As we all settle into the warmth of our families and communities over Thanksgiving, my heart, my thoughts and my prayers take me back to Haiti which as I write this blog, is in a state of turmoil, suffering, and chaos that is not much better than after the earthquake. Since the first moments I, my wife, Paul Farmer, and our team landed on the chaotic tarmac of the airport and worked 20-hours day in the University Hospital, Haiti has gotten under my skin and burrowed into my heart and soul. There have been so many people doing such great work there like Paul Farmer and Partners in Health, and my long lost cousin who I found through my work in Haiti, David Meltzer, the head of International Relief for the American Red Cross.
But Haiti's problems are deep, and their people's suffering is great. Cholera is spreading, gender violence in the camps increases, hunger mounts, over a million are still homeless, and families are even living on highway medians as trucks and cars race by.
Though the news may not always reflect it, dedicated people who have devoted their lives to helping in Haiti (and other places the poor suffer are doing good things). Over dinner this weekend, my cousin, David (we have the same great-grandparents), explained the extraordinary efforts of the Red Cross who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Haiti already. Since the initial disaster, The American Red Cross has provided millions of dollars to support the main hospital in Haiti where I first worked, and has saved another hospital, Port au Prince's major trauma center, that was about to shut down for lack of funds. They have created transitional homes for 150,000 people, given cash grants and microloans to help nearly 210,000 people with basic needs and to invest in small businesses, provided drinking water for 280,000 people each day, developed preparedness activities to protect 500,000 people and medical care and/or health education for 435,000 people. They also have created emergency shelter materials for 625,000 people, latrines for 238,000 people, and provided emergency supplies for 125,000 people for use during hurricane season.
To learn more about how they have helped and to give to this cause see their website.
And last Wednesday, at the annual dinner for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, we all listened with open, but sad hearts, as actress Juliana Margulies read the words of Loune Viaud from Partners in Health who shared what is still going on, but also what has been accomplished by the committed.
Last week on 60 Minutes Bryon Pitts and Magalie Laguerre, aired a segment on Haiti that you should all watch.
And there was a 60 Minutes Overtime segment in which I was featured, and Magalie, a Haitian American, who was there when I first brought 60 Minutes to the hospital morgue that first awful night in Haiti, shared how it was for her seeing her people and her land in the wake of such destruction.
Partners in Health recently released their annual report on their work, which I encourage you to review. Once you do, I ask you to give of your self, your money, or your time or support their work.
Here is part of what Partners in Health recently shared regarding their work:
The earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince on January 12 ranks among the worst disasters in modern history: 230,000 killed in a matter of minutes, more than 1.5 million left homeless.
In the days following the quake, Paul Farmer diagnosed the catastrophe as a case of what doctors call "acute-on-chronic"--an already bad problem rendered immeasurably worse. Haiti's chronic conditions--extreme poverty, food and water insecurity, lack of economic opportunities, crumbling public health and education systems--left the country ever more vulnerable to this acute disaster. The cholera outbreak is once again exposing the fragility of health care in Haiti--and the need for long-term, progressive and fair solutions.
Being Thankful and Giving Thanks
As I get ready to gather with my family and be thankful for the goodness in my life, I am thankful for having gone to Haiti this year, for being able to give of my time, my heart and my money. Gratitude is healing, and we have much to be thankful for. But giving is also healing--it opens the heart and soul. I have received much more from my work in Haiti than I have given.
A few days ago, I received an email from one medical student, Auguste, with whom I worked closely when I was in Haiti. After the earthquake, his family lost everything--they had no home, food, or water. Even so, he showed up in the operating room to help us every day. Things are worse for him now. Here is what he said to me in a recent email.
"Dr. Mark please help me find a way to work a little bit. When God allows the possibility for school I will go... Things are just coming harder every single day for me... My family and I can't even eat, eating is coming a need for us now... Now in the country we have shooting in different areas, because it's election time...
Thank you so much for helping... God bless you... Auguste"
The Buddha said when your heart breaks, it can break open or closed. Let your heart break open for Haiti and for Auguste and find a way to help, to be giving in any way you can. The American Red Cross and Partners in Health are two excellent organizations you can give to and be sure the money will go to help those in need in Haiti.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD