Employees of BD can apply for volunteer service trips that the company supports in partnership with NGOs around the world. These trips are amazing opportunities! The employee is considered working while serving in another country, providing manpower to support a local project and improve the community. BD associates must apply and interview; If chosen, the trip is completely paid and you do not have to take vacation time to be involved. My original trip was planned to support a similar mission in Cameroon last year. Due to political upheaval, security was of great concern. The Cameroon trip was delayed, delayed... then finally cancelled. We were informed we would be going to Haiti more than a year later!
My role for this trip was to train Community Health Workers on general healthcare topics such as Hypertension, Diabetes, Stroke, Communicable Diseases, and more. BD's service trips require you to apply for specific positions that suit the project. The CHW training roles were open to healthcare professionals, particularly but not necessarily nurses. The NGO we worked with on this trip is Heart to Heart International. They do great work all around the globe and have had a Haitian presence since the earthquake to continue their amazing work. The newest project was to build a clinic in a neighbourhood market to serve the local sellers. Most of the sellers are women that work many hours a week running their market stalls. Their schedule and life challenges minimize their access to healthcare. The new market clinic brings healthcare to them. The clinic is staffed with doctors and nurses as well as non-medical folks, the healthcare workers (or agents as they were called in Haiti), that go out into the market providing follow up, further education, and support. It is an amazing strategy to enhance the health of the community.
As a frequent solo traveller to developing countries and someone who has actually lived as an expat in more than one developing country, my experience in Haiti was very different from some of my co-workers. The opportunity to teach four community health agents, be honoured with their full attention, and feel their eagerness to learn was by far what impacted me the most during my stay. My observations of their commitment to improve the lives of those they would touch in their role inspired me. While many of my fellow associates were challenged by the food (fish served with heads and goat :) and the abject poverty we saw on outings, I was most affected by living completely behind the compound's walls. BD and Heart to Heart had such a large group that we were housed in two compounds, very close together. I am not a good judge of distance but seemed to be about a football field's distance apart. For safety, and I totally understand the ramifications, we were not allowed to walk between. We had to be driven, from one walled compound to the other. Haiti is an extremely challenging place, and safety is a constant concern. Each of our compounds were surrounded by high cement walls topped with razor wire or glass shards and closed off by huge solid metal gates. There were guards, and dogs. This all provided safety, for those of us inside. All I could think about were the folks outside the walls and having any chance to interact with them and see some of the beauty of Haiti, outside of Port-au-Prince.
My volunteer role was to teach the agents. They came to the Heart to Heart compound for training so I was only able to venture out from behind the walls twice in two weeks. One trip, we went to an expat grocery. When I travel, I often do try to get to local stores and buy any local items available. I bought spicy peanut butter in Haiti and of course, coffee. The second outing was to visit Papillon. This organization was started by an American woman who originally planned to adopt a Haitian orphan and in the process, realised that most orphans in Haiti are not created by parents dying, but instead by parents so poor they choose to relinquish their children because they literally cannot feed them. Many mothers and fathers still visit their children while living in orphanages, bringing them an occasional treat. These are the children that American (and other) families have adopted. This breaks my heart... how can a country so close to the USA and Canada be the poorest country in the western hemisphere? Adopting the children may give them a better life but why not help their parents provide for them? This is the mission of Papillon, Shelley and her team. https://papillonmarketplace.com/pages/our-story Please visit the website and consider purchasing their work!
We also visited Croix- de-Boquet, a community of artists creating beauty out of steel drums. Please see my slide show below for some pics. (Make sure you open this blog in your browser to enable the slide show.) I carried home multiple pieces of this art and hope to return someday for more!
Back to some thoughts on walls... The USA is embroiled in a fight around a Wall. Some people believe that crossing our southern border with a physical barrier will make us "safer." I noted in Haiti that there were many walls. Walls surrounded most living compounds of anyone with means, but as noted above, people also had razor wire, guards, dogs, alarms, cameras, and more. I got the feeling that although a barrier may slow someone down, it would not stop them. When people are hungry, when they are oppressed, when they and their children are in danger, when the gap between the haves and have-nots is so wide it requires "protection" of one from the other, walls are only a brief deterrent. It takes much more than a wall to stop people who don't see another way to survive. Would those behind walls be safe without them in Haiti? I doubt so. Do I understand the reason why we didn't get to walk 100 yards down a street during daylight between our compounds? I do. Particularly as an employee and volunteer of a wonderful company, supporting another amazing organization. I've spent my life so far meeting people where they are at, sharing my smile, and giving of myself, even if it is just to show another deep respect. So far, this has provided for safe interactions, interesting experiences, and likely emboldens me. Someday, my openness to others may result in harm. I choose to walk that line, with awareness and appropriate caution but with love.
My time in Haiti was bittersweet. It reminded me of so many of the places I've been, where the gap between people who feel safe vs those that do not is wider than the blessed among us should allow. Living behind a wall, for two weeks, with only two brief day trips outside was very difficult for me but gave me pause to think, a lot. The questions I ask now include- "What did I learn about myself? What can I do to break down walls, to encourage justice where I am at and beyond?
So many questions... I'm still pondering them.