Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected
- Senator Elizabeth Warren to the 2013 graduating class of Framingham State University
Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected
- Senator Elizabeth Warren to the 2013 graduating class of Framingham State University
Give more than expected; love more than seems wise; serve more than appears necessary; help more than is asked.
This weekend marked the culmination of my graduate education as I accepted my Masters in Public Health degree from my undergrad alma mater, Boston University. The university hosted its campus wide graduation ceremony on Sunday, with keynote speaker and founder of Teach For America Wendy Kopp and honorary degree recipients Morgan Freeman and Boston Mayor Tom Menino.
With nearly 6,700 graduates, Boston University’s commencement ceremony is the city’s largest each year. On such a joyous occasion, President Robert Brown stopped and reflected on what has been a trying year for the university. Since last spring, Boston University has lost 11 students in a series of tragedies including an apartment fire, a biking accident, and the Boston Marathon bombings. Each of these tragedies struck hard for a large urban school that often lacks the sense of community feeling that is far more common for smaller colleges and universities with a backdrop of rolling green hills and ivy-covered halls.
I’m incredibly proud of my alma mater for awarding posthumous degrees to two of those students who would have graduated this year. A world class move Boston University; classy indeed.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice
I am extremely excited to announce the launch of the METI Project. If you’re wondering what I was doing in Haiti back in January, this is it.
METI stands for Medical, Education, Training, and Infrastructure. The first METI team just arrived in Port-au-Prince today. A long week of work is ahead of them.
The METI Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote sustainability in healthcare through medical education, training, and improved infrastructure in under-served areas of the world. Launched in 2013 by Professional Ambulance (Pro EMS) and Pro EMS Center for MEDICS, The METI Project’s first initiative addresses critical medical needs in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries.
In conjunction with the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, The METI Project will send a team of medics, paramedic students, and emergency department staff to Haiti to provide medical training and needed clinical services.
I look forward to future work with The METI Project in late June and again in October!
Hello, Boston. Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us. Run with endurance the race that is set before us.
On Monday morning, the sun rose over Boston. The sunlight glistened off the State House Dome. In the commons, in the public garden, spring was in bloom. On this Patriot’s Day, like so many before, fans jumped onto the T to see the Sox at Fenway. In Hopkinton, runners laced up their shoes and set out on a 26.2-mile test of dedication and grit and the human spirit.
And across this city, hundreds of thousands Bostonians lined the streets to hand the runners cups of water, to cheer them on. It was a beautiful day to be in Boston, a day that explains why a poet once wrote that this town is not just a capital, not just a place. Boston, he said, is the perfect state of grace.
And then, in an instant, the day’s beauty was shattered. A celebration became a tragedy. And so we come together to pray and mourn and measure our loss. But we also come together today to reclaim that state of grace, to reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted and the spirit of the country shall remained undimmed.
To Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino, Cardinal O’Malley and all the faith leaders who are here, governors Romney, Swift, Weld and Dukakis, members of Congress, and most of all, the people of Boston and the families who’ve lost a piece of your heart, we thank you for your leadership. We thank you for your courage. We thank you for your grace.
I’m here today on behalf of the American people with a simple message. Every one of us has been touched by this attack on your beloved city. Every one of us stands with you. Because, after all, it’s our beloved city, too. Boston may be your hometown but we claim it, too. It’s one of America’s iconic cities. It’s one of the world’s great cities. And one of the reason(s), the world knows Boston so well is that Boston opens its heart to the world.
Over successive generations, you’ve welcomed again and again new arrivals to our shores; immigrants who constantly reinvigorated this city and this commonwealth and our nation. Every fall, you welcome students from all across America and all across the globe. And every spring, you graduate them back into the world — a Boston diaspora that excels in every field of human endeavor.
Year after year, you welcome the greatest talents in the arts, in science, research. You welcome them to your concert halls and your hospitals and your laboratories to exchange ideas and insights that draw this world together.
