Melissa’s Sob

By Susan D’Aloia
Saying goodbye to the Haitian people I worked with in Carrefour, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, proves inevitable. A few days before the end, I think of the participants through the aspects of their lives I have come to know. Building three-dimensional connections take time, experiences and even minor conflicts in order to build trust. I recall how Teddy, a nine-year-old boy, makes a Warrior3 poise in yoga -- sticking his tongue out in intense focus every time he stretches his body. His mother, who attends closing ceremonies, shares how sad her son was the night before because the program had to end.

I think about Fara, 10 years old, who vacillates between taking care of her three-year-old brother in workshop when he gets fussy, to fiercely making decisions about her particular project’s design. Calvin and his friends embrace competition as they master the game of ‘Set’ with Mark, one of the translators. And Roosevelt, the core translator I have worked with, tells me anecdotes regarding the hospital and community. I too learn a bit more about his family and his girlfriend.

On Saturday, many of us attend church on the hospital grounds. Afterwards, packed inside the tap-tap, the funky colored bus for transportation, we say goodbye. Melissa watches us. Melissa, during workshops became intermittently feisty, passionate and demanding; as well resigned, frustrated and shut down. This is not such an unusual fluctuation for the universal teenager if one exists. This Haitian teenager’s trajectory, however, along with her surrounding peers, proves rife with overarching economic obstacles so to survive day-by-day. Today, Melissa wears a scowl, her hands on her thin hips staring down the tap-tap. I say her name and a goodbye. She looks down and walks around. She lifts her head again and my eyes meet hers. Then she sobs, looking down again.

I negotiate Melissa’s sobs, considering various degrees of the obvious and the mystified. A program where she experienced success, which also served as a space where she could be annoyed, joyful, frustrated and celebratory, has come to an end. Loss begets loss, as any human being can attest. Her sobs ring the joy and pain of life. They too ring of overarching injustice.

The arts team I have worked with -- Chia-Ti, Kiyana, and Maureen -- feels special to me. They comprise heart, soul and dedication. Melissa, Teddy, Calvin, Fara, Mark, Roosevelt, and the other Haitians we worked with, too are special. They are filled with heart, soul, dedication and a desire to embody these principles through action. They want to make art and create change. Upon creating an interactive “puzzle” of Haiti as outlined by Maureen, participants colored index cards with a broad black stroke on one side and a number on the other. Through a coordinated grid, the collection of designed cards formed a colorful poster of Haiti ornamented with symbols from life.

The follow up activity sought youth’s commentary, on what they loved about Haiti and what they wished for it. Loves: The food, the flag, the music, the people. Wishes: End the misery, advance, end the misery, create jobs, end the misery, make schools, more schools, more beauty…

So Melissa’s sob has come to encompass this ache, too, the ache of these collective wishes as communicated by the youth in workshop. My own thoughts around the political economy of Haiti, the Global South, and the territorial battles of disaster relief, will find their place in my conception of Haiti in the weeks to come. Melissa’s sob, for now, monopolizes my thoughts. This depiction communicates my goodbye and my gratitude to Haiti and the Haitian people.


These are two letters that our community arts team received on their last day at Hopital Adventiste d'Haiti, both from Cadet Williams, a quiet teenager who was a regular participant in the activities. While he was always engrossed in the art projects, he had a somewhat limited affect and didn't talk much, making the letters an all the more moving reveal of his internal thoughts. One of our team members, Michelson Dorime, an EMT and pre-med student who was born in Haiti and speaks fluent Creole, provided the translation.

The top note says:
Today, I take the occasion to say thank you to you. I say thank you, for the photos you took for us. I say thank you because you thought of Haiti, you left your activities in your country in order to come help us.

Unfortunately I do not have anything [tangible] to give you in return as a gift. But the gift I would like to give you is Jesus. Take Jesus (with you) because the world is going to end. -- Cadet Williams, Thank you

The bottom note says:
Today, I feel happy to write you to tell you thank you. I say thank you for the beautiful games that you showed us and thank you because you thought of Haiti and all the children. I salute all the children that are living in the USA country. -- Cadet Williams, Thank you

Haunted by Haiti

By Dr. Seema Tiku, pediatrician

Ever since I got back, every little thing reminds me of my time in Haiti. From the smoothly paved roads I drive down, to the garbage chute I can easily rid my waste in, to the air-conditioned stores that I comfortably enter. But one thing that haunts me more than anything else since I’ve arrived back to the States is the site of a healthy infant. This poses a significant problem since I’m a practicing pediatrician.

