A letter of appreciation for the creation of 599 Peace Pals
June 22, 2010
Dear Peace Pal Knitters,
I want to thank each of you for your efforts in helping to create the 599 Peace Pals that were delivered to children in Haiti during the medical mission trip I participated on from May 11-20. I am pleased to report that all the dolls made it safely to Haiti packed (make that smashed) into vacuum bags so that they were manageable. The Peace Pals traveled there in the 22 suitcases that also included medical supplies we took so that we could care for the people who came to the 3 clinic sites we set up over a 6 day period of time. No dolls were displaced by medical supplies and by the end of the trip I learned that in many ways they were more important to us, the care providers, and to the Haitian people than the most expensive medication we had to offer.
Our first clinic was set up for 3 days at the site of the Church of God of Prophecy in the heart of Port-au-Prince where Pastor Sheref and the members were very helpful to us in managing the logistics. We arrived that first day to learn that there were already 250 people with hand numbered tickets waiting for us to begin treatment. We used sheets, duct tape, safety pins, clothespins and Velcro to erect a 6 room clinic under a tent awning in the front courtyard of the church property. Our pharmacy was behind the church building which is now used only for storage due to earthquake damage. I worked with one of our many eager and handsome male interpreters to line up the people by number and get their names and ages onto cards for the triage, treatment and pharmacy staff. We quickly got a sense of how best to manage some of the recurring challenges and kept things running smoothly at this clinic site as well as the other 2. We saw many people who did not have numbers because we deemed their condition serious enough to break the number line. The first woman we saw there was in pre-term labor and was eventually carried a block or so to a Doctor’s Without Borders site for care. The first child we saw, who also happened to arrive with no parent or guardian and also had no numbered ticket was Eddy. Eddy was sitting under a tree with a friend and had a very serious 2nd degree burn on his foot. Someone pointed him out to me and I carried him into a treatment room where he was given the first Peace Pal of the trip along with very painful treatment for his burn. He returned all 3 days we were at the site so that we could clean the wound. We learned, on the third day through his friend, that he spends his days in the church yard while his mother is working. She picks him up at 8pm on her way home.
On our third day at the Church of God of Prophecy we took 100 dolls to their school which is just across a drainage canal from the church yard. We gave the dolls to the children in their youngest grades and Pastor Sheref explained in simple terms that the dolls were made with love for them by people in the United States who care and pray for them. It was very moving to see all those bright eager faces and know they are going to be an important part in the future of their devastated country. All the classes are conducted in tents set around their school building which they no longer use due to earthquake damage. The tents are very close to the drainage canal which is half full of foul water, Styrofoam food containers and plastic water bottles. Each class has rows of long desks and one chalkboard. Some tents have more than one class inside with the blackboard serving as a room divider. As their classes were dismissed at the end of each day the children came over in groups, in their blue and white uniforms, to watch what was going on with the medical team. There were other children at the clinic site all day long who were not able to attend school. All education in Haiti is private and many families cannot afford the cost of the simple uniform, the book fees and the tuition. Many schools have not reopened since the earthquake so some students are not attending schools that were able to do so previously.
We closed the clinic at this site at the end of the third day. We treated 292 people during those 3 days, 68 of them children. Each child was given a Peace Pal by the treatment staff. Some of the adults, mostly women, were also given a doll. This happened when the patient was alone and told the treating staff their personal story of loss related to the earthquake. We were so blessed that Reverend Terry Anderson, who has many years of grief counseling along with his pastoral work, was with us and was able to spend all his time each day with patients who needed to talk about their losses. He spent a great deal of time on his knees praying for healing and wholeness in the lives of the people who asked to speak with him.
Our second clinic site was in a small rural community south of Port-au-Prince called Gressier. Here we worked in their combined school and church building which we would call a pole barn (roof with no sides) here in Indiana. We set up under the roof of the building and treated 252 total people, 117 of them children, in 2 days. The location was beautiful as there was a breeze blowing through the building and the hillside and valley below were very green. It is the rainy season in Haiti so the simple gardens and fields are looking lush.
While we were in Gressier we tried to hand out Peace Pals to children who were not being seen by the medical treatment team. This proved to be ill advised for a couple of reasons. Neither I nor Amanda, the young Purdue University student who was helping me, spoke more than a word or two of Haitian Creole. We tried to line up the children and give out one doll to each. We learned that Haitian children have the capacity to be as ornery as children elsewhere. Some were stuffing their doll into the back of their pants and getting into line for another. They also refused to get into an organized line. This was interesting to me since the adults who were waiting for medical care seemed to understand the concept of waiting patiently for their turn. Many of the Haitian children in line were adolescent boys. They were probably just excited to get anything that they might keep or share with a younger family member.
Our third clinic was one day only at a large Nazarene compound north of Port-au-Prince. At this site there was a clinic building that is staffed by missionaries at various times. There had been a tent city inside the compound at one point in time but all those people had been able to move safely back to or at least closer to their own homes. Most of our patients that day were quite healthy, college age students from the seminary on site. It was a pleasant place to work after an exhausting week and was made more enjoyable by the revival music going on that day at the other end of the compound. I was discouraged that we had little to offer these generally healthy Haitians but relieved to witness that not all citizens were as poor, dehydrated and malnourished as those we had seen at our other clinic sites. At this third site we treated 82 patients, 15 of whom were children. At the end of this day we gave all our remaining medical supplies as well as 100 Peace Pals to a local pastor who has 2 nurses who provide medical care to his community 2 days each week. He was most grateful for these gifts and listened carefully as an interpreter explained the origin of the Peace Pals.