And every third Monday in April, you welcome people from all around the world to the hub for friendship and fellowship and healthy competition — a gathering of men and women of every race and every religion, every shape and every size — a multitude represented by all those flags that flew over the finish line.
So whether folks come here to Boston for just a day, or they stay here for years, they leave with a piece of this town tucked firmly into their hearts. So Boston’s your home town, but we claim it a little bit too. I know this — I know this because there’s a piece of Boston in me. You welcomed me as a young law student across the river — welcomed Michelle too. You welcomed me — you welcomed me during a convention when I was still a state senator and very few people could pronounce my name right.
Like you, Michelle and I have walked these streets. Like you, we know these neighborhoods. And like you, in this moment of grief, we join you in saying: Boston, you’re my home. For millions of us, what happened in Monday is personal. It’s personal.
Today our prayers are with the Campbell family of Medford. They’re here today. Their daughter Krystle was always smiling. Those who knew her said that with her red hair and her freckles and her ever-eager willingness to speak her mind, she was beautiful, sometimes she could be a little noisy, and everybody loved her for it. She would have turned 30 next month. As her mother said, through her tears, this doesn’t make any sense.
Our prayers are with the Lu family of China, who sent their daughter Lingzi to BU so that she could experience all that this city has to offer. She was a 23-year-old student, far from home. And in the heartache of her family and friends on both sides of the great ocean, we’re reminded of the humanity that we all share.
Our prayers are with the Richard family of Dorchester, to Denise and the young daughter Jane, as they fight to recover. And our hearts are broken for 8-year-old Martin, with his big smile and bright eyes. His last hours were as perfect as an 8-year-old boy could hope for, with his family, eating ice cream at a sporting event. And we’re left with two enduring images of this little boy, forever smiling for his beloved Bruins and forever expressing a wish he made on a blue poster board: No more hurting people. Peace. No more hurting people. Peace.
Our prayers are with the injured, so many wounded, some gravely. From their beds, some are surely watching us gather here today. And if you are, know this: As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you. Your commonwealth is with you. Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again. You will run again because that’s what the people of Boston are made of.
Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act. If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that Deval described, the values that make us who we are as Americans, well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.
You showed us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love. Because Scripture teaches us God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.
And that’s the spirit you’ve displayed in recent days. When doctors and nurses, police and firefighters and EMTs and guardsmen run towards explosions to treat the wounded, that’s discipline. When exhausted runners, including our troops and veterans, who never expected to see such carnage on the streets back home, become first responders themselves, tending to the injured, that’s real power. When Bostonians carry victims in their arms, deliver water and blankets, line up to give blood, open their homes to total strangers, give them rides back to reunite with their families, that’s love.
That’s the message we send to those who carried this out and anyone who would do harm to our people. Yes, we will find you. And yes, you will face justice. We will find you. We will hold you accountable. But more than that, our fidelity to our way of life, for a free and open society, will only grow stronger, for God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but one of power and love and self-discipline.
Like Bill Ifrig, 78 years old — the runner in the orange tank top who we all saw get knocked down by the blast, we may be momentarily knocked off our feet — but we’ll pick ourselves up. We’ll keep going. We will finish the face.
In the words of Dick Hoyt, who has pushed his disabled son Rick in 31 Boston marathons, we can’t let something like this stop us. This doesn’t stop us. And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us, to push on, to persevere, to not grow weary, to not get faint even when it hurts.
Even when our heart aches, we summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on; we finish the race. We finish the race, and we do that because of who we are, and we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend, a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody’s there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think that we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall. We know that.
And that’s what the perpetrators of such senseless violence, these small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build and think somehow that makes them important — that’s what they don’t understand.
Our faith in each other, our love for each other, our love for country, our common creed that cuts across whatever superficial differences there may be, that is our power. That’s our strength. That’s why a bomb can’t beat us. That’s why we don’t hunker down. That’s why we don’t cower in fear.
