Haiti Surgical Mission: People – The subject of our reflection (Part 3)


March 17, 2010

by Michael Cerkas

The recent Haiti earthquake has undeniably drawn worldwide attention, yet much of the media presented to the public has focused on thephysical and economic damage to the city and surrounding area along with efforts to raise money to provide help. Ironically, in the big scheme of things, although important, more aptly it is the family infrastructure and people of Haiti that deserve attention.

Add to this hardship the relatively close and compressed timeline of the subsequent earthquakes spanning the globe in Okinawa (7.0-February 26th), Chile (8.8-February 27th), Taiwan (6.4-March 3rd), Turkey (6.0-March 8th), three consecutive earthquakes again in Chile on March 11th (6.9, 6.7, 6.0), and most recently Los Angeles (4.4-March 16th).  It is understandable why the attention has shifted away from the devastation in Haiti, in spite of that catastrophe accounting for the largest number of victims and deaths of all the subsequent and similar natural disasters that have occurred, combined.

During this first surgical mission to Haiti from the Green Bay area the images that remain etched in your mind are not of the surgical procedures or the scores of buildings that lay in ruins throughout the city.  Unequivocally it is images of the people you have seen during the mission (before and after surgery), lining the streets, bathing in the ditches, welcoming you into their villages and homes and being thankful for everything they have in spite of the devastation surrounding them and the long road to recovery ahead.

As you walk through the village and meet the residents, you are overcome with guilt, shame and humility as you fully realize how much you have to be thankful for, compared to the meager lives being led before your eyes.  You begin to wonder what brought you here and ask yourself questions that you know have no answers.  More painstaking is the reality of knowing that personally giving anything to the people directly, whether it be money or food, would only cause a whirlwind of anguish as you do not have enough for everyone.

Subsequently, you realize you can accomplish a greater good by offering the best endowment you can provide to the Haitians…  yourself in service to them.  The surgical team from Green Bay literally and figuratively gave all they had to give and then were rewarded ten-fold with the most treasured gift in return; the gratitude of the people living in the villages.  From the elders to parents, adolescents and the children, you were awestruck by their innocence, sincerity and solemn expressions.  There were also smiles and optimism though, which spoke volumes about the strength of the people living in this tormented nation.

Eerily, you can sense they know of their predicament and realize that you are there to do and give what you can as a person.  They understand that their fate lies in their own hands more than others.  It is this perfect clarity of self to which you are drawn and is so engaging.  Underscored by suffering and survival, their genuine demeanor and meekness drives you to open your heart and soul in support of their well-being.

Many of the children in the village are half-dressed, a symptom and direct result of deficiency.  Amid the dust, debris, poverty and absence of the essentials of life (as we know it) is a purity of heart unmatched and simply beautiful to behold.  And it is an eye-opening and striking sight to witness everyone dressed in their finest clothes, bright whites and dresses/dress slacks, toting bibles come Sunday.  You know immediately the high regard and reverence that faith holds for them.  You admire their dignity and resilience and only wish you could stay much longer.

The heartbreak is knowing that change comes ever so slowly and in some circumstances, perhaps not at all.  You struggle with the paradox of accepting the fact that opposing environments so extreme can exist in a world with technology that has enabled us to visit other planets and comprehendscience’s most closely guarded secrets, yet allows people to live without a true future as well as with a jaded past.  By default, these people live their lives in the present, being satisfied with what they have, looking for ways to earn a living while children play with their friends, wondering about their future or if they have one.

The silver lining in the cloud however, at least at Double Harvest, is a school that appears to bemaking a difference for the children of the adjacent village.  Smiles were in greater abundance and seemed to last longer for everyone present.  A sense of prosperity permeated the air as you strode through its property.  And like the school, the Medical/Surgical Clinic produced the same sentiments of hope and change.  As long as outsiders (like the surgical team fromGreen Bay, Wisconsin) continue to pay it forward in Haiti and leave their fingerprints on the physical salvation and souls of the people there, progress will be made and the quality of life will continue to improve.

In reflection about the mission that changed many people’s lives and perceptions of it (for the patients as well as the providers), you conclude that somewhere along the way the standard for assessing pain, suffering, disaster and impact has become centered around economics and physical man-made entities, rather than focusing on the most precious and valued aspect in the world; human life.  As a people, we have become desensitized to and have subsequently and inadvertently devalued life, having been distracted by the pace of everyday living to the point that some individuals unfortunately consider things more important than people.

Let us make a sincere and concerted effort to turn forward the clock to a time where nothing is held in higher regard than the people around us, wherever they are living or struggling to survive.  Haiti is a community of people that feel, hurt, cry, suffer,cope, grieve, and yet at the same time, heal, smile, hope, dream and carry on.

It has been, is and always will be people that make the difference, not some geometric shapes made of concrete, lined with glass, assigned numbers and pictured on postcards.  All the man-made things in the world together, do not even come close to equalling the value of the life of one human being.  If nothing else is learned from all the catastrophe’s in recorded history, let it be this.


For related information, follow the links below:

Haiti Surgical Mission: Green Bay surgical team performs 45 surgeries in 3 days (Part 2)

Haiti Surgical Mission: Dedicated Green Bay surgical team overshadows lack of technology (Part 1) 

Haiti Earthquake: Technology enhances awareness and help – also magnifies poverty

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