During the preparation phase for the “North State to Haiti” adventure, nurse Libby Hernandez was true to the “what’s-good-for-them,” not “what’s-good-for-you” mindset of relief aid work.
Advice from a colleague with aid experience in India set her on a mission to gather prescription eyeglasses, magnifiers and sunglasses, commodities often out of fiscal reach for most Haitians. The result: a combination of collected eyewear from the Mercy Medical Center ER staff and the local Dollar Tree.
Libby, a 2003 Chico State graduate, lives in Cottonwood with her husband and high-school sweetheart, Artie. While working as a staff registered nurse in Mercy’s emergency room, Libby is completing her master’s through a program at Sonoma State “with one year left,” she exclaims. She adds, “I hope to focus on women’s health or pediatrics when I graduate.”
Today, all of Libby’s medical expertise, travel planning and preparation, including weeks of spectacle collection, will culminate in a trip across a continent and an unforgettable experience. She’ll be among seven health care professionals on a volunteer medical relief mission to Haiti. Until July 14, they will help treat victims of January’s Haitian earthquake — and I’ve metaphorically climbed into one of their suitcases with my camera and laptop. As the eighth member of the team, I’ll be the north state’s eyes and ears on this adventure.
But first, the phases of travel. You see, just like the shock-to-acceptance cycle of recovering from grief or the romance-to-commitment rhythm of a new relationship, travel has a sequence of phases.
First, travelers experience the idealistic, concept phase. Then comes the logistical phase, followed by the practical, preparation phase. The “I Can’t Leave For A Week” panic phase sets in just before departure, often in the throws of voyage preparation. Finally, the dreaded “If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will” phase.
The “North State to Haiti” medical relief team’s journey fell right into the rhythms of globe-trotting’s natural cycles. Team leader Susie Foster realized phase one with the realization of a dream to take a medical relief team to the disaster site. Read all about the mission in the first chapter of “To Haiti and Back.”
This first, enthusiastic phase culminated in an incredibly successful fundraiser for CRUDEM, which administrates Hopital Sacre Coeur in the tiny northern Haitian town of Milot. The Redding-based wine tasting, auction and raffle extravaganza at Vintage Wine Bar raised over $6,000 that will directly benefit patient care at the hospital. Many thanks to everyone who donated and joined the team for an incredible evening.
Phase 2: logistics. I can’t take any credit for this step in our adventure. Susie and team made complicated travel arrangements, secured hotel rooms for respite from overnight flights, consulted with public health nurses and coordinated with those on the ground in Milot long before I got on board.
All I had to do was have four shots in the arm that made me unable to raise my fist above my head for three days. Once upper-body limb mobility returned, I scoured five pharmacies to find the horse-pills that will prevent a mosquito bite from morphing into malaria-induced headaches, diarrhea and chills. Based on the scarcity of the monster pills, destinations plagued by parasite-infected mosquitoes aren’t on the Top 10 list for north state travelers.
The preparation phase continued until yesterday as I pushed, jammed and forced a mind-boggling array of clothes, hiking shoes, toys for kids at the hospital, and enough pharmaceuticals, creams and TSA-regulation three-ounce bottles to stock a Rite-Aid into a gorged 24-inch duffle bag. The camera is charged, a nail-biting 24-hour laptop tune-up is complete, and the adventure can begin.
The “Oh-Shit-What-Was-I-Thinking” phase was brief, but the “If-Something-Can-Go-Wrong” phase hit the team head-on yesterday. Most people wouldn’t complain if their flight was derailed, diverted to Miami and scheduled for the next day. No big whoop, right? A little sun and pool time, a few cocktails: a traveler’s dream. But one traveler’s dream is an aid-traveler’s nightmare.
A chance call to confirm our reservations revealed that we were delayed 24 hours and redirected from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, delaying our arrival in Milot to begin hospital relief work. But as a member of our team illuminated, rescheduled flights are a cake-walk for emergency room doctors and nurses who experience near death situations and split-second decision-making skills daily. So, the team got a grip and got back on a slightly different track and will hit the ground running even harder when we arrive in Milot.
Now, unlike leisure travelers, aid workers venturing to developing countries, post-natural disaster, experience a “Questioning-My-Motives” phase that deserves some dissection.
In my research about what to expect in Haiti, I stumbled upon and shared with the team “Good Intentions Are Not Enough,” a blog authored by Saundra Schimmelpfennig. Saundra worked in Thailand for four years and she saw the impact of aid from all perspectives: villagers, government officials, religious leaders, aid agency staff and directors, the United Nations, and various donors. As founding director of the Disaster Tracking Recovery Assistance Center, Saundra was regularly asked by individual donors, philanthropists, foundations, and corporations for advice on donating to recovery efforts.
Saundra’s blog entries address the realities of aid work and suggest that often, aid workers are doing more harm than good. Their good intentions, she contends, can add bodies to feed, house and immunize, and place added burdens on already stressed rescue crews, should a relief worker need to be evacuated. In addition, aid workers unknowingly hinder a local economy’s stimulus by assuming jobs that could provide incomes to local workers.
Upon further blog scouring, our team was exonerated. All its members are trained medical professionals, working for a well-established volunteer-based organization: the criteria for an aid-worker get-out-of-jail-free card, in Saundra’s view. But what if that hadn’t been true?
Part of me wants to tell Saundra to go “blog” herself. Her experience in this field is indisputable and certainly makes her an expert on the subject. I can even see her point of view about armies of well-intentioned but unskilled winter-breakers descending on an already stressed country. But many of her blog posts fail to acknowledge that much of the awareness and subsequent monetary relief to Haiti was a result of compassionate people with good intentions. A recent little “North State to Haiti” fundraiser is proof.
Although we haven’t had a heart-to-heart about it, I can project that the “North State for Haiti” team members realize that their contributions are a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. But I am leaving for Milot, Haiti today with seven unbelievably passionate, experienced, well-intentioned team members whose primary concern is to lend a week’s worth of their training and education to put a dent in the behemoth after-affects of a devastating natural disaster.
Maybe in her next blog, Saundra Schimmelpfennig can share a few stories about the mountains of sunglasses, bulging bags of toys and endless outpour of good intentions that help make up for those with no intentions at all.
Stay tuned for Chapter 3 of “To Haiti and Back.” You’ll meet another member of the “North State for Haiti” team and share the first glimpses of our host country.
The team is also accepting donations. Make checks payable to CRUDEM and send to P.O. Box 633, 215 Lake Blvd, Redding, CA 96003.
For more information about CRUDEM and Hopital Sacre Coeur, visit crudem.org.
Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to email@example.com.