We carry on. We race. We strive. We build and we work and we love and we raise our kids to do the same. And we come together to celebrate life and to walk our cities and to cheer for our teams when the Sox, then Celtics, then Patriots or Bruins are champions again, to the chagrin of New York and Chicago fans. The crowds will gather and watch a parade go down Boylston Street. And this time next year on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon.
Bet on it.
Tomorrow the sun will rise over Boston. Tomorrow the sun will rise over the — this country that we love, this special place, this state of grace. Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us. As we do, may God hold close those who’ve been taken from us too soon, may he comfort their families and may he continue to watch over these United States of America.
In my faith tradition, scripture teaches: “In every thing give thanks.” (I Thessalonians 5:18) That isn’t always easy to do. On Monday afternoon, I wasn’t feeling it. What I felt, what so many of us felt then, was shock and confusion and anger.
But the nature of faith, I think, is learning to return to the lessons even when they don’t make sense, when they defy logic. And as I returned to those lessons this week, I found a few things to be thankful for.
I’m thankful for the firefighters and police officers and EMTs who ran towards the blasts, not knowing whether the attack was over – and the volunteers and other civilians who ran to help right along side them.
I’m thankful for the medical professionals — from the doctors and trauma nurses to the housekeeping staff, to the surgeon who finished the marathon and kept on running to his operating room — all of whom performed at their very best.
I’m thankful for the agents from the FBI and the ATF, for the officers from the State Police and Boston PD, for the soldiers from the National Guard and all the other law enforcement personnel who both restored order and started the methodical work of piecing together what happened and who’s responsible.
I’m thankful for Mayor Menino, who started Monday morning frustrated he couldn’t be at the finish line this time, as he always is, and then late that afternoon checked himself out of the hospital to help his city, our city, face down this tragedy.
I’m thankful for those who have givenblood to the hospitals, money to the OneFund, and prayers and messages of consolation and encouragement from all over the world.
I’m thankful for the presence and steadfast support of the President and the First Lady, our former governors, the civic and political leaders who are here today, and for the many, many faith leaders who have ministered to us today and in the days since Monday.
I’m thankful for the lives of Krystle and Lingzi and little Martin, and for the lives of the families who survive them, and for the lives of all the people hurt but who still woke up today with the hope of tomorrow.
And I am thankful, maybe most especially, for the countless numbers of people in this proud City and this storied Commonwealth who, in the aftermath of such senseless violence, let their first instinct be kindness. In a dark hour, so many of you showed so many of us that “darkness cannot drive out darkness,” as Dr. (Martin Luther) King said. “Only light can do that.”
How very strange that the cowardice unleashed on us should come on Marathon day, on Patriots’ Day, a day that marks both the unofficial end of our long winter hibernation and the first battle of the American Revolution. And just as we are taught at times like this not to lose touchwith our spiritual faith, let us also not lose touch with our civic faith.
Massachusetts invented America. And America is not organized the way countries are usually organized. We are not organized around a common language or religion or even culture. We are organized around a handful of civic ideals. And we have defined those ideals, through time and through struggle, as equality, opportunity, freedom and fair play.
An attack on a civic ritual like the Marathon, especially on Patriots’ Day, is an attack on those values. And just as we cannot permit darkness and hate to triumph over our spiritual faith, so we must not permit darkness and hateto triumph over our civic faith. That cannot happen. And it will not.
So, we will recover and repair. We will grieve our losses and heal. We will rise, and we will endure. We will have accountability, without vengeance. Vigilance, without fear.And we will remember, I hope and pray, long after the buzz of Boylston Street is back and the media has turned its attention elsewhere, that the grace this tragedy exposed is the best of who we are.
It was a beautiful spring day, long deserved after a brutal winter. It was the perfect day for reenacting history, for a baseball game, and for a celebration of athletic prowess and endurance.
I have lived in Boston for nine years now, having spent four years of my late adolescence, as do so many in this city, attending one of its many fine institutions of higher learning. Celebrating Marathon Monday remains one of my fondest memories from those years. Standing on the streets of our city next to friends, neighbors, and strangers alike, cheering on runners from around the world. Marathon Monday is a day when college rivalries dissolve, and Red Sox and Yankees fans stand next to one another, offering ‘high-fives’ to people facing the holy grail of athleticism head on. It is a day where the people of Boston remember why we love this town so much.