There was a patient in particular that I cared for at L’Hopital Adventiste that turned me. His name was Kenny; he was three days old and born eight weeks early. But according to the hospital he was born at in Port-au-Prince, he was no better than an infant born nine months too early. He wasn’t considered a viable patient at 28 weeks to the birth hospital, so his parents asked his aunt to take him by whatever means possible to us because maybe we would consider caring for him. Without medical care, Kenny would hardly survive another day.

That was my first day in Haiti. I was panic-stricken. In front of me was a 1.6-pound baby wrapped in a white towel on an exam table, while his adolescent aunt sat nervously in a chair across the room. The panic was rooted in two facts: One was that Kenny was actually a very viable patient with a high chance of survival, and second was that his viability was based on my ability to care for him at a highly equipped and staffed hospital, which he did not have access to.

And so it began. I spent most of that week calling colleagues in the states and trying to be creative with what we supplies we had, trying to supply Kenny with the best care that he needed. There was a lot of guesswork involved because we were unable to test Kenny for any neonatal complications. I tried to make the best choices I could, but I felt blindfolded the whole time I was caring for him. It was enough to make me want to pull my hair out.

Kenny was tough -- with what little we were doing for him, with what little equipment, volunteers and staff we had, he was alert and breathing comfortable. Every night I would go to bed and my dreams were about him, every morning I would wake up and worry that he didn’t make it through the night. And every day that I was there, I would go into to see him in our makeshift NICU and he would give me a wide stare. He wanted to live. It was almost like I could read his mind and he was saying, “Just give me a little help, I can make it.”

So, the day that we found out that Project Medishare, a US-based satellite hospital, was able to accept him to their NICU, I literally jumped for joy. We packed him up in a cardboard box with whatever resuscitation equipment we could bring and tried to maneuver the unpaved roads of Port-au-Prince in our ambulance. We were too scared to use the siren thinking it would cause stress in his frail body. We were too scared to use the air-conditioning even though it was July in Haiti, worried that his frail body couldn’t withstand it. We held onto that box for dear life for that 60-minute ride, worried that his frail body couldn’t withstand all the potholes.

But then we finally arrived at freedom. We brought Kenny into his new home to meet his new caregivers. Even though I was going to miss seeing his wide eyes every morning, I was so happy that he was going to get the care that he deserved, the care that he asked for. The minute I got back into that ambulance was the first deep breath I had in about five days. I would sleep tonight. Sometimes there is a happy ending…

Sometimes there is not…

I learned about a week later, the night before I was to head back to the states that Kenny had passed. For what reason I do not know, nor do I think I care. It is his wide stare that haunts me when I look at the glowing face of a healthy newborn.


To create; to live...

By Susan D’Aloia

“There’s no place in the world I’d rather be right now than enveloped here in Haiti.”

This is what I wrote as a Facebook status update after three days of working as part of a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and artists here in Carrefour, an area of Port-au-Prince. That status update attempts to encapsulate my experience of visiting an orphanage, making star mobiles with young people, and playing kick ball on the hospital grounds while attempting to avoid the sun. Yet, even that descriptive falls short of harnessing the arts and community program of which I have been privileged to take part during this delegation. Today, with my team mates consisting of American practitioners and Haitian translators, we built accordion books in a project titled “Imaginer.” Eighteen young people between the ages of two and 17 drew a “place” from their imagination, created “a person” of their choice, and represented a “feeling” any way they wanted through creativity. Participants drew houses with the natural wealth of Haiti’s banana, papaya and “chedok” trees, and boats on the sea. The people depicted included self-portraits, “zamni pou l’ecole” (a friend), family members, and even Barack Obama.

