Faith in the Rubble: A Self-Reflection through Services in Haiti
Where there is despair and or devastation, there is need and with this comes an opportunity to serve and that opportunity is truly a blessing. To serve without any expectation in return is a way to grow spiritually and I have been tremendously blessed with several opportunities to self-transform. With the Haiti earthquake disaster, once again an opportunity to help came and thus started anther phase of my spiritual journey. What was most striking in Haiti was the beauty, the faith and the love of the people that was most obvious in the background of tremendous destruction, the not so obvious despair in the minds of the people due to pre-existing poverty, the loss of family and friends, the loss of homes, and ultimately the lack of adequate food and water to take one through teach day.
The media has been wonderful in letting the world know what had happened and what was going on including the resilience of people to survive days under the rubble, the desperation, the faith and hope to see another person found alive but at the same time had over focused on the random riots of people at food lines that is sprung out of starvation, desperation and the want to feed oneself and his/her family.
I have been blessed to have been involved in the coordination of an ongoing relief effort in Haiti through the “Sri Sathya Sai Organization.” I went as part of a group of 9 people from the USA and Canada and joined work with two other teams from Latin America. For nearly a year afterwards, we had teams of medical and non-medical volunteers going to Haiti each week providing medical relief work in Haiti.
At the beginning, we traveled to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and then onwards to Port-au-Prince, Haiti where we stayed and worked. In contrast to the Dominican Republic which is lush with tall green trees, light atmosphere and clear beautiful skies looking like the real tropics, in Haiti one sees dry land with bushes, not many tall lush trees and an air dense with dust. However, there are beautiful mountains and the sky indeed is beautiful at night. Intertwined in this dry land is the destruction of many buildings, the poverty of the people and the land and poor unsanitary conditions that people live in with their beauty and smiles and their resilience, which is awe inspiring. An added feature to the scene was the tent cities with thousands of tents everywhere which had become the homes of the Haitians for the immediate future and probably for a long time to come. There is no privacy to partake in their daily activities and people are forced to live in close quarters day in and day out with nowhere to go as many had lost their jobs and modes of transportation.
Medical Services: We saw patients with both acute and chronic conditions. We worked in 2 churches who serve the local communities. We had medical camps 5-6 days a week in both these churches and we were seeing an average of about 300 patients per day in the 2 churches combined. Near one of the churches was a tent city and we were providing medical help to the people living in these tents. Most people had lost everything after the earthquake including their medications and have completely stopped taking their usual medications (e.g. for blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) and we provided ongoing medical care with provision of medicines that they need.
We have also provided medical help in the local government hospital in Port-au-Prince with specialties such as anesthesiology, orthopedics and vascular surgery and in an acute trauma care center in the city with specialties such as plastic surgery. Additionally, paramedical personnel such as nurses and non-medical volunteers have provided assistance to the medical teams both at the medical camps and at the general hospital.
Transportation become a problem for many and given where people live and lack of resources, they were not able to go and seek medical help at hospitals that were not close to where they live. We went and set up medical camps in some areas where there has been need and provided medical help to people living in these areas.
Non-Medical Services: Additionally, we were actively involved in food distribution, provision of tents and home supplies to families along with a program with children in one of the churches we were serving.
Some things to remember
The Children of Haiti:
One of the most inspiring and positive aspects of the trip was to see the beautiful smiles of the people of Haiti especially the children who lit up the sad atmosphere with hope and love and make one look to the future than to the past. These children are the future of Haiti as is the case of children in every country who are the future of their countries with regards to how they will be in the years to come. I cannot imagine anything other than a better future for Haiti with these smiles of hope and love.
Some of the children and youth we met at one of the churches are also talented in music and they set the background of soothing music for our medical camps when they played the music for us as we were seeing patients through the day. Also the young adults in our Organization joined these children and youth to play music and have jam sessions that filled them with unimaginable joy and bringing joy to everyone in the camp.
Compound Number 27 and the US Army:
It was an honor and a great pleasure to meet some of the wonderful service men and women of the US one day as we were conducting a medical camp in an area of the community where one of the Sai organization members resides. They requested us to come and see a woman who they had found several days prior immobile but the by the time they were able to seek any medical help, they found the woman missing. On this day as they were patrolling the area, they found the woman again immobile on the ground in her home made with plastic sheets unable to communicate well. With the help of a translator I was able to determine that she had not eaten for 3-4 days and was very weak as a result of starvation. I was also able to examine her and found that she had not had any trauma to explain her immobile state other than extreme weakness due to lack of food for several days. She ate the food I gave her in a matter of seconds and when I went back to check on her after a few hours, she was already feeling better and very appreciative for the help. She also told us that she was with a family of five including her grandchildren who have also been starving without much food for several days. We were able to request our local Sai organization members to provide food packets to this family. God brings us to where the need is in different ways and this was clearly a case where God brought us to meet the woman and her family through our US service men and women.
Sunday Mass and sermon:
I would call it “Faith, Hope and Love in the Rubble” – the way the people of Haiti live. One cannot but hear the songs of the heart people are singing at any given time when they get together to comfort themselves (there were several times where we were living I was awakened by songs in the middle of the night). Every Sunday morning one can see people dressed in the best they have walking down the streets to attend the Sunday mass in the church that starts at 7:00 AM. It just lifts you up every day and no matter how hard you work doing your service, it teaches us that faith, hope and love are the most important things we need.
I had the distinct pleasure to attend the Sunday Mass at one of the churches we were serving in and I was honored to be asked to deliver a sermon to the attendees at the Sunday Mass. I told everyone how inspired I was to experience the love and faith in the Haitian people. I spoke on the values I cherish that Sai Baba has always taught: ‘Love All, Serve All’ and ‘Help Ever, Hurt Never’. I also discussed the importance of faith in God and to look at any opportunity to serve as a tremendous blessing and we should serve our brothers and sisters with no expectation in return. I told them that irrespective of what our religion is, we need to aim to become better in this regard (to become a better Christian if we are Christians).
Each of us has the opportunity to help others wherever we are and we also have much more in our lives than we really need. As we conduct ourselves in our daily lives, we should think of giving more, taking less and get more involved personally in the communities we live in. One does not need a tsunami or a hurricane or an earth quake to realize the needs (medical, social and even just being a friend to someone new) in our neighborhoods.
Dr. Hari Conjeevaram, MD, MSc