For a single day each year, the world focuses its attention on our beautiful city. And it is a limelight in which we revel. We are not a London or Paris or New York City; the spotlight does not always shine on us. We are a small city, but we are an intensely proud one. We are a city of academics and students, doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, athletes and champions. We are a city that has faced adversity in the past – the Boston Marathon is run on the very day commemorating the brave patriots who fought British aggression on the battlefields outside of Lexington and Concord. We are a city that mourned with our fellow Americans on 9/11, saddened further that our fair city was the origin for two of those doomed flights. We are a city with a storied past, a history well known.
To all of the first responders – police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and EMTs, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your courage and diligence. To the runners who finished the race and turned back to help or ran to local hospitals to donate blood – you truly are superhuman. To the citizens of our city who opened up their hearts and homes, thank you for showing the world what Boston is truly all about. And to the families that are mourning – know that we are hurting with you.
To the person or persons who perpetrated this cowardly act, you have messed with the wrong town. You have gravely miscalculated how our city responds to violence that kills and injures innocent bystanders, especially when it comes to our children. For when you perpetrate acts of terror against Boston, you are dealing not only with our city but with all of New England. One only need to hear a speech from our mayor or attend a Boston sporting event to know that we proudly and fiercely defend her. We are a town that does not easily forgive and never forgets. We may talk a lot of trash in this town, but trust and believe that our bark is nowhere near as bad as our bite.
No single person can adequately describe yesterday’s events, and sometimes pictures do speak volumes. The links below are from various writers and articles on the day’s events. And they are each beautiful in their own way.
We are Bostonians, we are New Englanders – whether native or import. We are a strong, tough, resolute and resilient breed of Americans. Bostonians have faced adversity in the past, and we shall meet this challenge head on. Together. We will not stand for those who disrupt an event celebrating athleticism and endurance, an event that draws people together from around the world. United we stand.
As a follow up to yesterday’s post on humanity in medicine, I’ll refer you to this article in the New York Times WellBlog section written by medical student Dhruv Khullar. The quote below is fairly powerful – and I believe it would strike a chord with anyone who works in healthcare.
Like many of my classmates, I entered medical school with an idealized notion of medicine. But I will leave with the knowledge that the reality is far more complex. There are patients who don’t listen, who can’t listen; who try, who don’t try; who smile, thank and love; who steal, curse and hate. Each of these patients deserves the full extent of our respect and abilities. But too often those most in need of our compassion are least likely to receive it.
The balancing of complex emotions, time constraints and limited resources will only become more difficult with the influx of millions of previously uninsured people into our medical system. As we continue to carry out the Affordable Care Act and enter an era of tremendous change, we must confront our natural tendencies to favor patients we find pleasant — especially when it comes at the expense of those we find less so. We must recognize that sometimes the patients who behave the worst are those who are hurting the most.
In his landmark satire of medical residency, The House of God, Samuel Shem (a pseudonym for psychiatrist Stephen Bergman) outlines the 13 Laws of The House of God. Shem wrote and article for The Atlantic in late 2012 as a follow up to his novel. In the article, Shem adds four new laws to his prior list of thirteen. Below is one of those new laws, #15.
Law 15 : Learn empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, feelingly. When you find someone who shows empathy, follow, watch, and learn.
In my work, in everything I do, I mean to say that we human beings are more alike than we are unalike, and to use that statement to break down the walls we set between ourselves because we are different. I suggest that we should herald the differences, because the differences make us interesting, and also enrich and make us stronger.
The respect of those you respect is worth more than the applause of the multitude.
— Arnold Glasow
“Flying 30,000 feet above a problem looks quite different from when you’re sitting in it.”
