After almost exactly 2 years it was at last time for me to start off on my journey to Haiti. I had often been asked why I wanted to go again so much. That’s not so easy to answer, but everybody who has gone on such a journey can understand why it doesn’t leave you any peace. Of course I had been keeping up to date with the project in the meantime, and I was burning with curiosity to find out about everything that had changed on the island. Of course I had only seen the bare brickwork of the new workshop in Port au Prince.
As soon as the aircraft lands you can see that this beautiful country has changed. The airport today has nothing more in common with the old, loud and completely chaotic warehouse at that time. Everything runs completely normally and is well organised just like at any other airport in the world.
On the way to Deschapelles I saw that many of the tents and tin shacks had given way to simple but brick-built cabins. The roads have improved a lot too, but this has led to the cars tearing around far too quickly and their condition, like the Haitian way of driving, has not improved at all. For this reason they’ve had to build “sleeping policemen” again on the new roads in many places. But still, the extreme poverty and the problem with rubbish can still be seen everywhere, which actually makes the changes seem rather minor.
But after arriving on the campus of HAS (Hopital Albert Schweizer) I felt like time had stood still, and I very soon felt at home again. It was lovely meeting up with some of the people I had known earlier, and somehow the 2 years I’d been away really didn’t feel so long any more. I was put up in the guesthouse this time. You can meet really interesting people there, different HAS volunteers from various nations. Jimmy (the heart and soul of the HAS) proudly showed me all that had changed on the campus in the meantime and told me all the plans they have for the near future.
My reunion with the team at the workshop next morning was just as warm. Apart from Elysee (the previous interpreter) the team has stayed the same. It’s fantastic to see how the lads have developed and how the workshop has become more structured. That’s certainly a credit to Cornelia who’s being managing the workshop for a long time now. Of course you can’t measure it by German standards, but considering the conditions they work in they’ve done a tremendous job! But because you don’t have to waste your time arguing with health insurers or negotiating contracts … etc. etc., you can concentrate on the actual purpose of your work: working with patients! The focus of patient management has also shifted. While we spent almost all our time in 2012 making up prostheses, and orthoses were more of an exception, the ratio has reversed sharply these days. Repairs and modifications are also more often on the agenda than new medical devices and prostheses.
Over lunch on Monday Cornelia told me her holiday was starting on Wednesday, and that I’d be alone in Deschapelles for my last two weeks there. But with “the team” to back me up that was no problem at all. My colleagues are always happy and love playing around, which is infectious, and the last 1.5 weeks were over in no time at all. The specialist knowledge and the manual skills my colleagues have built up is truly impressive, and a tip or hint or two from them soon helps you cope with the working conditions.
While I was there my workload included a couple of prostheses, many repairs and cosmeses, night splints for lower legs, and a scoliosis corset. We drove to Mirebalais hospital to make plaster moulds for torso orthoses after spinal fractures and provided shoes and adapted insoles at the HAS for patients with diabetic feet.
Sadly the 2 weeks shot past far too quickly, and I hope I’ll be allowed to come again to accompany the project further. I might even get to know the workshop and its staff in Port au Prince …