Multiple projections can be pulled from this. Youth will express themselves, have fun doing it, experience more connection and heal. It need be mentioned the young people my team works with include patients that have lost limbs or have protracted injuries; young people whose family members are patients or were patients and still live in tents on the hospital grounds; and children who have found employment at the hospital, whose labor exchange is food and access to a more protected setting.

One participant,eight years old (whose name we will keep confidential), has participated in our programming every day in between late afternoon walks on the grounds with his rail-thin father, a patient in the hospital. It is hard to not to become affected by his smile and penetrating eyes as he holds his ailing father’s hand and introduces us to him. His unbridled enthusiasm to draw, play, learn a game and create surfaces every day. I am also struck by what I experience as his precocious sense of regard. On Monday, after working for six days, I feel ill and stayed back at the hotel to rest and hydrate. When I returned to the hospital grounds after the next day, the little boy immediately expressed concern over my sickness. That day he draws and colors a vibrate picture of a house and trees along with a self-portrait. His feeling was expressed via a boat on water.

That night, his father died from his battle with typhoid.

The next day, we prepared a bag with a few shirts, toys and a pillow from the donated items we brought as a delegation. The little boy, whose mom died two years before, awaits his fate somewhat determined by a distant family member who was expected to call after learning his father passed. As he waited for this call, he attended all the arts programming offered. He did puzzles and played with stuffed animals, and made art from ink pads. He demonstrated what might be considered anxiety when asking repeated questions regarding having enough materials. Finally, mid-day the family members got in touch, explaining that they don’t know him at all and can’t take care of him. He is also struggling with his health and it looks like he will end up at one of the many local orphanages. The hospital administration, though overwhelmed with patients and scrambling for money, acted concerned about him and agreed to have him stay in the hospital grounds until a measured decision can be made. Chia-Ti, my teammate, decorated the small area where he will sleep with the artwork he’s done over the last week, including a visor he decorated in preparation for a nature walk we went on. He has worn it for two days.

I do not know the outcome of this little boy's story, nor how his grieving process will unfold. I cannot assertively assess how much healing making art and playing games for two weeks will provide for him or the dozens of other children we have been so lucky to connect with through art and play. This little boy is but one Haitian child who survived what the kids in our program call “goodah goodah goodah!” ⎯ a name describing the sound of the earthquake. It is for certain, however, that the interactive activities we have shared with these Haitian children at the hospital grounds and the orphanages we have visited has brought us closer to these kids and their indomitable will to live.


Unified for Global Healing in the Huffington Post

Our team arrived in Haiti on the six-month anniversary of the earthquake, which was also the same day that the government ended it's mandate that all health care be provided free of charge. The hospital we are volunteering at, L'Hopital Adventiste d'Haiti, is one of the many hospitals that started charging in order to avoid bankruptcy. This article in the Huffington Post talks about this transition, and how our team is helping to manage it. Props to Doctors Sandra Scott, Juliet Hwang, Seema Tiku, Thea James and Raja Brahmbhatt for helping to save the life of the 28-week premature baby on the night we toured the hospital. Since then, our team has tirelessly treated an average of 80 patients a day, according to our head of research, Dr. Khalid ElHussein.

Unified for Global Healing on CNN's AC360 blog

From Untitled Album

Check out this article on Anderson Cooper 360's blog that highlights the work we've been doing administering Mirror Visual Feedback therapy to Haitian amputees. Congratulations to our treasurer, Dr. Sandra Scott, for bringing her colleague, Dr. Eric Altschuler, down to Haiti to administer the therapy this week. Sandra also did a great job promoting the therapy sessions on two radio stations in Port-au-Prince and Carrefour, in no small part thanks to one of our amazing translators, Frantz Bastien. She also set up training sessions with physical therapists from Christian Blind Mission (CBM) in Petionville and Doctors Without Borders in Leogane, ensuring that our work will last long after we leave.

