just tents up everywhere and no roads at all. At least India had roads with way too much traffic.

Take care and much love to all. R

---------------------------------------------- July 12, 2010

Good Morning to all,

Just wanted to let you know what is going on in the oven that is Haiti! I stayed at the Visa Lodge for about 5 hours while they waited for the other ladies to arrive yesterday. I watched Spain win the world cup and finished a book. It was very interesting with all the international folks there watching the game.

Apparently the Visa Lodge is a 4 star hotel in Haiti. Dont tell the Marriott that! Sorry for the typos -- very old computer and not all the keys work.

Had a pleasant afternoon, did start to worry just a little when the sun went down and they had not come back to get me. Just a little un-nerving when your cell phone does not work and you just cant communicate! Of course, I made frineds -- a very nice young man let me use his phone to call Mr. Walton to see what was going on. still just waiting for one of the ladies to arrive. She had anderson cooper and wy jean ??? on the flight. She was supposed to arrive at 12:30 and didnt get in till almost 7. So Stuart stayed chatting with me till the driver returned. I ordered spaghetti for dinner, it was interesting. I also met a gentleman that say my rotary shirt and said he was the president of his rotary here......really can be a small world.

Now onto the crazy 3 hour night drive to HAS! Let me just say that I was glad it was dark, I was tired and not certan of all I was seeing. Pretty much no electricy only lights from our cars, there were 2 traveling together. Then you would come into a small town with keroscene lamps and people just standing and milling in the streets. This just went on and on for the entire drive. Some times there were roads, mostly it was a dirt road with other cars trying to pass you.

There are other folks staying in the alumni dorm and several did get up to greet me. But too late for the running wter, so towellete bath it was! I did use my mosquito net, just worried that I was going to pull it down, but I didnt.

Things get rolling about 4:30am when the staff comes in to cook for all in the compound. Have to shower between 6 & 7 or you wait until the evening. Breakfast was a little spicy eggs and peanut butter toast.

I attended the morning meeting at 7 where one of the staff makes a presentation. I learned about dementia today. Then Mr. Walton gave me a quick tour of the hospital as it was still early enough to do that. We then went to work in the storage area. I cant really describe this space to you.......large, dusty and there is simply old and new stuff everywhere. We are trying to create a diagram of the room and then we are going to try to label the shelves. That is about all we will have time for today.

Everyone is kind, understanding of an old lady with a little anxiety.....letting me use their computers and phones.

Have to get back out in the heat.....more later. Thanks for letting me chat and think that I am in the real world, as I can assure you this is very, very far from it!

Much love to all........R ---------------------------------------------

July 13, 2010

Well, where to begin-- it finally all came together for me about lunch time yesterday. I re-read my message and want to make certain that all know I am fine, things are totally different here and it took a little longer to adjust that I thought it would. But I am completely safe, never alone and the volunteers and staff here are truly amazing. They inspire me to want to do more things!

One of the best parts about yesterday was the very cold shower at 6pm! It really is the little things in life! There is also this very awesome pool. I didnt know so I dont ahve a suit -- was going to check it out today but issue with the electricity so have to wait till tomorrow. The compund for HAS is huge, it has 80 units for housing for the volunteers and the local staff. The pool is just a wlecome site about mid day when you think you are just going to melt into the rubble!!

Mr. Walton and I worked in the medical depot most of the day or as much as the heat allows one to work in a sweat box. But we actually got the ground floor mapped out. He has a fabulous computer program that shows a diagram of the floor plan and then we went back in and put in all the shelving. Pretty amazing what we accomplished in a short amount of time. Then we met with the staff to give them ideas of how to improve the sorting and the cataloging of items. I know this sounds like simple stuff to all of us, remember where I am at. Since the eq HAS has been given many, many much needed supplies. They unload the containers in a storage area and then all hell breaks loose trying to find the space to put them. I can tell you that the need is incredible and it is amazing at what they do with so little. As always, my photos will tell the story. The medical depot staff has been great in listening to our ideas and trying to get all organized and categorized. Once the plan is final Mr. Waltton will have printed back in Seattle and send to them so that they will have a nice scale model on the wall along with a master list and know which shelf has which item on it. It sounds so simple doesn't it? I really wished I could tell you that is it.

