Column and photos by Samantha Oester

We woke up at the Center for Formation commune early to the sounds of roosters and turkeys just outside our window. After breakfast, we walked back up the muddy path to meet the bus, and journeyed back to Jacquesyl. Everything was set up as the day before, but the people gathered at the church were even more anxious than the previous day. Possibly aware that we would not be returning the following day, the group waiting to have their eyes checked grew louder and louder as the morning went on. Throughout the week, I had learned the Creole pronunciations for the letters and numbers on the eye chart, so I sent Ralph, the interpreter working with me, to attempt to calm everyone and instill some kind of order. He yelled something in Creole, which worked for a few minutes until a fight broke out. A few men from the crowd volunteered to help. They sent some people outside, and served as security until it was their turn to be seen.

Dr. Matt Green checks he blood pressure a woman who stoppedhim outside of the Center for Formation in Jacquesyl.

Dr. Matt Green checks the blood pressure a woman who stopped him outside of the Center for Formation in Jacquesyl.

“It’s a really rowdy bunch today,” said New Hampshire resident and optometrist Mike Gordon, a member of VOSH. “They’re excited and nervous and afraid they won’t get to participate,” Ralph said to me. “Will we be back here tomorrow? They might calm down if I can tell them when they can be seen again.” I told him we weren’t coming back tomorrow – we were headed to an orphanage in another town. “I’ll just tell them I don’t know,” Ralph said. “I don’t want to make it even worse.”We continued trying to work while the crowd grew louder and more impatient. Eye exams were continued, and people were treated eye injuries and infections, including an entire family with trachoma, an infectious eye disease that causes blindness.

Optometrist Paul Halpern examines the eyes of an elderlywoman in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Paul Halpern examines the eyes of an elderly woman in Jacquesyl.

“It’s so sad when we see people with things like cataracts,” said Dave McPhillips, an optometrist from Pennsylvania. “A 10-minute surgery in the U.S. would get rid of it, but here, they don’t have access to it, so they’re just blind in one eye.” VOSH/DelVal is currently working with Haitian ophthalmologists to open an eye clinic in the Cap Haitien area that will perform routine eye exams, as well as eye treatments and surgeries. “It’s needed so bad in Haiti,” McPhillips said. VOSH/DelValis is a chapter of VOSH International, a group of eye experts partnered with the World Health Organization and World Council of Optometry. They work to help eliminate causes of preventable blindness, especially in third-world countries. “Here, they just think that since they’re grandparents couldn’t see at 40, and their parents couldn’t see at 40, that they just won’t be able to see at 40,” Gordon explained. “They have no idea it can be prevented and corrected. Simple surgeries would make a world of difference.”

Optometrist Dave McPhillips uses an autorefractor to check awoman's eyes in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Dave McPhillips uses an autorefractor to check awoman's eyes in Jacquesyl.

As noon approached, our group gathered at the bus, coming together from the church and nearby medical clinic, where members of our medical team had been seeing patients throughout the morning. The boy from yesterday, who lost his family in Port-au-Prince and wanted to go to school, approached us and handed Paige Chamlis a letter he wrote in broken English, so we wouldn’t forget about him. She turned to me with tears in her eyes. We were leaving for a few hours, so I told her to tell him to meet us here in the afternoon, when he saw the bus coming back. We would have a plan for him.

Optometrist Mike Gordon examines a man's eyes in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Mike Gordon examines a man's eyes in Jacquesyl.

We left Haiti Marycare and VOSH in Jacquesyl and travelled to an orphanage in Ferrier. The orphanage had received children from Port-au-Prince who might need medical care, and Dr. Matt Green, a physician from Virginia, sponsors a little boy there, Wisley. Green and his wife have sponsored the five-year old for 18 months, sending money for clothes, school and medical care, and writing to him. We were welcomed with open arms, and soon, two little boys and a young girl approached us, holding hands. The other two children, Lukinson and Francesca, are sponsored by Green’s mother and sister. As Green held Wisley for the first time, a woman who helps run the orphanage, Sylvia, said, “You are his godfather. We talk to him about you a lot.” We went to see where the children sleep, play and go to school, as the four – Green, Wisley, Lukinson and Francesca – walked hand in hand. The children were examined and were determined to be overall healthy, with some common ailments in Haiti treated.

Optician Linda Voss tries a pair of glasses on a young man in Jacquesyl.

Optician Linda Voss tries a pair of glasses on a young man in Jacquesyl.

“This is one of the best orphanages I’ve seen in Haiti,” Jennifer Schmidt said of the modest facilities. “You can tell they really care for the children here.” The orphanage made a meal, “so they can eat together, as a family,” the Sylvia said. After a tearful goodbye, we went back to Jacquesyl to pick up VOSH and the medical supplies we left at the clinic. As Green exited the clinic, he noticed a young boy standing outside, dripping with sweat and ready to collapse. The doctor rushed him inside, and the boy went limp. After an examination by Jim Morgan and Mary Lou Larkin, it was determined that the boy had pneumonia. He was quickly treated.

Dr. Matt Green with Wisley, an orphan he and his wife sponsor, at the orphanage in Ferrier.

Dr. Matt Green with Wisley, an orphan he and his wife sponsor, at the orphanage in Ferrier.

As we piled on the bus, the boy desperate to go to school returned, as we had told him. Paige Chamlis and I each talked to Sherman Malone, a social worker with Haiti Marycare who is fluent in Creole and familiar with the residents of the small fishing village of Jacquesyl. Everyone exchanged contact information, and Malone assured us we would find away to send him to school. Exhausted, physically and emotionally, we prepared for the long ride back to Cap Haitien.

Left ro right: Wisley, Lukinson and Francesca. Dr. Matt Green, along with his mother and sister, sponsor these orphans in Ferrier.

Left ro right: Wisley, Lukinson and Francesca. Dr. Matt Green, along with his mother and sister, sponsor these orphans in Ferrier.

Advertisements