Message From Our Founder
I’m excited and pleased by the results of our four 2010 humanitarian relief missions to Haiti and ongoing work there since then.
On January 12, 2010, when news of the cataclysm in Haiti first emerged, I knew immediately that the most dire situation imaginable was occurring at that moment in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. I felt I could not stand to just watch from the security and comfort of my home while so many millions were in agony! I have little medical background (I’ve always been a bit squeamish)–just what I learned in CPR class, a bit of Army basic training, and some from another volunteer organization I belonged to as a teen. I had never seen deep wounds or broken limbs, let alone treated them! I was soon to learn the terrible truth of what falling cinder blocks and cement roofs do to human bodies!
I left for Haiti just 36 hours after the earthquake, with plans to aid in distribution of supplies I and others brought. Prior to leaving for Haiti, I went to a discount store and bought medical supplies like pain medicine for adults and children, rolls of gauze, eye patches, etc. and was able to load up the biggest suitcases I could check in with the airline. Yet, virtually upon arrival to the Haitian border, I spent most of the time cleaning wounds, dispensing pain relief and antibiotic medicines, tending to victims’ needs, and doing just a tiny bit to prevent suffering, amputations and death.
At the three refugee medical hospitals I worked in at the Haiti-Dominican Republic border, I found that there were many hundreds of victims, most of whom were languishing unattended for hours or days, and thus any bandages they might have received prior to transport were needing changing before infection set in and lives and limbs of the injured put in jeopardy. In addition to crushed and broken bones, often they had deep wounds that had never been treated and were open to infection. I quickly learned how to do what was needed: to carefully remove the old bandages with a minimum of pain, to clean the wounds with different sterile solutions, and to apply antibacterial ointment, which also ensured easy removal of my bandages. I personally tended to scores patients each day for five days, helped relocate some and transferred supplies from one location to another. In addition, I aided in the dispensing of pain medicine and antibiotics, ensured victim’s safety and comfort, and helped hand out some of the tons of donated clothing and food supplies. The supplies that I had bought and backed in my suitcases were added to the dwindling dispensaries at two hospital, greatly appreciated and immediately used.
Based upon my experience and observations, interviews with medical professionals and subsequent follow up, I understand more about what needs to be immediately done to best help in catastrophes like the Haitian earthquake. In addition to the advanced medical knowledge that the doctors and nurses were providing, the need also includes non-medical personnel who can be quickly trained to perform much of the labor-intensive work that is so desperately needed. I have personally seen how such volunteers allow the trained doctors and nurses to attend to the more demanding procedures.
Immediately upon my return a week later, I founded AidWEST, a non-profit organization that has since been providing aid to the victims of catastrophes like what we’ve been witnessing in Haiti.
Our first corps of volunteers was assembled upon my return, in just one week, and included five men and women with various medical backgrounds. Since then we have fielded two more volunteer groups for Haiti. I’m extremely proud of their dedication and accomplishments on the missions for Haiti recovery: physical therapy for patients new to crutches and casts, patient transport, installation of solar power and generator upgrades. As team leader on these missions, we were able to assist medical doctors, provide tri-lingual translation, build many projects, provide music education and school books, even repair a vital x-ray machine. But equally important, we all formed a bond with hundreds of individuals from a new and lovely culture, fostering a dialog for peace and understanding.
Since the initial medical and support work in the first 45 days after the Haitian disaster, is impossible to list here the scores of projects our subsequent teams have completed, but here is just a brief summary. On our April-May 2010 Haiti mission, our volunteers provided medical care in both a fixed clinic and tent-to-tent mode, providing first aid, dehydration relief, antibiotics and internal medicines to hundreds of Haitians. We also undertook our first construction project, to build a 60-student school house in Canaan, a remote, rural village north of the capital.
At this juncture in the process I was finally able to integrate AidWEST with the various international relief organizations under the United Nations and World Health Organization mandate, and be recognized as a useful component in the relief system by the UN and Haitian ministry of health.
Before our August 2010 Haiti mission, we were able to organize the collection of 900 lbs. of humanitarian and medical supplies, box, palletize and arrange to truck them from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Florida, where they were shipped to Haiti on the US Navy’s USS Iwo Jima and delivered to a warehouse in the capital. Once on the ground in August, our team used these supplies and performed tent-to-tent health care clinics in two IDP camps in Croix des Bouquettes, including distribution of antibiotics, pain medication and humanitarian supplies. At the Orphanage Loyal in Croix des Bouquettes, we worked on projects such as installation of dorm building window screens, supplies relocation, and building of shelves. All team members interacted with the lovely and loving children to give them personal attention and care.
At the Ambassador Music Institute in La Pleine, near the devastated capital, the education component of our team addressed their needs for music education and replacement of instruments (most of which were crushed with their building during the earthquake). They delivered donated brass, woodwind and string instruments and taught many students in conducting, clarinet and flute workshops. Working in the Orphanage Loyal and the Muslim Hands Emergency School in Delmas, we all chipped in and purchased lumber (which is very expensive and considered a luxury item) for building an outdoor kitchen, which was undertaken and completed by our team. Our education volunteers performed popular songs in Creole, sang and played flute, clarinet and guitar, to the delight of all students. 90 lbs of French school books were delivered for this school and a sister school on the other side of the city.
In the mountain foothills of Canaan north and south of the capital, we performed medical aid and distributed humanitarian and medical supplies, and French books to many victims. (We were also honored in a special service held in the school building in Canaan which was partially funded and built by the April AidWEST team, and some of our August volunteers made additional personal donations for further improvements to the school house.) And we constructed school benches/desks for the school building.
In the ensuing years, AidWEST transitioned from critical care and constuction, so that Haitian business could return to support their people. We began supporting a school for the most impoverished children and also a youth club on the island. In 2021, a Go Fund Me campaign raised more than $1,200 to send to our field director, M. Dominique Tombeau, who is also founder of a school in Port-au-Prince.
More volunteers doing many of the things I and my fellow volunteers have been doing will be desperately needed at the inevitable disasters that will occur throughout the world. The needs will vary according to the severity of each catastrophe. If you are like me and just cannot sit idly while images of despair flicker on your television screen, please consider joining one of our medical support missions. If you have ever wanted to do something unique, needed and appreciated, I can promise you the experience of a lifetime.
Medical care and aiding with long term challenges like physical therapy and shelter construction can make a life-saving difference. We can help the suffering recover and return health to bodies…and even return smiles to the faces of those who have been hurt by natural or man-made disasters. It all starts with you.