January 20, 2012
Throughout the past two years, the Haiti Twin Parish group at Saint Alphonsus Liguori has helped establish a deeply rooted relationship between our parish and that of St. Anthony of Padua located in Croix Fer, Haiti.
During this time, the parish family of St. Alphonsus has been overwhelmingly gracious in supporting medical supply drives, infrastructure and clean water efforts for the St. Anthony parishioners and Haitian villagers.
As of this past November, a team of parishioners and volunteers embarked on the first ever medical mission trip for our twin parish. Made up of four physicians, three nurses, two coordinators and a young adult representative; the team travelled and served over the course of six days. Missionaries included Terry Spartz, Angi Gunkel, Maribeth McCurren, Rapael Villacencios, Eric Kunzel, Tim and Patti Shaw, Mary Ciccarelli, Mark Hoyer and Michelle Howenstine. Upon their return, the team gave a presentation and retold stories from their travels. Here is a little bit about what they had to say.
"I was trying to think of words to explain what it was like, but it's difficult," explained Mary Ciccarelli. "Powerful, is the word I'd like to use."
Upon their arrival, the team arranged and prepared for three days of seeing patients. They created the clinics where villagers were greeted and escorted by coordinators to waiting areas and doctor stations. Tim Shaw was one coordinator who explained how villagers had a unique concept of "individual space." Shaw shared that when volunteers would lead patients to rest on a bench with only one other person, they would still sit hip-to-hip, right next to each other. Such manners might seem unusual in American waiting rooms, but at the same time it was comforting to watch villagers sit together as they waited to see medical professionals.
Medical volunteers recalled their experience examining patients and how villagers are unaccustomed to regular doctor visits (if any at all) and healthcare. "The interpreters were invaluable," explained Maribeth McCurren when referring to local volunteers who worked with the team to translate between Creole and English. Mark Hoyer shared how villagers were not even use to describing their ailments. For instance, one patient complained of stomach pains yet touched their finger to their chest when asked where the pain was located. Even basic eye care is not available, Ciccarelli explained to a room of St. Alphonsus parishioners saying, "If everyone [who wears eyeglasses], took their glasses off ... that's how they live in Haiti."
Ciccarelli continued sharing how villagers would express that their hearts raced when they walked because their bodies experience such a lack of physical energy. Yet, walking is the only method of transportation for many in Haiti. In fact, people walked miles alone just to get to the clinics and be seen. Even those who own a motor bike could not get far because of unpaved roads pitted with deep holes or mangled by large tree roots and boulders.
The team also helped clean, setup and stock a local dispensary. This is where villagers could go to receive basic medicines after describing symptoms. The volunteers had to organize and label each medication with instructions for use written in their native language of Creole. Michelle Howenstine explained how the amount and types of medicine distributed were limited due to the lack of a refrigeration unit to preserve and properly store supplies. The team handed out rosaries and sunglasses that had also been donated by St. Alphonsus parishioners for the mission.
The medical mission team examined people from the age of one month to 96 years. They ate meals with villagers, played games, shopped marketplaces and celebrated Mass together. Volunteers even witnessed the tremendous progress of the new school facility being built thanks to the generous funding raised by our parish family.
Each day brought new blessings as well as surprises; however, the team did not cease to take every opportunity to serve the people around them. McCurren described how one morning a man was brought in who had injured his foot in a motor bike accident. They tended to his wounds only to realize that his shoes, a pair of flip flops, were not going to help him avoid reinjuring or infecting his foot. Knowing that she had gotten enough use out of her pink sneakers McCurren stepped in. "I put my foot next to his and thought, 'You have big feet, and I have big feet ... yup, seems like these will fit,'" she said handing him her shoes. "And off he went."
The trip was truly an experience that filled the team with faith, love and hope after witnessing this special place and the special people whom God had blessed them with meeting. Volunteers were able to serve the people of a village thousands of miles from the comforts of Zionsville, because of the great love and support from everyone at St. Alphonsus Liguori.
"Our presence there is extremely important to these people, because they too have something to give us," explained Eric Kunzel. "Their smile. That is important to us."
The medical team is sincerely thankful for all the assistance and help fundraising, collecting supplies and getting water filtrations. The Haiti Twin Parish Ministry looks forward to a future medical mission trip that will bring additional supplies and aid to the people in Croix Fer.
St. Anthony of Padua and St. Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us!
Learn more about the Haiti Twin Parish Ministry and volunteer.
See more photos from their November 2011 medical mission trip.