They put it on the container, now they’ll be taking it off, explained Scarborough resident Polly Larned.

Next week, she and her husband Steve,will be heading to Haiti to unload a container of medical supplies that they sent to Haiti a month ago.

Nate Nickerson, executive director, and Larned spoke to the Scarborough Rotary Club last week about Konbit Sante, a nonprofit, Portland-based volunteer agency that has been partnering with the Ministry of Health in northern Haiti for the last six years in an effort to strengthen the health sector there. Larned best described what they do by quoting Chinese philosopher, Kuan-Tzu: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; if you teach him to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

Their presentation made an impression on me. Konbit Sante’s mission is to support the development of a sustainable health-care system to meet the needs of the Cap-Haitian community with maximum local direction and support. They’re helping them to fish, so to speak. And it’s a total hands-on effort.

They’ve had their work cut out for them. Cap- Haitian is the second largest city in Haiti, located in the north. This mountainous sprawling community of 250,000 people has an 80 percent unemployment rate, one in five children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Running water, electricity, sewer, food and proper medical treatment are hard to come by. Haitians have discovered that not only does Konbit Sante (whose name means people working together for health) deliver goods, it also is committed for the long haul, instilling confidence and hope to the organization’s Cap-Haitian partners.

That’s important. “We don’t just come in, give them medical treatment, and then leave” explained Larned, an RN in pediatrics. So many other programs have done that, leaving the Haitian people grateful but no better prepared to care for their own. This organization is going into a living condition that thousands of Haitians have been trying to flee from, and it’s no wonder.

The slide show put things in perspective. Located just 500 miles off the coast of Florida, Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere. An unstable government and political unrest have complicated the work. The Haitian people rely on barges delivering food and used clothing for their survival. Haiti is the only country in this hemisphere where people are starving. With little capacity to manage solid waste, it often is piled up on the street and burned – leaving a stench to the air and contributing to disease.

It was hard to view those slides. I tried to imagine myself in those living conditions, and what I may do. Would I risk my life aboard a rickety, crowded boat in search of economic opportunities for myself and family? Yet, mention that Haitian workers are in your midst, or are working in your favorite vacation destination, and people tremble. They lock their doors and guard their stuff as the debate continues: What should we do about all these illegal immigrants?

The Konbit Sante solution: Go to them and teach them to fish! We all know that there’s no place like home, no matter where you live. So make home livable and people won’t want to leave.

This effort does just that. It’s slow going though. Work that we use machinery or equipment for is done by hand. The very basics are hard to come by, so people make do with what they have. Women and hospital workers do laundry by hand because of lack of water. Clothes dry out under the sun because electricity is hard to come by. Charcoal – the best fuel source – provides jobs for those who deliver it to the city, often transporting it from the countryside on a donkey.

Konbit Sante has discovered that clinician and infrastructure go hand in hand. Collaborating is key. By improving water supply, electricity and installing a wireless network, they have introduced new job skills to Haitians while also serving to improve medical conditions, training and education to medical workers. Above all, hope, dignity and respect have been realized by Haitians, who have witnessed Konbit Sante’s mission to see the job through.

To date, seven full containers of donated medical supplies have been sent to the Haitian people. Konbit Sante gathers and loads the supply on this end, and then meets the container in Haiti. The supplies are unloaded and distributed by hand through the 300-bed hospital, a local clinic and among other humanitarian partner organizations.

Above all, this group has proven that a little can go a long way in Haiti. Recently a pediatric outpatient clinic was built for $7,000. Currently, Konbit Sante is seeking a grant to do several other facility improvements.

To learn more about how you can help, go to www.konbitsante.org.


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