I spent a great deal of time talking with our senior translator, Dore. Dore is 47, married to a school teacher and the father of 4 young children. He answered all my questions (driver’s licenses, job prospects, land ownership, religious practices, child care options, government were some of our topics) with much care when we sat beside each other on our daily bus rides to and from our clinic sites. I always chose to sit in the back of the bus so that I could not see the nerve wracking sites that are everywhere in Haitian traffic. Dore lives very near the compound, Villa Ormisa, where we stayed during the trip. At my repeated request he brought his wife and 4 children to visit us one evening. I presented Vaness, his wife, with one of the Peace Shawls I knit from cotton yarn that I inherited from my mother’s large stash. Each of the children Brendly, Vanessa, Colins, and Angie received a Peace Pal. My gift to Dore was my Barnabas Task t-shirt since I had nothing else appropriate for a man. He wore it the next day!
Also staying at the Villa Ormisa was a young couple from Kansas City, Missouri. James and Tabitha had traveled back to Haiti with their 3 young children, Selah, Faithful and Judah to visit with James’ birth family. They are very involved with One Heart Ministries International and were there to enjoy time with family prior to the arrival of a medical mission team as part of their Follow-up program to Haitian orphans. James was adopted from Haiti at the age of 13 by a couple who have started various churches throughout the Midwest. On Tuesday afternoon we took 50 dolls up the steep hill behind our compound to one of the orphanages. We gave the children the dolls and Jonas, the interpreter with us, told them that they were a gift of love from people who care and pray for them. I learned that the orphanage is run by the one woman we met that day and so I gave James a shawl to deliver to her on our behalf since I had not taken one with me on the trip.
As we were leaving the orphanage I saw Dore on his way home. He lives only a few doors from the orphanage and asked that we come to his home. He gave us a tour of their comfortable home and we saw the children again. We saw Pastor Sheref who lives immediately next door to Dore. Dore, Vaness and their children live in their home during the day but sleep in a tent up on the path above their home at night. They fear another earthquake will come while they are asleep and their home will injure or kill them. It was not badly damaged in the earthquake and is safe for them to use.
At the end of our 6th day of clinic we still had 49 Peace Pals remaining. I gave these to James to use with the children at other orphanages they would visit to provide medical follow-up. I gave him a handful of our brochures and asked that he read and understand our purpose in providing the Peace Pals (and the shawl he delivered to the woman who runs the orphanage).
I also gave a Peace Shawl to Pastor Sheref’s wife and another to Karly to give to his wife. Karly lives across the street from our compound and spends his time interpreting for groups who stay at the Villa Ormisa and advocating for the most disadvantaged Haitians in the neighborhood. In total, I gave out 4 Peace Shawls. I took Preemie Peace Caps but brought them all home. We spent time at each clinic site uncovering babies who were hot and dehydrated but swaddled up too tightly for the very hot conditions. Dore told me that it is customary for mother’s to wrap their babies in even the hottest conditions. Even he could not get his wife to do otherwise with their 4 children. I feared that giving out any Preemie Peace Caps might be to the detriment of the receiver so I brought them home.
Each night we had time together as a team to talk about our day, what worked and what didn’t and to hold up one another in such a difficult environment. Slowly it became apparent that the Peace Pals were providing comfort to the members of the team as they gave them to the children (and women) who they cared for. Janet talked about how much easier it was to examine a frightened child if she examined the doll first. Marilyn was accustomed to examining dolls or stuffed animals first but was amazed at the reactions of the Haitian mothers to this process. This is a culture where there is very little play and so mothers are not in the habit of seeing toys to begin with, let alone toys that help serve another purpose. Medical team members were quick to seek me out if the stash of Peace Pals in their treatment area was running low. They were specific in their request for more small or large dolls since we had such varying sizes to distribute. The small Peace Pals were perfect in the small hands of babies. The more elaborate and larger dolls appealed to the older children. Boys received Peace Pals that resembled boys and girls received ones that resembled girls. One member of the team was recovering from a foot injury so he kept a vacuum bag of Peace Pals in his room to prop his foot on at night until he had no choice but give them up for their intended purpose!
I finally admitted to the team that I had feared they would find the Peace Pals a burden when it came to actually managing the delivery and distribution. They quickly let me know that I was wrong on this account. It is hard to know that the medical care we provided will make any real difference in the lives of those we treated. We believe the spiritual care Terry provided will have a lasting impact for so many who just needed to tell their story to someone who did not have a similar one to share. The Peace Pals and Peace Shawls are a lasting, tangible representation of the love, the care and the concern that comes from a group of women who want something better for the children of this war and tragedy weary world.
You may note, as you ready this loooooong letter, that I have failed to make much mention of the sites I saw during my 10 days in Haiti. I still cannot find the words to summarize what my eyes took in so reluctantly. This was my second trip to Haiti in 12 years. The earthquake added another dimension of devastation to an already devastated island country. The earthquake may have been a very strange blessing in disguise if the attention of the world and the monies pledged benefit the people of Haiti in ways that all the work prior has not. I pray that will be so for these deserving people.
Knitting and Praying for Peace,
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