Back home again

From Untitled Album

By Michelson Dorime, EMT/ Pre-Med
Photograph by Tamara Fitzpatrick

Day 1 is in the books…
I arrived in Haiti Sunday, July 18, to very little change in the country. Words cannot express the disappointment I felt when I saw that so little rubble has been removed, the number of tents have not decreased, and ownership/initiative on the part of the government and the people have not taken place. (Deep sigh). On the other hand, the flow of patients at Hopital Adventiste has decreased significantly. Every square inch of the hospital yard used to be covered with tents in which patients with severe maladies and in different stages of recovery took refuge. Now, the yard is clear enough for young boys to run around and play soccer. Today, the Emergency Department staff saw a total of 80 patients whose case severity ranged from pediatric cold and flu complaints to adult hernia complaints and a rare hydrocephalus case. Once I got past the excitement of seeing a rare case, it was sad to realize the mother must have an incredibly difficult time to care for her two-year-old child with this horrible condition. Ultimately, there was little any of the hospital staff could do for the child, but luckily we are not the only show in town. The child was referred to Medishare, another medical NGO, where he will have a shunt placed in his brain so that his CSF can drain down to his stomach. Needless to say, I was excited to learn this!

At the morning meeting for the hospital staff, a young man from the Loma Linda University team lead the meeting with a sermon, which tackled the question: What exactly compels a person to leave the comforts of his home, support of his friends and family, and security of his country to come to Haiti to serve people to whom he has never met, never mind not obligated to?

His message particularly resonated with me because it was a question that I was already wrestling with. I spent the last of my money on tickets to Haiti even though my mountain of bills grows everyday. My mother, sisters, and brother have a growing list of needs with which I would like to help. And I would like to take some time to finish up medical school applications and enjoy the last bit of my summer. Why am I here? Even though I was born here, it goes beyond a patriotic sense of duty because I often send clothes, goods and money to friends and family in Haiti. So, what am I doing here?

The young man from Loma Linda made a really good point: In the states a day that is filled with tough cases and tasks, which leaves you frustrated and physically taxed, is generally considered a bad day. However, the same day in Haiti is universally considered a good day. I suspect that the reason for the difference is, you are desperately trying to match lives with resources in impossible situations where there is a considerable disparity in education and communication. After reflecting on that point, I have decided that I am here not necessarily here to save lives. Far from it, I am here to plant the seed that Haitians are capable of fantastic feats. So they can solve the problems that afflict their country themselves.

Day 2 was crazy in all sort of ways….
We started an administering the MVF, Mirror Visual Feedback therapy, which helps amputee patients alleviate pain in their missing limb. Sounds crazy, right? You should see it in action. I will try my best to explain it. Conceptually, the idea is to use the power of seeing a limb, via a mirror, juxtapose to the phantom limbs as a means of mentally manipulating, for the purpose of providing relief to, the phantom limb. For example, patients often complain about pain/discomfort in their phantom limb. With this therapy, a patient can look at the reflection of their actual limb in order to manipulate their phantom limb. Sounds hokey? Well, I was skeptical too, even though one of the top MVF specialists in the country is sharing a room with me and told me all about it. But today I became a believer. Read More


Sequins, Rain and Laughter in Haiti

From Untitled Album

By Dr. Juliet Hwang, Pediatrician

The rain is refreshing after the stifling heat that just sticks to your body and molds beads of sweat down your forehead. After hot and hazy Haitian mornings, I welcome the rain in the afternoons, especially because I miss the rain. Having lived in Los Angeles, I have learned to appreciate rain and how it cleanses the earth. I felt the rain fall on my head today, and I smiled. I was happy to receive the gifts of the sky, and cleanse the dust and sweat from the day at the hospital.

Our team, Unified for Global Healing, has been here in Carrefour for almost a week now. We are working at the Adventist Hospital, a mile and a half from the epicenter of the earthquake that devastated this country in January. I have the privilege to be a part of an amazing team of professionals. We are artists, journalists, social workers, nurses, paramedics and doctors. Most of us have experience working internationally. Most are trained in disaster situations and have stories for every part of the evening.

Here in Haiti, some things are exactly the way I had imagined, and some things are surprisingly sweet. The rubble and tents set up along the roadways are all images I had seen on TV. What was surprising was the life in between the rubble. The small pathways the people have carved to continue their daily routine. The markets continue with blue tarps overhead. The women squat on the curb with the fresh vegetables, the chickens run around, and dogs cross the street without missing a beat. The people have piled up the rubble and trash and are simply continuing to live and thrive, just like they always have despite hurricanes, embargos and military coups.

