How Haiti Helped Shape My Heart: An Alumna Reflection
May. 2, 2018
Editor’s note: This was an essay submitted by a 2017 Concorde-Portland Medical Assisting graduate after her recent trip to Haiti. It is shared with her permission. We hope that this is the first of many first-person accounts we get to share.
By: Renelle Cancilla-Martin
Above the city of Fond Parisien, Haiti is the village of Peyi Pouri—an area covering hundreds of miles spread out at 4,000 ft [elevation].
After the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, over 225,000 people fled to the mountains when they lost their homes. Hundreds still live in caves with absolutely no resources to make even a mud hut.
When help comes
When it does rain (once a year), all the roads are washed out and buried under a rock from mudslides due to advanced erosion. The villagers worked for over four weeks to clear the roads when they heard that Love a Child (LAC) was going to bring a medical team to help local residents.
LAC spread the word that we would also feed them after medical treatment, it was all free and no one would be turned away. The news spread quickly and after we arrived, patients came in two waves: They walked overnight in the dark, arriving in the morning or they walked for two days, arriving in the afternoon.
The first day we saw about 400 people in the morning and 200-300 in the afternoon. There were over 1,800 in three days.
Humans helping humans
These Haitian mountain people have not had (any) medical care in nearly three years. The woman whose arm I’m touching had walked for two days with her six children and five or more grandchildren, carrying only a small handkerchief with food and no water at all. They were waiting for the afternoon session to start. After seeing so much malnutrition and suffering, I couldn’t bring myself to eat lunch, so I was walking through the crowds.
I didn’t have my interpreter at the moment, so wondered how I could show “compassionate care” to them while waiting. This grandmother was very tiny, covered in dust and dirt from the journey. She had on her best Sunday dress, as all of the patients did, out of respect to us. (that was humbling in itself.)
Wiping more than dirt
My Concorde scrub pocket held a pack of 80 baby wipes. Did I really need to pack and hoard the 99-cent baby wipes all the way back to Oregon? If we care for others, shouldn’t we ‘give all or nothing?’ It’s my personal conviction never to do something half-way. She looked up at me with so much pain in her eyes —- I had to do something.
Many times, as a student I felt that (in a new field), I had nothing to give. Many years spent as a secretary wasn’t going to make me a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). I could type 120 wpm and quote Oregon judicial statutes, but that wasn’t going to help me draw blood.
But Concorde helped us see a bigger picture, recognize all strengths and supported us to reach our full potential. It takes many qualities to make a CMA; it doesn’t matter what your past is. Compassion, motivation, dedication and hard work can take you all the way to your dream—and beyond.
Many Haitians are afraid of Caucasians. I can’t tell you how many little children started screaming or ran away from me when I tried to help them – heartbreaking!
So, I knelt down to one of the littlest, took her hand gently, then pulled out a baby wipe. I wiped the dirt from her leg and when she saw beneath, her own beautiful dark skin, she let out a gasp and a HUGE smile. I’ll never forget it.
She let me completely clean her legs and feet. Then, her sister wanted that! Then the next and the next…until I got to Gramma. You could see she was very shy, exhausted and in pain. After I gently cleaned her leg, you could see the scars. I’m not sure if they were burns, cuts or abrasions from the trip or just a very hard Life.
“It’s ok Mama, mwen medikaman” (meaning, it’s OK Ma’am, I’ll get you medicine.)
In my other Concorde scrub pocket was a small travel-size hand lotion. Her hands were so dry. Her skin had cracked and bled many times over. She let me gently rub the lotion in, massaging her hands and fingers. Her daughters said something in Haitian Creole which sounded like, “Oooooo Mama!” I’m pretty sure that meant, “Ooooo you are gettin’ the treatment today, sister!”
She giggled and covered her face like a shy teen. My heart was so happy. She wasn’t going to just get medical treatment and a meal. She was getting whole-person care– mind, body, and spirit.
As the sun went down, she shivered in the cold – at 4,000 ft, it got down to 40 degrees at night sometimes. I left her that day with all my travel-size items and those scrubs, in the good hands of our LAC nurses.
I didn’t get to say goodbye but hope that every day she will remember this moment; simply, that someone cared.
Reflection on my time in Haiti
After all the classes, after externship and even passing the AAMA, it ended up being a quiet moment in which the realization came that I was finally a CMA. What is talent, intelligence or capability without compassion?
A medical professional is a combination of many things, just as Concorde had said, and that was my dream. Our education and new skills open to a world of possibilities. My window overlooked the country of Haiti.
I’m forever grateful to Concorde and look forward to celebrating my journey at Commencement!