In the late afternoon I went to the Hangar where they conduct physical therapy. The Hanger Corporation just set up shop after the eq and they have Swiss teams that rotate working down here. They make all the prosthetic parts here on the campus. The patients have to come to the compound for therapy and are not allowed to take their leg, foot, arm what ever the case maybe until they know how to use it. The PT volunteers are amazing. some of the young ladies staying in the alumni house with me were supposed to be here to work for 2 weeks, it has been 2 months and 1 has agreed to stay for a year. Having the facility to make the parts right here has been a blessing for the amputees. There are just so many more than you could have thought possible. At this time there is still not a place for PT in PAP so they have to bring them here and they live here till they are ready to get back to a semblance of a life. Though it seems like a huge campus, really is small one of the gentleman from Sweden is a Rotarian and he knew I was here. Going back to chat with him some more in just a bit.

I had the pleasure of having dinner at the Mellon House last night. The Mellon family is who started the hopital in 1957. The children Jenny Grant & Ian Rawston still live and work here. Mr. Walton (person I am helping) is the Chairman of the Grant Foundation Board and also a cousin. There were about 8 other ladies invited. I have to tell you I was in complete awe at these women, their passion for the people here and what they want to do to help them. One was an attorney from Pittsburgh who has been here many times and she brought a friend with her this time -- they are raising the funds to open a library for the kids. There happens to be a building here on the campus that they will be using. Each and every one of them had a different story -- truly inspiring. Some knew about Rotary the rest knew by the end of the evening. I also shared our fundraising reverse raffle idea with all of them. I think that some might come up with their own version back in the own home areas. Truly a great way to end the day. I have a message for Mr. Knight from Jenny Grant -- she wants him to come down here!! For all his support she has never met him.

I was pretty worn out from the day, the heat and just all the information that I learned through out the day was very overwhelming. Let me describe bed time for you -- turn off your ac, put on the heater with a fan next to it and there you have it! I have acclimated to the heat fairly quickly. I even think that maybe I was having heartburn and not anxiety! Been eating with everyone in the house family style. No idea what I am eating, a little spicier than I am used to but all tastes great to me!

I have to run to meet the Swiss Rotarian -- tomorrows message will be about my adventure this morning. I went up into the mountains with 4 women and about 10 Haitians in a pick up truck to learn about the re-forestation they have going on. Now that was impressive -- these volunteers giving their time with the assistance of the local folks trying to teach them how to plant trees, corn and milt so that they can feed their families. I also got to see the HAS Dispensaries in Baltrain. It is one of the HAS outposts that the villagers in the mountains can use for care.

Tomorrow morning I am going out for an early morning hike to a religious ceremony with most of the ladies Ihad dinner with last night. I will also be attending a Rotary meeting somewhere with an HAS Dr. that is the President of the Club. It will all be in Creole and my thanks will be in English!

All for now, early mornings and very long days. But I have to say that worth all of the efforts and all of the fundraisisng that we do! They continue to do so much with so little!

Much love to all -R ----------------------------------------------

July 14, 2010

Bon Jour from Deschapelle Haiti,

Yes, I finally remembered where I am at!! Don't think I will ever forget the name where the hopital is located ever again. I also think that I am the only person in Haiti that does not have a working cell phone! Oh well, my need to communicate with this old computer is just fine. I have been able to speak with Tori and my mom briefly -- so all is well.

Let me tell you about yesterdays adventure. At Mr. Waltons suggestion I joined a team called H -TRIP and spent most of the day up in the mountains with them. Just picture a white pick up with 5 folks in the front and about 10 in the open back. When you eventually see the pictures of the so called road -- I am thankful that no one was bounced out of or fell out of the back of the truck! This project has been funded by the UN. The UN also has another program going on here called cash for work. They have put about 7000 Haitians to work out here in the country trying to make the so called roads drivable.