Saturday, January 12th marked the 3rd anniversary of the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti at 4:53pm. The epicenter of that earthquake was in the town of Leogane, approximately 16 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. Two weeks later, over 50 aftershocks reaching a magnitude 4.5 or greater had been recorded. Much of Port-au-Prince was damaged or leveled.
Saturday, January 12th 2013 became a day of remembrance for those of us working at St Luke’s, St Damien’s and FWAL.
The day started with the children who live at the orphanage at FWAL walking in a processional from the orphanage to the chapel at St. Damien’s. When mass began, Father Rick delivered the mass mostly in Creole but recited portions of the mass in English and Italian as well. I was somewhat surprised to see that this would not be a funeral mass as no bodies or caskets were present. It turned out, I was wrong.
For the second morning in a row, we had an unexpected arrival of a casket. My initial reaction was “this seems cruel in front of all of these children”. Thinking about it later, I realized many of these children have already experienced death and loss all too early in their lives. The family was also present this time, so the mass turned from a remembrance mass into a funeral service. However, Father Rick’s homily centered almost entirely around the anniversary of the earthquake.
Father Rick’s homily was great, but there was a particular moment that I found fascinating. He began discussing the chapel. On one side of the chapel, there are five crosses, dedicated to five nuns who died in the earthquake at the original St. Damien’s in Petionville. On the other side of the chapel, the first five victims of the cholera epidemic are buried. These ten individuals are a constant reminder of how much has changed in Haiti since the earthquake. The sisters were buried at the chapel because their mother house had also been destroyed during the earthquake.
Outside of the chapel is a large bell (it honestly looks like the Liberty Bell), that was recovered from the mother house of the sisters that worked in Petionville. The bell was brought to St Damien’s for safe keeping, so that looters would not steal the bell, and remains sitting on the ground. The bell serves as a silent reminder of all those that died in the earthquake, and will be returned to the sisters once their order has been restored. Finally, Father Rick turned to the church itself and noted that the church itself is broken and on crutches.
Although it’s not obvious, the mural in the back of the chapel, which seems to integrate so well into the rest of the chapel, is actually not painted on stone but rather on wood. During the earthquake, the rose window and the back of the chapel suffered significant damage. Wooden buttresses were used to support the church for quite some time, until this solution was devised. And what Father Rick then said was absolutely incredible to me. With so many people in the country left homeless, the chapel would not be rebuilt until everyone in Haiti has a home. The broken chapel serves as a reminder that there is much more work to be done, that the promised recovery has yet to fully materialize.
Following mass at St. Damien’s, we ventured into Port-au-Prince to attend a national remembrance mass outside of the old Cathedral. This was really our first view of “downtown” Port-au-Prince. Chaotic would be an understatement. We definitely saw some tent cities on our drive.
When we finally arrived at the Cathedral, there were hundreds of Haitians attending the mass. My understanding is that the Cathedral won’t be rebuilt, but is to serve as a lasting testament to the destructive power of Mother Nature. I have to admit, there was something enormously beautiful about the remains of the former Cathedral. You could tell that it was once a magnificent structure, reduced to a shadow of it’s former self by the earthquake. But here, in the spiritual center of Port-au-Prince, were a people gathered together to remember a horrific day and to continue on the long road of recovery.
A little over a year ago, I embarked on a new journey – one in which I promised myself that I would put my thoughts down on an open forum and allow people to respond to the things that I hold important in life. It would be a journey of self discovery and putting my personal feelings on a stage for all to see.
A year ago, I moved my blog to wordpress, but more than that I actually told people about it and where to find it. I committed to ACTUALLY writing. And I’ve been blown away by the interest and support. In fact, just today someone told me they were enjoying my posts about Haiti.
In the past year, nearly 32,000 people have viewed the posts here, with over 20,000 of them from the United States alone. Visitors have left some 240 comments on blog posts that struck a chord with them, not to mention the number of people who simply “liked” a post. 70 people have committed to receiving notifications when a new posted has been penned.
