By J.O. Haselhoef
Jacky Joseph, 24, a nursing student at L’Université Episcopale d’Haïti (UNEPH) in Leogane, had returned to his hometown of Seguin, in the department of Sud-est, earlier this year to prepare for the national exams. Since then, he had grown frustrated with the service provided by the government-run clinic and the lack of a hospital in his region, the Nippes, about 65 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
A few months ago, Joseph set up an organization, Health in the Mountain, to bring awareness to good health. He hopes, one day, to build a clinic. While Joseph was preparing to teach the local school children about health — washing hands and other hygiene lessons— the earthquake hit Haiti’s southwestern region. Joseph hit upon the idea to help survivors of the quake instead and called on a few nursing school colleagues to help.
Charlotte Delva of Leogane, Catianna Noezil of Les Cayes and Bergela Bertrand of Jacmel answered the call. Together, the quartet tried to determine how and where best to help. Noezil’s family, whose own home outside of Les Cayes was destroyed, suggested Charette, a small village nearby.
Within a week of the disaster striking, Noezil traveled to Charette, quickly assessed the community’s needs and reported back to the nursing group. Residents critically injured had been taken to Les Cayes, but no health provider had been dispatched to examine the other injured residents of the village. The earthquake destroyed or rendered most of their homes unsafe, and everyone was sleeping outside, in need of tents.
Most importantly, the residents needed food.
The Mountain team required money to help Charette. Joseph Facebook-messengered friends — many of whom were medical personnel in the United States who had taught classes at UNEPH. Gini Holter, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, was among those who responded.
She remembered Joseph as a student in her women’s health care class in 2019. “[He’s] a brilliant young man who has a good business sense,” Holter said. “He understands the needs of the community.”
Holter teaches and mentors students in Haiti to prepare them to take on larger challenges. She sent funds, which she noted helps build the Haitian economy, for his earthquake project. And she supported Joseph with her expertise. “Think about this next step. What is your goal? How should you anticipate this situation?” she asked him.
Joseph requested that Pastor Elie Excellus of Eglise de Dieu Tabernacle de la Grace et du Salut — the Church of God Tabernacle of Grace and Salvation — in Seguin give his financial advice and act as watchdog over the money collected and spent — to make sure the two figures balanced.
“I was afraid that donors would think I was using the money for myself or my friends,” Joseph said, “and not for the people in need.”
Joseph used Noezil’s list of needs for Charette to purchase spaghetti, flour, body soap, detergent and other essentials, which they bagged into 30 kits and loaded into huge rice bags. They arranged to arrive in Charette on Aug. 26, almost two weeks after the earthquake.
That morning, Bertrand called. There was a protest that closed the streets of Jacmel, prohibiting her from meeting them in Leogane. The others climbed into a van bound for Les Cayes, their backpacks full of medical supplies and the rice bags tied on top of the vehicle.
The van sped down the central highway. But in Les Cayes, rocks and hurricane washouts blocked the road to Charette. The three nurses then boarded motorcycles for the 40-minute ride along a route where they could see the significant destruction of homes the earthquake had caused.
Villagers in Charette welcomed them. “We were the first people from outside their community that they had seen,” Joseph said.
The Mountain team distributed the kits to the first families in line. “I felt embarrassed,” he said. “They needed so much, and we had so little to give.”
The nurses set up a makeshift clinic and treated cuts and lacerations, provided antibiotics when appropriate, and checked blood pressures. “The people of Charette were very stressed,” Joseph said. “We calmed those we spoke to, but they need to speak to someone trained in trauma.”
That evening, the team slept outside along with the residents and prepared to leave within a day. They had not adequately planned for food for themselves and didn’t want to take it from the local people. They left bandages for when changes were needed.
“The only thing we could offer the people of Charette,” Joseph said, “was that we’d write about their situation on our Facebook page. We hoped someone else, who could provide more food or repairs to their houses, would then help.”
Back in Seguin, Joseph said he couldn’t really comprehend the circumstances in Charette until he was there. “It shocked me.”
He learned the nursing team’s strengths and weaknesses in putting together the project. Joseph hopes there won’t be another disaster in Haiti but recognizes the experience as one that would help prepare him if calamity should once again befall the country.
He continues to think about the people of Charette. “I’m still going to do as much as I can to help them get a more-or-less comfortable place — at least tents — to sleep in.”