In Haiti, a plan to help children who eat ‘once in a while’

SUNY Upstate Haiti medical students mission orphanage

This is the last in a five-part series about the group of Upstate students known as “Team Haiti” that spent 11 days of their winter break in Haiti. They volunteered in clinics, in a hospital and at an orphanage. “The orphanage hit everybody pretty hard,” said Farah Daccueil, a fourth-year medical student who was born in Haiti.

Seeing the 28 children in that orphanage, including the girl in the photo above, gave Farah an idea. If you’d like to help her with it, read on …

Last in a series

Farah Daccueil says of her homeland, “Haiti is a very complicated country.”

By that, she means it is a difficult country to help.

SUNY Upstate Haiti medical mission orphanage

Farah Daccueil, a fourth-year medical student

Poverty is widespread, forcing many people to live day-to-day. Public health is poor. The country has a history of corruption, which makes people hesitant to donate to organizations offering aid, Farah said.

Add natural disasters such as the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed more than 100,000 homes, and yes, Haiti needs a lot of help.

Upstate’s Team Haiti is trying.

The students who travel there each winter break offer their services at clinics, hospitals and orphanages, and distribute donated medical supplies and clothing that they collect at Upstate.

Despite those efforts, students from Team Haiti have written on this blog about their frustration with not being able to do enough for the patients and children they encountered. They know they are doing a worthwhile public service that is greatly appreciated, but words like “heartbreaking” and “unbearable” creep into their accounts.

SUNY Upstate Haiti mission orphanage medical students

Children outside the orphanage

Farah raises the question of whether such humanitarian visits can actually do more harm than good – by creating fleeting false hope, rather than working on real, long-term solutions. “There are so many things to tackle,” she said.

One of Farah’s goals is to create self-sustaining programs that promote and improve medical education among residents of Haiti.

It’s a goal born out of frustration. “When we’d do the mobile clinics, we’d ask patients with hypertension what medications they were on,” she said. “We’d get answers like, ‘a blue pill.’ They didn’t know what they were taking. We need to educate the public on their own health care.’’

Improving public health education is a large task in a country like Haiti, which has its own timetable, Farah said. She’s not surprised that many Haitians – including some members of her family – are living in tents two years after the earthquake destroyed their homes.

SUNY Upstate Haiti relief mission orphanage medical students

Children at the orphanage line up to receive donated clothing. Student Dawn Lammert took this photo; the photo of the girl giving a 'thumbs up' at the top of the page was taken by another girl at the orphanage, with Dawn's camera.

“Here (in the U.S.), we expect changes in two, three years,” Farah said. “That’s not going to happen in Haiti. Ten years, maybe. Two, three years, that’s too short of a time for a country like Haiti.”

Here’s one specific project Farah wants to tackle sooner rather than later – improving conditions at the orphanage Team Haiti visited on its recent trip.

The orphanage houses about 28 children, ages 2 to 18. There are no sanitary toilet facilities. There are two large rooms, one for boys, the other for girls, and a total of two beds. The children eat “once in a while,” Farah said.

SUNY Upstate Haiti mission orphanage

Some of the more than two dozen children who live at the orphanage

Farah said the Team Haiti students had to drive 45 minutes on a beat-up road to reach the orphanage on the outskirts of Saint-Marc. It was going to be a short visit, she said, “but we took one look at the orphanage, and there was no way we were just going to turn around and leave. If you could see their faces, and the awful conditions they’re living in … it’s nothing you could ever fathom.”

The students drove back into town, bought rice and cooking oil with money donated by medical student Nate Herr’s church, then returned to the orphanage and helped serve a meal.

That visit is why Farah proposes an “architectural mission” – with carpenters, engineers, plumbers, whoever and whatever it takes to improve the orphanage’s basic conditions. The idea is to get enough volunteers to do the work, but to buy all the materials in Haiti to boost the economy in that region.

“I’m thinking of writing up a proposal,” Farah said. She’s a fourth-year medical student about to graduate and move on to a residency, so her schedule will get even busier. Anyone who can offer help should e-mail her at daccueif@upstate.edu.

“As little as you do to help, you have to be happy with that or you’d drive yourself crazy,” Farah said. “You can’t change the country in two days. You’d beat yourself up and you won’t last a month.”

SUNY Upstate medical students Haiti mission

Upstate students on the recent 'Team Haiti' trip: (seated) Sufyan Siddiqui, Sonia Replansky; (standing, L-R) Mercy Ukpe, Claudy Zulme, Farah Daccueil, Yoni Kurland, Nate Herr, Dawn Lammert, John Cunneen.

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