Make a Joyful Noise
by Patty Bell
Of all the Bible references I thought that I would reflect on, Psalm 98 was the last that I expected. Yet, that is what I found during my trip to Haiti.
I arrived in Port au Prince two and a half weeks after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that had devastated the country. It took that long to set up the logistics of getting to Haiti and finding a place to work.
So many doctors and nurses were just showing up at clinics and hospitals alone without a plan. All of the articles implored medical professionals to go as part of an organized group. Each night, I prayed for a way to find a group. I would fall asleep truly feeling the people of Haiti in my arms. Through the help of Dr. Anthony Alessi, we discovered Fr. Rick Frechette and St. Damien's Hospital.
St. Damien's is a children's hospital that is part of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International (NPH). While researching the hospital, I discovered that Fr. Rick, a Passionist Priest, and I were both graduates of Assumption College in Worcester, MA. I knew that I had found the right place. My prayers were answered.
We arrived in West Palm Beach, Florida on Thursday, January 28th and spent the night at Our Lady of Florida retreat house. The next morning after breakfast and a prayer service, we were driven to Ft. Pierce, Florida to the Missionary Flights International hangar.
MFI flies about 5 trips a day directly into Port au Prince with supplies and medical volunteers. The hangar is packed with food, tents and other needed supplies. It is staffed by volunteers, sorting and packing the donations for delivery. Normally, MFI flies DC-3 planes built in the 1940's. But we flew on a jet provided by Hendrick Motorsports, though we did take a DC-3 on the return flight.
Some members of the team set up a clinic at Miragoane, an outlying village where people needed follow-up treatment.
After dropping our bags off at St. Damien's, we were taken for a ride into downtown Port au Prince. The scenes on TV don't come close to the reality. It is so hard to describe what makes it different. I think it's a combination of the sights, the smells and the eye contact of the people.
There's no garbage pickup, so trash was burning in the streets; pigs and dogs were foraging through rotting fruit on the side of the road and culverts were loaded with trash. I only saw two port-a-potties in downtown, yet there were dozens of tent cities.
'Tent City' is a misnomer; there were very few tents. Mostly, sheets or tarps were clipped onto sticks. In some cases, stones were set up in a rectangular shape to cordon off a living space with no shelter at all. People were forced to bathe on the side of the road where perhaps a pipe was dribbling water. And yet, that same scene had children kicking a soccer ball around, waving to us as we drove by, and vendors hawking their wares. Life was happening.