Local paramedic reflects on humanitarian trip to Haiti
By Angelica Ingram
Published June 14, 2016
Jennifer Button will never forget the trip she took to Haiti this past May.
It wasn’t the sandy white beaches or tropical weather that made the trip unforgettable, but the lives changed during her one week in the Caribbean.
And the life that was changed the most was hers.
Button, 33, has been living in Haliburton County for the past 10 years, when she moved to the area to do a placement as a paramedic.
She fell in love with the community and never left, now working for Haliburton County Paramedic Services.
Button travelled to Haiti from May 10 to 17 with a team of paramedics from Peterborough, working with a charity in Haiti called Hope Grows.
The group worked in a community called Grand Goave, located approximately two hours southwest of Port-Au-Prince.
The Peterborough team, which has made prior trips to Haiti, is working on constructing a medical clinic in Grand Goave, said Button.
“We’re the only medical team that goes down to staff it,” she said. “This was the first year they were actually able to open up the clinic with the supplies we brought down.”
According to Button, about 90 per cent of Grand Goave was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, including all public buildings, schools, city hall, etc.
The paramedic team facilitated clinics while they were in Haiti, including a mobile one in the mountains.
While in Grand Goave the team met with local midwives to help further their knowledge for delivering babies, dealing with difficult birthing emergencies and the importance of breastfeeding, said Button.
“The five local midwives that we met with have no professional education or training, their skills are passed down from the elders of the community,” Button told the paper. “That being said, they are incredibly smart women and we were excited to see the pride and professionalism they take in their position, which they quite often receive no pay for.”
The trip, which was the first experience of this kind for Button, was exhausting, both mentally and physically.
“During the clinics there would be a line-up of hundreds of patients and we would see them one by one,” she said.
Issues the team would face ranged from breathing problems to gastrointestinal issues, worms, malnutrition, burns and more.
“It’s a very poverty stricken area we were in. The living conditions they have there are just deplorable. Not anything we could ever imagine here,” she said.
The team also taught a first aid class to locals employed by Hope Grows, which covered areas such as proper treatment of burns, cuts, choking and more.
“Hope Grows provides a feeding program to more than 300 local children of Grand Goave,” Button told the paper. “Five days a week the children arrive at the compound to receive a hot meal, typically the only meal they will have all day.”
The medical work done in Haiti is done with the help of translators, as most people speak the national language of Creole and French, while some are learning English in school.
The paramedics also visited the homes of new babies in the area to help assess the medical condition of the infants and give them donated cloth diapers, clothes and food for the breastfeeding mothers.
“We also visited some of the elderly widows who are a part of Hope Grows’s elderly care program,” said Button. “The women that we met had been living in horrendous conditions and thanks to the support of Hope grows are now living in more suitable arrangements. We provide them with some basic necessities of toiletries, vitamins and clothing.”
Button covered the expense of the trip herself, which totalled about $1,500. She brought supplies down with her, much of which came from local moms from Haliburton County who donated items.
The things Button witnessed changed her life, more than she even expected it would.
“I knew it would change the way that I see things here and it’s done that 10-fold,” she said. “It’s definitely made me appreciate everything that we have in Canada. Even just the fact that we’re lucky enough to be in Canada.”
Button would recommend it to anyone interested in an eye-opening experience.
She said it was difficult to leave the area after a week and would definitely go back, as the community and the people are so appreciative of the work the paramedics do.
“The one thing I keep telling everybody about the trip is that the locals just have not given up hope,” she said. “They're starting from nothing and that hasn't knocked them down. They just continue to smile every day and want to strive to make themselves and their community better … it's so motivating to see that.”
The Lions Club supported Button on her trip. See photo on page 31.