By Barb Arland-Fye
Pre-med student Katie O’Neill delivered her first baby last month in Grand-Bois, Haiti, a mountainous community that partners with her LeClaire parish and others.
Delivering the baby girl in a volunteer-built medical clinic was the most memorable part of O’Neill’s first mission trip with ServeHaiti, a nonprofit, faith-based organization working together with Grand-Bois’ people to achieve a better quality of life.
“I’ve always been pretty involved in volunteer work and like helping people,” said O’Neill, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, one of ServeHaiti’s partners. Other partners are St. Joseph parishes in DeWitt and Bellevue, Iowa; St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport; and Sacred Heart Parish in Atlanta, Georgia.
While O’Neill spent most of her week treating children and adults at the clinic, other volunteers on the same trip — Frank Dohmen and Tom Costello of the LeClaire parish and Tom’s son Marc — installed a radio station and worked on a wind tower to generate electricity.
The Costellos, like O’Neill, were first-time volunteers in Grand-Bois. Tom said it was a good working experience. “Everyone was thankful for what we did accomplish,” he said, adding that he was impressed that the people of Grand-Bois “work to live.”
Haiti — the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — lacks for many things Americans take for granted, such as electricity.
“They have no commercial power at the clinic; that’s why they need the wind generator,” said Dave Schumacher, an electrical contractor who with his nurse-educator wife, Jan, volunteers with ServeHaiti through their DeWitt parish. The wind generator will supplement the solar energy and diesel-fueled generator at the clinic.
Teacher education, micro-financing, electrical re-wiring, health initiatives, drilling of wells for potable water and building inspections following the crippling earthquake in Port-au-Prince are among other projects volunteers have engaged in.
Donations, grants and volunteer labor make these efforts possible, but more is needed to pay for the clinic’s $100,000 annual overhead, said longtime volunteer Liz McDermott of the LeClaire parish. That’s where ServeHaiti’s annual fundraiser comes in. Alternating between Atlanta and Iowa, this year’s event is Oct. 9 from 6-11 p.m. in the Redstone Room of the River Music Experience in Davenport. Admission is $25.
When McDermott began volunteering in Grand-Bois a decade ago, the clinic didn’t exist. Dr. Leopold Bourgouin and volunteers saw patients inside the Catholic Church once a year. “We did nothing but see patients from sunup to sundown and we’d sleep in the church where the clinic was held along with the patients who were too sick to go home,” she said. Sometimes, “we’d be having Mass and (Dr. Bourgouin) would be delivering babies.”
Now Dr. Bourgouin and his Haitian medical staff see 90 to 100 patients a day in a sturdy, two-story clinic the volunteers built gradually. The clinic has seen about a 30 percent increase in patients in recent months — possibly because of the earthquake, but “also word of mouth,” McDermott said. “People go to the clinic and they get better.”
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been a vital source of help in health-care efforts in Haiti, and provided funding for the radio station. “We’re able to broadcast AIDS prevention programs. But Dr. Leopold also broadcasts about public health,” she said.
ServeHaiti has also joined a newly formed coalition of nonprofits — The Quad City Haiti Alliance — to collaborate on ways to share contacts and resources — such as shipping vital medications effectively.
Dave Schumacher marvels at what has been accomplished in Grand-Bois. “The neat thing is you go to the clinic and it’s pretty self-sustaining,” he said. “Now we go down there to help people broaden their self-sufficiency. The progress I’ve seen there is tremendous.”
What: ServeHaiti Iowa Fundraiser
When: 6-11 p.m. Oct. 9
Where: Redstone Room of the River Music Experience in Davenport
Special activities: Haitian artisan market, silent auction, raffle
Special guests: Bishop Joseph LaFontant, Father Reginald Joachim, Dr. Leopold Bourgouin
Admission: $25 at the door, which covers complimentary food and beverages.