Remember I am about 40 miles away from PAP. But it takes 3++ hours to travel that 40 miles. Not like the drive from KW to Marathon. As we drive up the mountainside we drop some folks off that are conducting socio-economic surveys of the truly poor and impoverished folks. The lady in charged, Starry seems to know all the locals as we drive and speak to them along the way. The naked children hear the vehicles and coming running out of what seems like no where. We get to the first plot of land that they have been working this year. I think Starry and her team have been at this for about 3 years now. Each year they plot of 10 areas to cultivate and teach the local folks what to do. They also try to maintain the areas that they have cultivated from previous years. We also brought some medicine to the village leader as he had a machete cut to his hand from about 2 weeks ago.

The entire village comes out to greet you and of course they all wanted to see themselves in my pictures. One group was creating a rock wall to try to stop some of the rain water from flooding their valley area. We stopped to check on several locations and also had to wait for the team out taking the survey. At least I had power bars that we shared and a huge water bottle. It is cooler up in the mountains, but that direct heat gets to you. I have also decided that I am going to write to the GARMIN GPS folks -- not that I truly have any idea where I was at yesterday -- but Starry takes our the GARMIN GPA and they are mapping out the area as well. I thought that was priceless!! Same thing for the pick up -- if FORD really had an idea of what there vehicles are doing here in Haiti they would have a whole new ad campaign as well!

Since we had to wait for the survey teams -- Starry took me to one of the Dispensiere in Bastain. It is one of the outposts for the hopital. They only have nurses working there and they refer the serious cases back to HAS. For those of you that saw slum dog millionaire -- well that was the type of bathroom to use! Then the locals bartered some bananas for us. About 24 bananas for $1 American dollar. Next thing I know, one of the locals shimmies up the coconut tree and is getting them down for us. We head back to the area where we are going to collect the folks out walking the mountain taking the survey -- seriously walking. The villagers holler down and the kids run to help us find them. Well, the village leader comes over with his machete and cuts the coconuts open for us. Think about that -- when was the last time you cut down and cut open a fresh coconut??? and we have them everywhere. This was a treat for all involved!! We slowly made our way back down to Deschapelle.

Mr. Walton continued working on the medical depot layout but I am thankful that he suggested I go out with the tree team. Sorry that he worked in the sweat box with out me!

Last night at the alumni house there were many new arrivals. I got a room mate -- Debbie a nurse from PA. She has traveled here to work and teach for the past 8 years. An orthopedic surgeon from Switzerland arrived with his wife and a Dr that practices internal medicine. Katie has been coming to help for the past 5 years and travels in her own plane and brings many, many things with her each time she comes. Again, they all have stories and passions for being here and helping.

I know that the HAS staff truly appreciates the help and the knowledge. In the morning staff meetings they also discuss the patients and the care. Of course this is all greek to me -- but I can see the sharing and the knowledge. Same thing happens at the alumni house over dinner. They all share the day and help each other out. The house also has PT, a midwife, a surgical resident and several nurses. Truly fascinating and to me very inspiring! I do feel that Mr. Walton and I have made a difference to the medical depot staff and we will finish all with them today. Again, just think about where I am and how something so simple as being organized can make such a difference when a staff person runs into the depot to find medicine and actually knows where to find it!

Ok -- I have cooled off from the busy morning -- so back to work.

More later, much love to all. R --------------------------------------------------

July 15, 2010

Bon Jour from the Rotary Club of Verette, I promise that I will learn how to really spell all of the names here in Haiti! I don't think that I can truly express in words the amazing work that is done at HAS along with all of the other little things that go on here.

I am thrilled to let all know that Mr. Walton and I completed our project ahead of time. I asked him to send me a copy of the file so that I can include it in my presentation to the club. I know that this project seems so simple to all of us -- when we did a final walk thru just to double check our selves we did make a few corrections. We were double checking in the "cold room" that is where the actual medications are kept and the ac runs 24 hours. It looked like they were taking inventory and moving things around. Something that all of us do in our every day business or in the least once a month. Well, I don't think they do this at all!! Mr. Walton and I had lots of suggestions to help them out and of course the response is always, yes, yes.

