Weaver Birds in Haiti

Jim Morgan, April 14, 2021

My Sunday flight to Haiti was canceled due to tornadoes in Florida, near where I was to make a connection. My luggage has been lost by the airline. My phone wouldn’t work, and internet is spotty. I couldn’t find potable water last night. 

But today is a new day. This morning I was waiting for our driver to pick me up to go and work along with our in-country staff at Lamp for Haiti. I could hear a lot of birds chirping overhead. I looked up and saw about 40 of them, building nests in the nearby Merenge tree.  Each was a beautiful golden yellow, finches I think, all working in seeming unison, and all singing their tunes in harmony.  The birds  would fly to a nearby palm, way up high and snatch off a piece of frond, then fly back to the nest, trailing what looked to be a too-long piece of greenery through the air. The first few rounds, I was sure that the bird had taken too much palm, and that should it survive the tree-to-tree flight, it would prove to be too much to handle, and the nesting material would drift to the ground. 

I watched the scene for about 30 minutes, engrossed in their diligence. Not once did I see a bird falter. Not one branch or palm leaf fell to the ground. Each strand, no matter its length, was carefully and skillfully weaved, and slowly the nests began to take shape. Moreover, I could swear the song of the birds seemed to almost be spurring one another on to stay focused on the task at hand. 

Like most proverbs, this Haitian aphorism starts from observations: Piti piti zwazo fe nich li (little by little the bird builds its nest).  True not only for our friends of the air, but for any worthwhile project. To me the important part is what’s not stated – the notion of persistence. Dogged pursuit of a result no matter the circumstances, no matter the fatigue. Using available resources. Community. Allowing oneself to be carried away by the collective energy as a part of a noble goal.

Today I was speaking with Miss Salita, one of our community health workers.  She told me that of all the health centers in Cité Soleil (there are about four other health centers in Cité Soleil), only one is consistently present – Lamp.

 And then she beamed, proud to be a part of this organizational fortitude.  

To put that into context, there are roughly 300,000 residents in Cité Soleil, living in grinding poverty, many in tin shacks with dirt floors. Malnutrition is a big problem –we currently have 100 children in the child nutrition program — as is access to even basic healthcare. Security in the capital has significantly worsened with rampant kidnappings and other violent crimes. Two days ago five priests, two nuns and a doctor were all kidnapped. 

And yet our staff continues to go to work. They put their own safety on the line in doing so, but they believe in the work and so they show up. When they do arrive, they are met with smiles of mothers who know that their children will receive the care that we would want for our own children.  They see patients with illnesses that are routine, but for whom getting them the correct treatment can be challenging.   They see severely undernourished children, they see malaria, and COVID-19 and diabetes and GI illness. And they treat them all. Consistently.

 Other centers are intermittently open, but close frequently due to local circumstances. To be sure, we have had to close from time to time, but far and away we remain the bulwark of healthcare in this zone. 

Because of the pandemic, it’s been over one year since I have traveled back to Haiti, and worked alongside our staff there.  Today showed me once again the mettle that is their constitution. It remains consistent, relentlessly pursuing a noble goal of providing much needed healthcare to some of the world’s poorest. 

…Zwazo fe nich li

Lamp for Haiti is about healthcare, it’s true. But it is also about community, and determination, and showing up, consistently seeking a solution in challenging circumstances. Thanks again for intentionally staying a part of this truly life saving work. 

In friendship to you, and still inspired by the work that’s being done in Cité Soleil —

Jim

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Reflection from Dr. Morgan on the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti

Eleven years ago today, at 4:53 pm, the earth in Haiti shook for 30 seconds.

In its wake, over 200,000 people died.  

Thousands  were left amputees,  hundreds of thousands  homeless. 

All in the aftermath of a cataclysmic thirty seconds.

Why?

It seems so long ago — eleven years. World events  careen along , exhausting us. Political tensions,  global warming, floods, cyclones. In this pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 2 million, it’s hard to make sense of the world. 

I find myself asking “Why is this happening now? Why me? Why us?”.

Last week  I came upon some notes from a retreat I’d taken about five years ago.  On one page I’d written “Ask the right question“.  That question ,  we’ve learned again and again as we continue our collective journey, is not the usually unanswerable “why me?”  but instead “How do I find I meaning in the current moment?”.