And I just want to say thanks. Because it’s been encouraging to know that there are people out there who are interested in what I have to say. I only hope I can bring more content that people will find interesting. So the hilarious someecards and the ridiculous overheards/overreads will continue with a smattering of posts about medicine, health care, health policy and random tidbits from the news. And I hope to be able to provide more content about Haiti down the line as well (one last Haiti post to come!). I’m always looking for inspiration and content, so don’t be shy to leave a comment. Thanks for viewing.
After visiting Cite Soleil, we returned to our camp and ate lunch. Sensing that we needed something to restore our spirits, one of the other volunteers Bridget (also INCREDIBLY helpful during my time in Haiti) offered to take us over to FWAL. I must have made the Scooby Do face because Bridget began to explain.
FWAL stands for Father Wasson Angels of Light. The Angels of Light program began in Haiti shortly after the earthquake in 2010. FWAL initially started in the days after the earthquake out of tents as a place for some of the children from St Damien’s to go and get away from the misery and destruction and to grab a bite to eat. Over time, it became clear that some of these children had become orphaned by the earthquake. The program has grown considerably during that time and now also houses an elementary school, also attended by children in the community. Many of the kids at FWAL will eventually move to the larger orphanage in Kenscoff as they grow older.
We had a chance to take a tour and meet some of the kids at FWAL. It was right after lunch time, so there were rambunctious. I have to say they were very well behaved and helped clean up after lunch. Despite their situation, they genuinely seemed incredibly happy.
The more time I spent with this organization in Haiti, the more amazed and inspired I became. To think that just a few people put their minds together and thought – let’s create an orphanage. But let’s not just create and orphanage, let’s give these kids an education too. And feed them from the bakery (boulanjri) that we also run next door at Francisville. In fact, FWAL provides a meal to every child that attends school there. Oh, and their uniforms are also made at the “atelye” at Francisville, which employs locals to make the uniforms. GENIUS.
Forgive me for sounding sappy, but sometimes with all of the bad news we are constantly bombarded with from the world – it’s easy to forget that there are genuinely good things happening out there too. I left FWAL that day feeling good about everything that was happening here, helping to negate some of the sadness observed while in Cite Soleil.
Prepare for a cute bomb.
I don’t know if there are adequate words to describe Cite Soleil. Poor does not even begin to cover it. Shocking would be another word if you’ve never before experienced or seen people living in abject poverty. Disheartening and incomprehensible also apply here. And that only begins to describe the physical conditions that the people who live in Cite Soleil must endure. The psychological, social and environmental impact is an entirely different story.
Danielle, Jamie, and I went to visit St Mary’s clinic at Cite Soleil – yet another outreach under the works of Father Rick. I cannot emphasize enough how truly incredible and wonderful this man is, for Father Rick saw a people suffering and did what any good-natured person would do. He recognized the health needs of a neglected community and decided to do something about it by building a clinic/hospital to serve them. And it wasn’t easy. In the early days of the clinic, the workers would arrive to find that materials and supplies were being stolen from the clinic, presumably from the needy in the community. Until the organization came up with a brilliant idea – work with the community.
Cite Soleil reminded me quite a bit of the “townships” that dot the landscape in South Africa – shanty towns where black Africans live, partly due to the historical segregation of apartheid but largely due to years and years of marginalizing poverty. Located within a stone’s throw of the ocean, Cite Soleil isn’t just another poor community in the world. Cite Soleil started as a workers camp to supply nearby factories with laborers. The area grew rapidly over the years; economic conditions drew job seekers from the Haitian country side to Port-au-Prince, and Cite Soleil steadily grew more and more poor. The boycott of Haitian goods in 1991 following the coup d’etat of then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide badly damaged the struggling Haitian economy, and Cite Soleil rapidly devolved into extreme poverty. Cite Soleil is now regarded as one of the poorest slums in the Western Hemisphere. That’s saying a lot for an area in a country where the average daily earning is already only $2 a day. Cite Soleil is also regarded as one of the most dangerous areas in the Western Hemisphere – the police have virtually no authority here. Though there have been several “battles” over the years with UN peacekeeping forces, Cite Soleil is still largely controlled by gangs. The gangs were stealing desperately needed materials from the clinic to give to the community. And it was that gang that Father Rick and his organization decided to work with and ultimately gained their support.
