Michelle Omar is a patrol sergeant for the Cedar Rapids Police Department. She is married to her husband, who is a patrol sergeant with the Linn County, IA Sheriff's Office. Michelle also volunteers with the Lisbon-Mount Vernon Ambulance Service as an Advanced EMT. Although Michelle is not currently signed up for another trip, she and her mother are looking to return to Haiti with CHI in 2019 or 2020.
How did you find CHI? Why CHI?
Marcia Rogers (current Board Member) and I, along with two other people (Terri Durgin and Melissa Osborn) decided to float the Cedar River several years ago. While we were floating, Marcia mentioned this CHI organization and her experiences volunteering in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Needless to say, the three of us were sold after hearing about Marcia's experiences. I enjoy traveling, including traveling internationally. A medical trip had always been on my bucket list, but I had not taken the time to do the research to identify a cause that I wanted to give my time and energy to. At the time, I was also certified as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and volunteered with the Lisbon-Mount Vernon, IA Ambulance Service. After researching a bit more about CHI, I thought that my limited medical background and CHI's mission might be a good fit. The four of us traveled together to Haiti with CHI in March 2015.
What trip(s) have you gone on with CHI? What was your favorite part of the trip?
Although I am sure that the Haitian people are so thankful for the medical services we are able to provide, I think the volunteers get more out of it than the Haitian people. My "WOW" moment on my first trip was during a home visit to a family living with leprosy. I, along with a handful of volunteers and a translator, delivered some wound treatment supplies to them. As we were getting ready to leave, the father of the family asked if he could say a prayer. During this prayer, he began to talk about how "blessed" he was. Blessed?! He and his wife are dealing with a lifelong debilitating illness. He lives in a home with no running water and no electricity. He lives in a country where he has limited access to medical care and education. And he is blessed? In his prayer, he talked about how lucky he was to have a loving wife and healthy kids. He talked about how great the Haitian people are and how lucky they are to have an organization like CHI to help his people. WOW! That was a huge reality check for me! Americans clutter their lives up with so much stuff and activities, that they don't appreciate the little things often enough. It was at this very moment that I was hooked.
My second trip to Haiti was in March 2016. This was also a trip to remember, but in a different way. It was neat to see some of the same patients that we had seen one year prior, including the couple with leprosy. I saw that the Haitians were truly interested in maintaining their health even in the living conditions with which they had to deal. What made this trip different was because about half of the volunteers became sick. Although many volunteers felt like crap (literally), they still battled through. Some of the Haitians had walked for miles or had stood in line for hours; we, as volunteers, didn't lose sight of how important these visits were to the Haitians and that we needed to battle through, the best we could, to provide the care that they needed. I'll admit, after this trip, I said never again, but...
My third trip to Haiti was in October 2017. I had heard that we were staying at a new place with even nicer accommodations. I kept on thinking about the couple with leprosy and the "Prince of Do Digue". I decided I was being selfish by being hesitant to go back, just because I had gotten sick on the last trip. Haitians deal with so much more than the temporary sickness I experienced on my second trip. My mother and I travel quite a bit together and I knew she had been interested in going on a medical trip as well, so I invited her. It was incredible seeing the experience through my mother's eyes. It was like it was my first trip all over again. The difference a volunteer group of strangers can make as a team is just incredible. The couple with leprosy are doing great and the "Prince of Do Digue" hasn't changed. I'm so glad I got over my selfishness and decided to make another trip.
What impact does CHI have on your life? Why did you choose to donate with your time or money?
Burning a week's worth of vacation and some money are well worth making the trip to Haiti. It is such a reality check. When I start getting caught up in possessions and activities, thinking of the Haitians and how "blessed" they are makes me pause. As Mary Rose McGeady said, "There is no greater joy, nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone's life."