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Online Adventist Magazine | When sending supplies to Haiti wasn’t enough

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Union College alumni on November 22, 2021 provided critical support in Haiti after the August earthquake.

Written by: Annika Kambig, Union College

When a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck southwest Haiti on August 14, 2021, the international community rushed to send aid. But for three Union College alumni in the United States, sending supplies wasn’t enough.

International Rescue and Relief (IRR) alumni Janie Schumacher, Justin Dina and Lauren Lombard volunteered with Educáre, an organization run by Haiti, to provide medical assistance to those most affected by the disaster. Schumacher, a paramedic, assisted the doctors with medical care, while Dina coordinated the team’s mobilization and other logistics from the ground in Haiti. Although Lombard was working remotely, she was able to bring her communication, organizing and fundraising expertise to aid Educáre’s efforts.

The medical team pushed into the mountains around the epicenter, where aid was badly needed and least available. “No one went out there because if you went out, you had to hike in the mountains,” Schumacher said. “One day, we drove nearly eight miles with all our medical supplies to set up a mountaintop clinic. Working with local communities, we were able to go to Areas of greatest need. Our group went out and met people wherever they were.”

Educáre was founded after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Lombard went to Haiti for seven weeks to help with relief efforts and made numerous contacts with the Haitians she served alongside. When they formed an organization to provide better education to children in the area, it joined the cause. Since then, Lombard has continued to volunteer with Educáre. She works for the nonprofit she co-founded, We Feed, which provides access to food in her Minnesota community. Lombard introduced Dina to Educáre’s president, Jameson Leo, in 2017. Much of Dina’s work has been with Singing Rooster, an organization that supports small Haitian-owned coffee plantations.

When the 2021 earthquake struck, Educáre focused on disaster relief to meet the country’s current needs. Dina called Schumacher, whom he met when their time on the IRR program at Union College overlapped, and invited her to join the team. Their travel plans were delayed by Tropical Storm Grace, which hit Haiti two days after the earthquake. However, they were able to join the team of local Haitian doctors, and begin holding emergency clinics within days of the disaster.

“We were in the unique position of being an organization run by Haitians and staffed by Haitian volunteers,” Lombard said. “Everyone except the Americans who joined were local. They spoke the language, were aware of the risks and how to deal with them. As an organization that isn’t just outside aid, we impacted the local community.”

Because the area the team was working in was so far away, they saw unhealed wounds several weeks after the earthquake. “We’ve done a lot of wound care,” Schumacher said. “This was my main job; I did a wound debridement. When I started, there were about a week of injuries, and by the time I left I was treating three to four weeks of injuries and paying no attention. We had to remove and clean the wounds And we make it start to heal. We might give some stitches if it’s not too badly disfigured, and then give antibiotics.”

The main concern for the Educáre team was the scarcity of antibiotics. Many patients had horrific infections from their untreated wounds. The demand for antibiotics was greater than the supply. Furthermore, the damaged infrastructure made it difficult to move stock that was available to where it was needed most. Transporting supplies into Haiti’s mountains is always a challenge, and an earthquake and storm complicate matters by destroying parts of the road network and disabling cell towers.

“Because the towers were damaged, communications were very limited and unreliable, which made coordinating our relief efforts difficult,” Dina said. Despite the challenges, Educáre has treated more than 1,700 patients in 12 different clinics. Working with HERO, an organization that provides medical flights, and the US Coast Guard, they arranged for the airlift of eight of the most seriously injured people to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, for hospitalization.

“Our first airlift was for a five-year-old girl named Islandi,” Lombard said. A brick fell on her head and split [it] Open. She started getting infected, then there was an aftershock, and a wall fell on her and hit her. Her head was completely slit. We were able to fly her to the capital and take her to the best hospital in the country with the best neurosurgeon. It took several days to get her into surgery because they had to go through many tests, labs, and examinations. During the process, they discovered that she had a brain tumor.

“The most amazing thing is that the tumor protected her from serious brain damage when the wall fell on her, and the fall of the wall on her is what allowed her tumor to be discovered and treated,” Lombard said. “She had surgery, and Educáre was committed to covering her medical expenses. However, she was covered by an earthquake relief grant. She is at home now and doing well, and Educáre will be helping her get to her follow-up visits. We feel she is being saved to do great things in the future. This is the case with all the children Educáre has worked with.”

Lombard said her education at Union College helped prepare her for the challenges of working in disaster relief. “I paired communications and international rescue and relief, which ended up being a really good combination,” Lombard said. “I didn’t expect to use the things we studied, but they directly communicated the things I ended up doing. The problem-solving aspects of how you handled the crisis were certainly highlighted in the things we were studying and doing.”

Dina found his passion for working with local organizations while studying in Nicaragua as part of the International Federation for Relief and Rescue programme. He said, “While I was there, I met Dr. Caldera, who sadly passed away while I was in Haiti. He was a local doctor who worked with Union educating IRR students. He was a great inspiration to me and taught me a lot about working with local organizations. I also learned a lot from the IRR response. for Hurricane Harvey. Working in emergency management during that response helped prepare me and develop my skills.”

Although Educáre’s team faced many difficulties, Dena, Lombard and Schumacher say they would not have missed the opportunity on the world. “Although we were constrained by unreliable transportation, poor communication channels, and lack of supplies, we were able to do more with less,” said Dina.

Lombard summed up her experiences saying, “Anytime you respond to a disaster, it’s uncomfortable, stressful, and challenging, but you see the people you can influence, and everyone makes it worth it all over again.”

The original version of this story was published by Union College.

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