Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti

Saving Lives, Changing Lives

Friday, June 18, 2010

            ”Tipa tipa, ti zwazo fe nish li”.  Bit by bit, the tiny bird makes her nest, says the Kreyol proverb, and in this season it is truer than ever. At the start of the rainy season, birds make their nests to prepare for the safe hatching of their young.  

One type of bird, a tiny yellow bird, converges in flocks into a single tree, screeching in a volume totally out of proportion to their small size, as they fly back and forth from the palmier trees, where they pluck the slender fibrous leaves to build their nests. They are called "Madame Sara” birds, because they make as much noise as the ladies at the Verettes market, calling out to each other to advertise their wares and to belittle the meager offerings of their neighbors. 

One can almost imagine what the tiny birds are saying, as they hover next to their nests, which hang from branches, gradually becoming a gourd-like structure with a side entry. They fly to the nest with leaves, and pound them into the next row, using ther beaks almost like nail hammers. “Come on, girls, time’s a-wasting, the rains are coming, we have to get our chicks under shelter.”

            The rainy season also brings out the maternal instincts of the women of the mountains, who come to the hospital with their sick and malnourished children, where they are admitted first to the pediatrics ward for initial treatment and then to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit to regain some of their lost weight, and to receive psychosocial intervention.
            Since May, the population of the NRU has doubled, reflecting the dire conditions in the upland communities. The year’s food supply comes from a single planting season;  last summer’s crops have all been consumed, and hungry families watch the slender green shoots of corn and millet emerge from the rocky soil, knowing that it will be weeks before they can be harvested.  They watch hopelessly as their children lose weight, and their stomachs become distended with parasites.  Then they bring them to the health centers in Bastien or Tienne, or directly to the hospital, where the children will be treated and given life-saving food. 
            For many years, HAS has weighed all children under 5 years old, and have treated children whose weights are below normal either in community-based 2 –week nutrition sessions (ti foyers), or at the hospital if the condition is more severe. This year, HAS has embarked on an innovative approach; women volunteers who support approximately 15 households each (called animatrices), go to each of their assigned families to conduct a Risk Factor Assessment to identify households where children are at a high risk for malnutrition or diseases. Because many of the animatrices are illiterate, the assessment form is a series of graphics, which the visitor checks off when they see them. They report on the condition of the house and courtyard, where the family cooks, whether they have a latrine, and how they access water.
            The categories were defined in focus groups with animatrices, and field tested and revised before the campaign started. With support from the UN OCHA program, every household in the HAS service area with a child under 5 years will be assessed, and children in these households will be offered supplemental foods to try to prevent the annual increase in cases of severe malnutrition.  Our hope is to be able to prevent malnutrition in the highest-risk households, and to be able to show, over several years, a decreasing trend in severe malnutrition and a reduction in referrals to the hospital during the rainy season.

            With tiny steps, the hospital continues to build a system which addresses the immediate needs of the people in the Artibonite Valley, and to establish a foundation to change the major patterns of disease, particularly in the most vulnerable of the mountain communities.

Ian Rawson,
17 June 2010.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Haiti Water for Life Celebrates Drilling 200 Wells!

Over 15 years ago Canadian Rotarian Roy Sheldrick and his wife, Norma visited Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti.  The trip became a life changing experience for Roy who wrote of this experience, “Many Haitians live in conditions that have changed little from a century ago.  Many Haitians have no electricity, no running water, and no telephones.  To visit Haiti is like going back in time.  Potable (drinkable water) wells are life savers.  In Haiti, one out of every five children die before the age of five, mostly from curable diseases.  Contaminated water gives children (and adults) infections, typhoid and diarrhea which in turn can lead to malnutrition”.  So, with the help of Sheldrick’s Rotary, The Rotary of Ancaster Ontario, he developed the Haiti Water for Life Program whose goal was to put 200 wells in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti, first by buying a well and subsequently over the years by building and installing many many more. 
Since that time, wells have been installed in school yards, church yards, medical centers and on the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti’s campus.  In April the Haiti Water for Life program announced the drilling, capping and installation of the 200th well in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti.   Since its inception in 1995, Haiti Water For Life has raised over $1.3 million dollars for Haiti Water development.  Major donations have come from individuals, church groups, Rotary Clubs in over 70 communities in Ontario and Western New York State.   There is also a fund raising Walk for Water Event which is sponsored by the City of Hamilton Ontario’s Public Works Department along with additional funds from private foundations, the Ryan’s Well Foundation and the Foundation of Rotary International.
Hôpital Albert Schweitzer’s own Dawn Johnson and Renold Estime administer the program and are the key program leaders in Haiti.  There are countless people to thank for the success of this program including the drilling crews and others who carry out the difficult construction and implementation of these wells often traveling over barely passable mountain roads to do so.  There are also 3 partner Haitian Rotary Clubs that have been vital to the program, the Petite Riviere, Saint Marc and Verrettes.  At a recent dinner in Canada to celebrate the drilling and opening of the 200th well Renold Estime was presented with a Paul Harris Fellowship Award to recognize his dedication and efforts in supervising the crews, training community committees and managing the work program.  Sheldrick was also presented with awards at this celebration for his life’s work with the program.  In his comments that evening, Sheldrick thanked all of the hundreds of people who have made the Water for Life Program possible.  With its recent expansion into sanitation facilities it has become even more critical to the communities being served in the Artibonite Valley.  Roy said that one of his life’s dreams had been realized with the completion of the 200th well; however he acknowledged that the work is not complete until all of the people in the Artibonite Valley (now estimated at up to 400,000) have access to clean safe water. 
Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti wishes to thank everyone involved with Haiti Water For Life.
“Giving clean water to the Haitian people brings hope for tomorrow”. –Roy Sheldrick