By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
The early birth of her seventh grandchild led Anne Colville to join the St. John Vianney 2018 Haiti Medical Mission. Samuel was born five weeks early, but was healthy. In reflecting on all the procedures, medicines and specialists involved in his mother’s pregnancy and Samuel’s birth, “I thanked God for access to medical care,” Colville said.
While reflecting on that experience, she saw a bulletin request for volunteers for the parish’s medical mission. “I immediately signed up because I wanted to help others who have medical needs but few options for care. … I’m not a medical professional, but Ann Wester (Haiti Committee chair) assured me that many non-medical folks were needed. I met with Ann, who thoroughly explained the mission (hard work), living conditions (camping), and travel (a carry-on and two-50- pound bags of supplies).”
Colville and her sister Nancy of Muscatine were among 30 people from St. John Vianney and other parishes and Hands Together of West Palm Beach, Fla., to participate in the Jan. 19-26 medical mission. Father Ross Epping, St. John Vianney’s parochial vicar, also made the mission trip, celebrating daily Mass for the group. Altogether, the missionaries saw 1,750 patients and distributed 1,008 pairs of glasses and sunglasses. It was “another amazing week and experience for all,” Wester said.
Colville assisted doctors in the dental clinic the first day. “I wiped down the tables, prepped trays of sterile instruments, draped bibs on the patients, held lights to help the doctor guide the needles going in and the teeth coming out. The best part was holding the patients’ hands when they were nervous about the anesthesia and the extraction tools.” Another day she helped in the vision clinic. “One gentleman who worked in agriculture nearly cried when he received a pair of glasses with clip-on sunglasses. His eyes will now be protected from the sun when he works in the field.
“The work was hard, hot and sweaty. Some days the power went out and stopped the fans. The mosquitoes pestered relentlessly. The roosters squawked all night long. But I loved every minute working with the beautiful people of Haiti, and the incredible mission team.”
She said she doesn’t speak Haitian Creole, “but I learned that love and caring can be communicated through any language with a touch, smile or a hug. I thank the medical mission for the opportunity to serve and hope to return again next year.”
Katie Kuster, 17, described her second medical mission trip to Haiti as a “humbling experience and it’s something I will cherish forever.” She assisted at different stations throughout the clinic. At the intake station, height, weight and blood pressure were recorded. At the out-take station, patients received a diagnosis and medicines from medical professionals. Other stations included pharmacy, dental and eye.
“I had the easy job because I got to do the non-medical tasks. But, I have a lot of respect for the doctors, nurses and pharmacists who see patient after patient from the minute the clinic starts to the minute the clinic ends each day. And the most amazing thing is that they don’t complain. I know everyone on my team put in so much work for this mission trip, but I also know that if you asked anyone on the trip, they would never consider it ‘work.’”
Assisting in Haiti reminded Katie “how lucky I am to live in the US …. We have access to clean water, shelter and food. I can reach into my fridge to grab an apple and the people in Haiti would beg and plead to even get a bite of that apple.”
“Second,” Katie continued, “I am thankful for my access to education. My family can attest to this but … I hate school. I’m not a morning person and I hate being stuck in a building each day. And I’m so guilty of complaining about my school work. But my motivation every day is thinking about the children in Haiti and other third world counties that would kill to have an education like I do. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are so lucky and I cannot say it enough.”
Dr. Mark Blaser, a St. John Vianney parishioner, began missionary work in 1993 in Jamaica at the invitation of a colleague. He traveled to Haiti and Belize for other missions. Following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, St. John Vianney parishioners sought ways to help. A twinning program with Our Lady du Rosaire in Jean Denis was formed; the first parish mission trip was in 2011. Blaser has been to Haiti every year except 2016 when the trip was cancelled due to election strife at the time.
“I go because these trips fill a hole in my heart that is filled by the stoicism and spirit of the Haitians, the graciousness of our hosts, the ability to practice unencumbered medicine, the friendships I develop with the team, and the growth and moving experiences I get to share with my team, especially those making their first trip. The whole experience is very scriptural.” Over the years, “we have become more organized and efficient. We have a better understanding of necessary medicines and quantities needed.”
He remembers his first impression from his first mission trip to Haiti, during Sunday Mass. “I literally cried as the Haitian voices lifted the roof with song. No songbooks. Just bongos,” Blaser said. “My second impression was goosebumps as the Our Father was prayed in Creole. The cadence, even in such a foreign language, was the same as ours, and really made me realize that we are all one people.”
(Editor’s note: Katie Kuster made a video about the Haiti trip that can be seen online at https://youtu.be/NEzqMcCcxEo.)