When my group from the Western North Carolina Conference arrived in Cap Haitien, a team of American doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who had come to serve at the Tovar Clinic joined us. Part of the Cap Haitien circuit, the clinic has been in operation for close to 30 years and serves the rural poor of the village of Grison-Garde.
Bill and Alice White and their many friends built the clinic, along with wells and churches around the Cap Haitien circuit. The Whites were members of our congregation, Providence United Methodist Church, Charlotte, N.C., more than 30 years ago when it all began. Their dynamic faith and passion for this mission drew others who were of like mind to help. Bill died a few years ago, but even now, Alice is in Cap Haitien working with the team. The Whites stand as a witness for those who would ask, “What can I really do to help?” Most of us just say that sort of thing as a way of excusing ourselves from finding solutions.
The Tovar Clinic stays open year round with a nurse and pharmacy available every day, and a Haitian physician, Dr. Maklin Eugene, works there two days a week. This week, one of the American teams will offer supplemental care. They will likely see around 1,500 patients during their five days here. The mission team usually serves from Monday through Friday, but during this particular week, Dr. Eugene convinced some of the team to forgo Sunday worship and accompany him to a remote village called Cotelette. Dr. Eugene provides medical care in Cotelette once a week, but the needs there are greater than one physician can supply. So half the team sang hymns that morning, while the rest of us packed supplies and medicine and headed to a place I have never seen on a Haitian map.
As we made our way up the steep mountain roads washed into ruts by heavy rains, I remembered the Gospel accounts of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, the criticism he received, and the opportunity it afforded him to teach something deeper about how we love and honor God. So here we were, honoring God in our vans and four-wheel-drive vehicles, climbing to the top of a mountain. There were three or four pediatricians, a nurse practitioner and a dentist in the caravan. Finding dentists willing to come has always been difficult since they only pull teeth, rather than saving them with fillings. We are thankful that Wayne is with us. We nicknamed him “the John Wayne of dentistry.” This was the Sabbath, and healing would be the gift shared this Sunday-even when it meant pulling many teeth.
When we arrived, the patients were already lined up. We saw many women with babies and children. They stood in the hot sun as the clinic was set up in their school building. Supplies were unloaded, and work was begun. Throughout the day, the line of waiting patients never seemed to diminish. Wayne worked on the porch so he would have better light, while those waiting in line watched the “theater” of the patients having their teeth pulled. Overall, it was a good day for the village, and a good day of service for the medical team.
As we began to leave late that afternoon, one of the many patients who had been waiting asked when we would return. “Not this week,” one of the interpreters replied. The look of disappointment on the mother’s face was easily read. It was difficult to look at her at that moment.
There are many, many villages in Haiti like Cotelette that need a physician. They aren’t printed on maps because they aren’t so heavily populated as cities like Cap Haitien or Port-au-Prince. But in these villages, there are babies who need antibiotics and suffer from the lack of medicine care. I know of at least one child, Geraldson, who lost much of his hearing because of a high fever. He has a bright smile and sharp mind, but he will never hear the sound of his father calling to him from afar while he is at play.
If anything positive can come from the tragedy of the earthquake, perhaps it is to show us what we have been deaf to or ignored for so long: Only two hours from the U.S. border by plane is a country where a child may die within the first five years of life without basic necessities like safe drinking water or basic medical care; where children rarely, if ever, see a dentist; and where many never receive the most basic education. At least not in a village like Cotelette.