The hospital is not simply a building for healthcare, but its compound has transformed into a community of people living and healing there. The patients are inside the hospital, receiving physical therapy and medications, but the family members live in various tents around the main building, because they have nowhere else to go. Some patients have already received their amputation surgeries, and have healed, but they are waiting for the prosthetic lab that is still sealed in containers at the port. Apparently, the hospital has not been able to clear four huge containers of supplies through customs. Perhaps it’s the same disorganization that allowed military airplanes to land ahead of doctors and medical supplies, right after the earthquake.

After working at the hospital for a week, we have learned our way around the hospital, know a few phrases in Creole, and know everyone by name. We are more familiar with what we have and what we don’t have. We have become flexible to double as pharmacists and janitors when we need to get things done. Most of the volunteers have formed attachments and there is a favorite eight-year-old little girl. Somehow, she had made it to the hospital, and survived two amputation operations. But both her parents were killed in the earthquake. She gets around well in her wheelchair, and loves to get down on the ground and play, just like any other eight-year-old.

The community arts team has built a beautiful curriculum of fun games and projects. Slowly, their magic has penetrated the hospital as I see purple and green sequins in the hallways, and mobiles hanging at the bedside. The children are no longer bored but engaged and challenged. They said what they want most is to go back to school.

I have been rounding with our pediatrics team in the mornings and then working in the emergency room for the rest of the day. Many of the children I see in the ER are very similar to our outpatient clinic at Riverside County Regional Medical Center. They have rashes, runny noses and ear infections. But several children have walked in with rare and serious conditions and have not received the surgeries they need. I found myself craving for pediatric cardiologists, GI specialists and neurosurgeons. The mothers brought their children, hoping the new group of doctors would be able to fix them. I saw a little boy with an imperforate anus, who has been living with a colostomy for over a year, because he hasn’t had his final surgery. Today, there was a two-year-old boy living with severe hydrocephalus. I’m so used to calling specialists on the phone and being able to get my patients what they need to thrive and grow to their fullest potential. It’s frustrating not being able to give the same level of care to the children of Haiti.

There are a few children on the pediatric ward who are really sick and we can’t seem to figure out what they have. We have learned that malaria and typhoid have to be on our list of differential diagnoses. But diagnosing diseases has become more difficult because of the lack of lab tests and specialists. I found myself in the lab looking at a peripheral blood smear to see if one of our kids had leukemia, because there was no one else in the hospital who knew what to look for. It just so happened I had spent a year working in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. I looked into the microscope, and found myself overwhelmed with gratitude, to all my doctors who have trained me to this moment in time. I was thankful for my education, my privilege, for everyone and everything that had supported me, for me to be able to travel to Haiti and serve. He didn’t have leukemia.

When the flurry of the emergency room calms down, I sometimes sneak into the outdoor tent space to watch the kids in the community arts programs. Seeing the kids in their wheelchairs and external fixators (mechanical contraptions to stabilize the bone from the outside) smile, create and laugh is worth everything in the world. Kids always make everything better and they know how to get better. I wish we could help create a world, where they can heal, where they can get the surgeries they need, where they can get three meals a day, and where they can go back to school to become doctors and nurses and social workers and artists. I hope for new beginnings in the ashes of this devastation.


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.


Altar: Haiti Fundraiser was a success!

In addition to our Boston and New Jersey fundraisers headed by Jacqueline Nally and Rolando Valenzuela; we had a successful fundraiser at Salt Art Space www.saltartspace.org on July 2nd headed by Sarah Ryley and Zola Bruce. There was delicious Haitian food cooked by Bethy Victorin, Pei Desrossiers, and Coralina. Music set the tone with DJ's Isaac-Asimov and Wicked Flower on the 1's and 2's. Karine Fleurima and Alsarah did an experimental Haitian and Sudanese inspired set with a guitar player, drummer, and trumpet. Along with our live Altar exhibit, it was a night to remember.

Thanks for your support, and looking forward to the next party for a cause!

Zola Bruce, Executive Director