Remember most of the staff cannot read or write as well as they should for some of the positions in the medical depot. You will certainly have a better understand when you see the pictures. I have one of a 5 gallon drum -- please forgive me as I am not a medical person -- but it looks like what you use for an IV drip --- well it is just thrown in the drum!! We all agreed on the final layout of the maps that Mr. Walton will have printed in Seattle and sent back to HAS.

Interesting point HAS cannot receive mail in Deschapelle. They have a satellite office in PAP just for the address and to receive mail and some of the shipments. How crazy is that?? I asked questions to the young ladies in the house that are staying to work for the next year -- I asked if their parents can send care packages as I thought I would send them some girlie stuff and toiletries in a few months. The response I received was -- I am sending a message to a student from Tulane that I have never met, he is coming next week. I asked him if my parents can send him a package and would he mind bringing it with him when he comes??

Every afternoon it looks like it is going to rain and this afternoon it actually did. From what I am told they natives hate the rain in Haiti. Just looked like a typical rain storm to me -- got really windy and actually cooled off for a bit. Rito (Swiss Rotarian) and I had been invited to a Rotary meeting with the Verette Club. We were told that we would meet with the committee first then attend the meeting with all the members. I have to admit I was pretty excited to think that I would get to attend a meeting and meet my fellow Haitian Rotarians.

Let me describe the afternoon -- remember the alumni house only has running water a few hours a day.....I hope that all know I am not a high maintenance female in any way shape or form .....however, I was NOT going to attend a Rotary meeting all hot, sweaty and nasty hair from a day in the medical depot and the heat in general. My only option to be ready in time was to use the buckets of water that are left in each shower daily when the water is off .....remember I said I enjoyed the afternoon thunder shower??? I ran out into it with my bottle of shampoo! The Haitian ladies that run the house (they cook, clean and do the laundry) well they just could not stop laughing at me and quite frankly neither could I! Sorry no pictures of me washing my hair in the rain, but it was pretty funny and I HAD to represent our club showered and decent!!

Rito & I are told to be ready and at the Mellon House at 4:45 so that we can be driven to meet the committee. We are picked up at like 5:15 and we are driven to Verette. We meet the past president and the incoming president at the past presidents's home. Keep in mind there is no electricity -- he uses the solar panel for about 15 minutes and we are back in the dark living room just chatting away. Rito (Swiss) tells us that his Rotary club only has male members!! I think all will know what I had to say about that! We were told that the meeting would then start at 6:00. We are picked back up at 6:15 and taken to a restaurant. It is just us, we are told that no one likes the rain and so they are now going to the members homes to pick them up!!

This club is only 4 years old and only has about 16 members. So we wait and we wait and we chat outside in the dark....when we are invited in.....my first meeting ever by CANDLELIGHT! Yes, there were 4 candles on the tables as someone ran out to get gas for the generator! PRICELESS!! I think I have another commercial. The meeting was very informal, Rito & I presented flags to them. They didn't have any at all. There was 1 form for a make up meeting and they gave it to me. As we chatted, the President's cell phone rang.....well through my interpreter I told him to turn the phone off and he had to pay $10! They could not stop laughing, seriously I think I was the entertainment for the night! They would tell us what they did and I would tell then what we do, Rito chimed in and they listened as well. But I think I got more laughs! I was dead serious!! They ended the meeting repeating the 4 way test and signing their national song. I told them we opened our meetings that way and they said we were confused!!

Again, more laughs!! Let me just say.....I have never been more proud to be a Rotarian as I was at this candlelight meeting in Haiti!! Master Card and their "priceless" commercials have nothing compared to this!!

It is late and I am on a borrowed computer so more later.

Thanks for letting me try to describe this incredible experience to you. I know that my daughter is cringing as she is the writer in the family, not me and this old computer with keys that don't work.....well what can I say to that? Next project for our club!

Take care and much love to all! R----------------------------------------------------------------