Retourner A D’Ayiti
By Zola Bruce, MSW, executive director of Unified for Global Healing
Photos by Tamara Fitzpatrick
With all of the news reports of screaming, people buried in rubble, crime, no food, lost family and limbs, I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Port-au-Prince on July 11th. I stepped off the plane, the air was thick, everyone was pushing forward into the unconditioned airport, which was at least 98 degrees Fahrenheit at 7:00pm, and I still had to get through customs. It was getting dark outside because the direct flight that I took which was originally supposed to land at 2pm, ended up deplaning in Miami due to a mechanical issue that could not be fixed in Port-au-Prince. I hoped that all my bags made it and that I could find the driver five hours after I was expected to land.
Since 2005, I have been missing Haiti. It was the first experience that opened my eyes and helped me envision a way that I can combine my talents in social work, public health and the arts. Working with a medical team at L’Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Des Chappelles not only became a great experiential learning experience, but also a profoundly spiritual life changing experience.
We have been waiting to come back when it is “safe” due to the liability that comes with running a non-profit and being responsible for a full team. Although the reality is, there is always a safety advisory on Haiti. I had been yearning too long, knew that 2010 was the year to come back regardless, and needed to just make it happen. And when the earthquake hit, this catapulted us into action. We wanted to come right away and be a part of relief efforts, but our mission is to develop programming that can be implemented into community after we leave, which takes planning. One of our co-founders, Dr. Thea James, went with the Boston Disaster Medicine Team a couple of days after the earthquake and was able to assess sustainable needs. Now we are back in a full force with a team of 24 -- the largest team we have had yet -- of medical professionals (some from Boston DMAT), social workers and artists.
Starting a new partnership with L’Hopital Adventiste D’Haiti, in Carrefour, has been rewarding so far and we seem to breathe new energy into the place. By helping manage the hospital’s ER, assisting in OR and Pediatrics, and running free expression art programs and games for children in the hospital with long term ailments, amputations, and those living with their sick parents on the hospital grounds in tents -- we breathe new energy into a hospital that has been struggling to stay afloat financially since the earthquake by welcoming volunteers like us to help. And now, just after week one, I observe my team working in the hospital as if they have been here for over a month.
Despite the safety advisories, doing community work outside of the hospital grounds is so rewarding. We connected to a nearby orphanage and on the walk were able to be a part of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. “Bonsoir” was being sung all down the street. Vegetables and fruit for sale are piled on cloth and tables along the street. With music and laughter and curious eyes, we became a spectacle of entertainment. At the orphanage we set up stations with coloring, hand massages and yoga, while one of our partnering translators played songs on his guitar for ambience. Sixty-five children sang along. Our nurse and pediatrician did quick health checks. This combo of art, physical activity and healthcare offered a holistic perspective on ways that the orphans could escape, cope and continue to survive in dire situations.
Being an artist and social worker, creativity inspires everything in me. Haiti teaches me to connect to my spirit to give me strength and survival skills, how to live with less, how to laugh anyway, in the face of struggle. Haitian sun, art, Creole language, food and energy, stirred together, create life in ways I have not experienced at home. In some ways, Haiti feels like home in another dimension.