Article by Chris More
Haiti is the poorest country in the new world. When I think of it, images of hurricanes and the devastating earthquake that rocked it only a few years ago come to mind. As a 4th year medical student from the University of Manitoba, I had the absolute privilege and pleasure to accompany Dr. Pierre Plourde and his team of 11 other health care professionals to this nation. Many milestones marked this trip: this was the 10th year that Dr. Plourde has taken medical teams to Haiti, my first trip to a third world country, the first time a medical student had been a part of the team, and it was the largest and youngest team which has ever gone down.
My role on the team was to support the medical part of the mission. But that is only a small part of the overall mission. One thing that struck me, when I arrived, was the partnership between EMAS and the local Haitian community to help build upon other social determinants of health, like food, education, access to clean water, etc. I remember learning, very early on in my medical education, about how many other environmental stressors can affect health and not just disease. This mission in Haiti really brought to light this principle. The local Haitians, with support of EMAS, have been able to build a school, toilet facilities, with plans to build a large auditorium. The school itself provides education and food for over 200 children.
Medically, I was expecting to see weird and wonderful tropical diseases in the population, but the very opposite occurred. The population was fairly healthy and I saw common diseases I would see here in Canada (arthritis, hypertension, urinary infections, etc) which I think is due to Dr. Plourde’s involvement with the community the last 10 years. Additionally, I think the overall healthiness of this population can also be attributed to the mission’s focus on not just curing disease but also other social determinants of health.
There were two specific events that had a very big impact on me, while I was there. One was at a church service when the pastor asked for the offering. Sitting in the front pew I saw the whole congregation get up and start lining up to give whatever they had. I was suddenly struck vividly by an image of a gospel story—the one where the old women gets up to give her two coins (Mark 12:41–40, Luke 21:1–4). Another moment was when the community put on a celebration to thank us. It included a huge meal with champagne and gifts for every team member. These people, who have absolutely nothing compared to me, were showering me with gifts, food and at the same time giving to the church so that the church could bless others. It was an overwhelming experience that challenged me. These people may be impoverished monetarily, but they are far richer than I am in community and giving. I went to Haiti to help and provide for others, but received far more from those living in poverty than I could ever imagine.