St Mary’s clinic is not a grand building like St Damien’s, it is simple and functional. The building houses a small pharmacy, a clinic, and doctors examination area. There are several wards similar to the ones at St Luke’s designed for future use as inpatient units as well as a cholera ward (which was virtually empty during the dry season). But St Mary’s is only the beginning of a story. Clearly improving the health of the residents of Cite Soleil did not stop at the clinic’s doors. Housing, it turns out, is critically important.
The typical “dwelling” in Cite Soleil looks much like this. Most of Cite Soleil is a shanty town, houses made out of corrugated steel and other scavenged building materials. I wish that my pictures were exaggerations or dramatizations of the actual conditions within Cite Soleil. The reality is that the above picture conceals much of the destitution – a place with virtually no sewers and a poorly maintained open system of canals that serve as a sewage system. A system that one can only imagine being completely overwhelmed during a hurricane or tropical storm even if it were well maintained. Having visited Cite Soleil, it is easy to see how an epidemic like cholera can continue to flare up in Haiti.
Amazingly much of Cite Soleil managed to withstand the devastating earthquake in 2010. But clearly these were not adequate conditions to ensure the health and safety of a community. Housing would need to be constructed to provide the residents of Cite Soleil with permanent, safe, and clean dwellings. Normally that responsibility would fall on the government, but the political instability so characteristic of Haiti makes that task virtually impossible. So Father Rick and his organization stepped in to fill yet another pressing need and has been helping the community build sustainable housing in the area surrounding St Mary’s.
We decided to take a tour of the new housing in Cite Soleil.
Each house costs roughly $9000 to build. The funds are given to the community to build the houses – community members decide which family will have a house built.
Once a house is built for your family, you are required to participate in building the next houses for future families. Electricity will eventually be provided entirely from solar energy (plenty of sun in Haiti!). And the difference between the old and the new housing is dramatic.
In addition, roadways and sidewalks will be built out of materials from the Presidential Palace and National Assembly that were destroyed in the earthquake (actor Sean Penn is very active in Haiti and a personal friend of Father Rick. He managed to have materials from the destroyed government buildings donated to Cite Soleil). To me, there is a beautiful irony in the knowledge that tile floors and broken porcelain vases once admired by the rich and powerful in Haiti will be used to build roads and sidewalks in Cite Soleil. In addition to houses, the foundation had also built a bakery – yet another micro-economy employing people from the neighborhood as well as providing fresh bread to surrounding residents. Any profit from the bakery goes back to support the clinic.
Naturally, a trio of white people walking through the neighborhood attracted some attention. My mother would probably kill me if she knew we had stepped into “the most dangerous area” of Haiti, and I’m ashamed to admit that this was the only time I did not feel safe during the week. In addition to numerous children, there were several men that followed us throughout our tour of Cite Soleil, and a few were asking us for money. I’ll also admit how heartbreaking it was to not be able to do more. The $5 bill burning in my pocket was just waiting to be given; in the long run, that $5 meant little to mean but could be a lot of money to someone in this neighborhood. In the end, I learned that some of the men that followed us were in fact members of the gang who told the other men begging for money to leave us alone, ensuring our safety. I was dumbfounded.
The children were naturally absolutely adorable. I was again torn when one of them wanted a sip of the Coke I was drinking – I was told not to for it would most likely result in a frenzy. But I was struck with how resilient these kids were, surviving in a dysfunctional system. I was amazed that a gang, something in the United States we view only with contempt, managed to control an otherwise terrible situation. I can only hope that Father Rick’s work can lessen the dysfunction and build sustainable cooperation and roots within this community.
Here are a few of the kids from our entourage in Cite Soleil. The one in the middle was my favorite – striking a pose with a fedora… and no pants.