Even after a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti Jan. 12, causing the collapse of major buildings and the deaths of thousands, Dr. Steve Newman expects to hear singing.
“You get Haiti in your blood,” Newman said. “Once you’ve been there and seen the beauty and the struggle, it’s addicting.”
Feb. 4 will mark Newman’s fourth journey to the country — if he can get there. With the current conditions, the 16-person trip is in jeopardy because American Airlines has halted all commercial flights to Haiti.
“As far as passengers, it’s a moving target as far as when they’ll resume,” Newman said. “I’ve heard Feb. 2, and our trip is two days later.”
Newman, an emergency-medicine doctor at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, took his first mission trip to Haiti in 2007 with the Rev. Steve P. Winemiller, of Faith Lutheran Church, and congregation members who are also medical professionals.
Winemiller is a board member of the Lazarus Project, which is comprised of about 60 churches in the United States that provide direct relief assistance to Haiti’s Village of Hope, Grace Mission School and Orphanage, the Little Children of Jesus Home for Disabled Children and the Ranquitte School and Orphanage in the northern mountains of Haiti.
“I have all sorts of friends there,” Newman said. “Haitians stay in my home when they visit. If they come here to help us with fundraising, we help buy their plane tickets and put them up in parishioner’s homes — everybody fights over having them.”
Although Newman packs his suitcases to perfection, filling them with medications and supplies, diapers, formula, hand sanitizer, shoes, underwear and socks, he knows the luggage won’t make it through baggage check on the return flight.
“Suitcases, if you leave them there, turn into somebody’s dresser,” he said. “You’ll see kids with mismatching shoes, and they will always polish the dress shoes. They are well-behaved because nobody has a lot of time to be depressed or feel sad for themselves — they are too busy surviving.”
He takes $15,000 of wholesale medications. One box has 700 courses of treatments of cough and cold medicines, dressings and antibiotics. As long as the medications aren’t expired, customs looks the other way.
The group stays with a Haitian caretaker at the Hope House, in Port-au-Prince, which holds up to 16 missionaries. Their base of operations is safe with surrounding papaya and banana trees, fields of sugarcane and livestock.
For five days, the group holds mobile clinics in the Village of Hope School classrooms to perform medical examinations on children. Sundays are reserved for church service, led by the children.
“The children give the sermon in a beautiful outdoor chapel that looks out over the fertile valley with the winds blowing … ” Newman said. “In the afternoon, we go and do something fun. We see a park, go out to lunch at the Montana Hotel or take other missionaries out.”
The following day, Newman loads the borrowed truck with an ice chest and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and heads off to the clinics. This meal is typically the only meal the children receive. Poor nutrition is common; dental care is nonexistent.
“The diseases that you see in developing countries are like diseases in the U.S. on steroids,” he said. “There’s no such thing as lab tests, no opportunity to start an I.V., no clean, cool place for hydration and no overnight accommodations.”
This trip, the doctors won’t have time for wellness — they’ll only treat those who are sick or hurt. Although there’s no place for surgery, Debbie Berquist, the interim Village of Hope missionary, is trying to get the group connected with the hospital receiving sick and injured patients.
Newman said he won’t travel to Haiti if he’s going to be consuming food, water and diesel resources that would deprive Haitians. But if he can be reasonably reassured that what the group would do in terms of medical care will justify the expenditures, even if it means paring down the team of physicians, he’ll make the trip.
“There’s bravery and dignity and inner beauty with Haitian people,” Newman said. “They are born fighting for survival and die fighting for survival.”
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected]
BY THE NUMBERS
16 — number of people traveling to Haiti in Dr. Steve Newman’s group
15,000 — amount of dollars of wholesale medicine Newman will bring
700 — number of courses of antibiotics in one box
60 — number of churches involved with the Lazarus Project
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