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Wynn Walent Headshot

Music From St. Damien's Hospital, Haiti

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For a link to hear and download music (free of charge), please see the link at bottom of this post.

Just hours after the devastating earthquake of 2010, the Haitian people began to sing. That first night in January was an apocalyptic scene; homes and businesses flattened, mothers searching frantically for children, bloody knuckles trying desperately to dig survivors from the rubble, dust rising in every direction and cries from all around. And in the midst of all of this, the Haitian people began to sing. Of all of the shocking things about that moment in time in Port au Prince, it is this fact, the existence of these songs rising in the night, that is most often described to me by foreigners and Haitians alike. There was one report of a young woman being trapped beneath the rubble of her home for three days, and who upon being rescued left the rubble singing.

Ten months later, when cholera entered the country, the songs rose again. On the way to the countryside of Haiti where cholera first surfaced, teams of Haitian nurses, doctors and technicians sang Haitian spirituals, seated in the back of long flatbed trucks filled with boxes of IV fluids, oral rehydration packets and other life-saving materials. These supplies were used to set up quick response clinics in rural Haiti where many farmers and peasants live far removed from medical services. These clinics saved many, but many more arrived too late.

In my time at St. Damien's and St Luke's hospitals in Haiti, I have been humbled by the strength, courage and resilience of Haiti's people. Indescribable moments and images of Haitian people standing together to keep fighting against long odds. Woven through many of these moments has been music. In the hallways of the hospital, songs of lament and anguish are heard when a patient is lost. Sometimes they are recognizable melodies from well-known spirituals, other times they are composed on the spot, prayers and lamentations put to a tune by a mother who rocks back and forth singing, attempting to deal with the loss of a child.

Next to St. Damien's is a chapel, and in that chapel there is mass every morning. Too often the mass is a funeral mass. Funerals are important in Haiti, and oftentimes families with very little resources for the living spend large amounts to send off their dead. At St. Damien's and St. Luke's, we do our best to help families in simple and dignified ways, providing free burial and mass services to those who would like them. There in the chapel, families grieve together with the doctors, nurses and technicians who did their best to provide care to the sick. The songs speak of faith, courage, and redemption. I have listened gratefully.

One afternoon last spring, a group of five of us set up a microphone in the chapel and sang these songs. They are a small piece in the beautiful puzzle that is Haiti, and an artifact of our work and lives at St. Damien's and St Luke's Hospitals. The recordings are simple and imperfect at times, but if you're interested in Haiti, in music or both, you can peer into the window and take a listen here...