Where We Work

haitian_community.jpgBackground

Haiti is situated on the Western third of the island of Hispaniola, just east of Cuba. It has an estimated population of around 10.5 million people. 75% of Haitians are estimated to live below the poverty line, with the majority of the population living on less than $2 per day. Various natural disasters including the earthquake of January 2010 have only worsened the situation. The capital of Haiti is Port-au-Prince, a city of around three million people. Our clinics are in a rural area in the mountains, about ninety minutes from downtown Port-au-Prince.  

Our Clinics

Community Health Initiative currently provides care in Arcahaie. Due to the lack of affordable primary healthcare in the area, some patients walk eight hours or more to arrive at our clinic site. We provide peanut butter and bread for all people upon entry to our clinic, as many of our patients go without eating in order to be seen by a CHI provider.

Medical Background

Much of the Haitian population can be diagnosed with deficiences of iron, vitamin A, iodine, protein, calories, or any combination of these. Overarching malnutrition leads to stunted growth and development in the Haitian population. Infectious diseases including HIV, TB, and lymphatic filariasis, among others, add another layer to the multitude of factors that play into health inequity throughout Haiti.

Practicing medicine in a rural Haitian community is dramatically different than most providers are used to. We have a limited supply of medications, no radiological testing, and very basic laboratory testing. As a provider, we ask that you make your decisions keeping our limited resources in mind, and carefully use materials based on maximum positive impact for the patient. Our providers receive a case definition and treatment guidelines book, which should be read prior to arrival in Haiti to create continuity for our patients in their diagnoses and treatment procedures. We encourage collaboration between providers throughout the week in Arcahaie; providers new to Haiti will practice alongside physicians experienced in the region.

  

clinic_kids.jpgHealth & Vital Statistics

Most Haitian statistics involve some degree of guesswork. We operate within a population that does not have addresses, track birth or death rates, hold a national census, or have national identifiers like social security.

Infant mortality: 63/1000 live births (6.3/1000 in the US)

Life expectancy: 57 years old (78 years old in the US)

HIV prevalence: 5.6% (0.6% in the US)

Language

Haitian Kreyol (or Creole) is the primary language spoken throughout Haiti. With roots in French, English, and languages from the pre-colonial Haitian population, most French speakers can understand the basics. We work with some of the best translators around. They speak English very well, if not fluently. Our translators love sharing Haitian history and culture with our volunteers. Volunteers tend to pick up Haitian words and phrases from our interpreters as well! We employ enough translators during clinic that all volunteers should have the chance to interact with patients.

Bonjou- Hello (before noon)

Bonswa- Hello (afternoon)

Mwe rele ______- My name is ______

Mwen kontan rekonet ou- Nice to meet you

Mwen kontan way ou- Nice to see you

Kijan ou ye?- How are you?

Sak pase?- What's happening?

Religion

Haitian culture emphasizes religion. 80% of Haitian describe themselves as Catholic, while most of the remaining 20% consider themselves Protestant. Depending on who you ask, 50% of Haitian participate in Voodoo to some extent. In Haiti, Voodoo and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. Some clinic groups will have a chance to tour a Haitian Voodoo temple and learn from a Voodoo priest.

Food

Local Haitians cook for us and are very careful in how they they clean and prepare food to make sure everything is cooked properly. Some people can get an upset stomach because of the unfamiliar food, even if it is properly prepared.  We bring medicine to help with diarrhea and upset stomachs so don’t hesitate to let your group leader know so we can help you start feeling better.

Our meals will consist of typical Haitian offerings such as beans and rice, with occasional meat such as chicken or goat thrown in.  There may be plantains, bananas, oranges, and grapefruit.  Peel everything before you eat it.  Most people enjoy the Haitian cuisine.  But until you know if you like a food, just take a small portion, test it, and if you like it, then eat up!   No food in Haiti ever gets thrown out.  If everyone in the house eats and there are still leftovers, there will always be someone that will gladly eat what is left, so please do not put a lot of food on your plate if you do not intend to eat it.

Don’t drink water that has not been treated, and avoid ice, unless made with treated water. Coca-Cola is widely available and potable water will be provided to you.

We generally suggest that our team members bring snacks such as candy (that doesn’t melt), beef jerky, crackers, etc.  Lunch is not provided in some of our locations, such that these snacks can carry you through.  It is often warm enough that most volunteers don’t feel like eating much during the heat of day regardless.  We also strongly recommend you avoid “street” food.  Do not eat anything in Haiti unless approved by your Team Leaders.  It may smell and taste wonderful, but you don’t want to find yourself spending all of your time in Haiti in the bathroom.

food.jpg

Lodging

Our teams will typically stay in a hotel or resort. We typically have breakfast and dinner prepared for us, access to electricity, cold running water (including toilets and showers), and sometimes even the Internet. Keep in mind that this is Haiti, however, none of these amenities are guaranteed. Electronic plugs that work in the US will work in Haiti. Bedding is provided and very clean, although some of our volunteers will occasionally prefer to bring their own sheets or sleeping bags. AT&T and Verizon phones will work if international access is activated, although this service is not particularly cheap at around $3/minute. Sunscreen and insect repellent are typical necessities, while mosquito nets usually are not.

Recommended Reading

The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster by Jonathan M. Katz.  On January 12, 2010, the deadliest earthquake in the history of the Western Hemisphere struck the nation least prepared to handle one. Jonathan M. Katz, the only full-time American news correspondent in Haiti, was inside his house when it buckled along with hundreds of thousands of others. In this visceral first-hand account, Katz takes readers inside the terror of that day, the devastation visited on ordinary Haitians, and through the monumental-yet misbegotten-rescue effort that followed.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder. An easy to read and entertaining, providing a quick background to those new to Haiti.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. An interesting comparison between Haiti and the Dominican Republic (the Eastern 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola).

Haiti: The Tumultuous History, From the Peart of the Caribbean to Broken Nation by Phillipe Girard. Excellent overview of Haitian history.

Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola by Michele Wucker. Offers insight into the complex and controversial relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Farewell, Fred Voodoo by Amy Wilentz


 

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