Ask Laura Van Dyke about Partners in Health, the organization that boldly proclaims “Health is a human right,” and she will gush. That’s because she believes fully in founder Paul Farmer’s practical but ambitious vision that communities around the globe need to be empowered to take care of the health of their citizens. Unlike other health-focused global nonprofits, PIH works with the governments of the countries it serves to establish long-lasting solutions. Van Dyke says the process is harder but more sustainable.
Now Van Dyke, seven other adults, and seven high school seniors are traveling to Haiti to help Partners in Health with their health-focused mission there. They fly out next weekend, carrying $300 of medicines and medical supplies, switch planes in Miami, and take a bus out of Port au Prince to the higher-elevation and more rural Central Plateau.
The team consists of local PIH chapter co-founders Van Dyke and Brad Lewis, who is also a teacher at BHS and the founder of the school’s Social Justice League. Neill and Patty Raymond, who are youth ministers at St. Cecilia’s, will also be going, accompanied by their eldest son who works in the movie business in LA. Ellen Murphy, a teacher at St. Cecilia’s, and Dana Brumley, co-owner of Outbound Expeditions, will round out the adults.
The kids are mostly members of the St. Cecilia’s youth group and/or BHS’s Social Justice League. There was a great deal of interest among teens, but Van Dyke said they had to limit the numbers. The kids that are going are using the experience for their senior projects and are doing all their own fundraising. One of the kids, Madeline Crawford, is organizing a May walk fundraising event for PIH.
Haiti is a global Ground Zero when it comes to medical crises. The population suffers from HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and cholera. On top of that, Haitians are struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed upwards of 150,000 people (estimates vary widely) and left many more homeless and in dire need of food and water. Just as bad, Haiti is already feeling the devastating effects of climate change, especially in terms of soil depletion and drought caused by warmer temperatures and widespread deforestation.
The BI team will spend ten days at an orphanage in Hinche (ahnch) whose population of 300 swelled by one-third after the earthquake. They will play with the kids and teach them English. Then they will serve as the manual labor for building a concrete floor for the three-room 300-student Flowers of Hope School in Clory. The BI group raised the money for the new school floor. Van Dyke said the Flowers of Hope School was started by two Haitian men who are a little more well-off than their neighbors and wanted to give back. One is a UN interpreter and one manages the Midwives for Haiti nonprofit, which the group will also visit.
The BI team will then help restock medicines at the Azil Refeeding Center in Hinche, where undernourished babies and toddlers can get nourishment. The center is run by the Sisters of Charity. Children under five can live at the center until they regain healthy weight.
Another stop for the group is the Nourimanba Plant, a project for which Van Dyke has raised funds. Nourimanba is a life-saving peanut butter concoction made with milk powder, vegetable oil, sugar, and vitamins. PIH distributes the product for free throughout Haiti to combat malnutrition. UNICEF reports that as many as 300,000 children in Haiti are malnourished.
In the Central Plateau, PIH has built a 320-bed solar-powered teaching hospital, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, at the request of the Haitian government. It is the largest solar-powered hospital in the world. PIH also hires citizens to check on the local populations to identify people who need help and get them to the hospital. The hires also ensure that the patients get and take their prescribed medications. Van Dyke said that the hospital offers high-quality care, not just basic and emergency care.
Bill Gates, who is a big fan of Dr. Farmer and PIH, writes on his blog that PIH helps run medical clinics at 12 sites in Haiti where “they reach more than a million people and employ thousands of Haitians.” PIH is also currently working in Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Russia, Peru, Dominican Republic, Kazakhstan, and the United States (in Boston and with the Navajo Nation).
To support our local PIH chapter’s work in Haiti, click here.
Crawford’s senior project, the fundraising walk “Strides for Solidarity,” will be held at BHS at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, 2014. Participants will walk 20 laps (5 miles) around the track in solidarity with Community Health Workers around the world. All proceeds will go to Partners in Health.
Photos courtesy of Flowers of Hope School and Jon Lascher/Partners in Health. Featured photo by Laura Van Dyke shows Partners In Health|Engage volunteers at the PIH Soup Night at Eagle Harbor Book Company: Emma Van Dyke, Signe Lindquist, Mary Van Dyke, Spencer Alpaugh, Carolyn Williams, Hayden Murphy, and Elizabeth von Ruden. Alpaugh, Williams, and Murphy are going to Haiti.