I believe that that important question is answered every day, all around me, but I need to keep my eyes open.  For example it’s answered when a high school student, Toby Baer, and his mother and father and brother and sister decide that they can do something to make the world better, and they organize a basketball tournament four years in a row to raise funds for Lamp.  It’s answered in an email I received recently from Dr Hyppolite, who told me that while there was a shooting in the zone of our health center one day earlier, the staff is back to work today, unshaken and resolute.  It was answered when we provided emergency care to the homeless and injured following the 2010 magnitude 7.0 earthquake, and it continues to be answered each day when we see, and are moved by  a mother’s warm embrace of her baby, made well because of treatment they’ve received at Lamp. 

We all yearn for meaning in our lives. I am convinced that it’s all around us. Tragic events will continue to befall our world, but when we ask the right question and see such creative and courageous and loving responses, we’ll be strengthened anew.  

Today I’ll invite you to set your alarm on your cellphone for 4:53pm, the exact time at which the earth shook so violently eleven years ago.  Let’s  reflect on that tragic event , but not stop there. Let’s look for meaning in our world and today and let’s  work in some concrete way to reflect that meaning to those around us.

In friendship- 

Jim

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The Meaning of Community by James Morgan

In a recent NY Times article1, columnist David Brooks wrote about the importance of grassroots projects and strong community bonds . On reading it I immediately thought of the Lamp community, among whose members  are residents of Cite Soleil, our intrepid medical staff, as well as the many supporters like you who believe in our mission of working — and being — with and for those on the margin.

In particular Brooks writes  that the “neighborhood is the unit of change.” That is, communities grow  when local people act locally. Affluent communities can raise taxes or issue bonds, and build  places like a vibrant community  health center. But poor areas, which arguably need such places even more, don’t have that option , and thus the  need for  outside assistance. Lamp for Haiti is an example of such a transformative place. We have become a vital link to health and an integral part of the Bwa Nef  section of Cite Soleil . And we have done so not because we gave handouts, but because we have intentionally walked with the poor, and collectively we have grown stronger.

Brooks comments further about  a deep skepticism that permeates communities when locals feel “betrayed again and again by outsiders…” who don’t carry through on pledges to stay involved. Like any strong mature relationship, residents are not looking for handouts. Rather they’re seeking  committed partnerships.

In Cite Soleil, a very poor sprawling slum on the fringe of Haiti’s capital, there are many reminders of groups’ — governmental and otherwise – having left behind some brick and mortar structure, with no plan or funding for its future use, or even its maintenance.  In many cases these ghost remnants make matters worse. Not only are they decrepit eyesores, but they also serve as reminders of the social distrust Brooks writes about.  It’s as if he had   been interviewing area residents in 2005, the year we began our work in Haiti. We faced that same deep skepticism for several years before we would become an intrinsic part of that community.

If, as Brooks asserts, part of the answer to the puzzle of community development lies in  understanding that the “neighborhood is the unit of change”, I would contend further that we need a broader vision of who our neighbors really are.  Are they just those who live close to where I live?  Though Cite Soleil residents live far away, Lamp’s supporters clearly don’t see geography as a limiting factor when considering that question. For almost 15 years Lamp for Haiti has successfully worked   to empower residents in one of the poorest corners of the globe,  helping  foster health and pride in that community.  We don’t give handouts, but we do accompany. Lamp has never wavered in our commitment. We have been there in the wake of an earthquake, monsoons, gang wars, political unrest, and now a global pandemic.  Neighborliness requires consistency — acting in a way that demonstrates a long term commitment in authentic partnership with local people. But it also requires resources, a  hand up when my neighbor is in need.

Thank you for your caring commitment to this important project. Your willingness to stay engaged during this difficult time is a (not surprising ) testament to the generous spirit, so pervasive in the Lamp community.

James Morgan, MD
Co-Founder and Chair of the Board

 (1) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/23/opinion/income-inequality.html

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Lamp for Haiti’s COVID-19 Update

Dear Friends-

I am writing to update you about Lamp’s local preparation in Haiti for the COVID-19 outbreak, now an official pandemic. 

I have been in discussions with our in-country medical director, Dr Barrere Hyppolite, who in turn has been in regular contact with Ministry of Health in Haiti (MSPP). As of present, there are no confirmed cases in Haiti. 

However, the  coronavirus infection has been diagnosed in the Dominican Republic, which of course shares the island with Haiti. In addition, the greater New York area seems to be the latest “hotspot” of infection, and with its large Haitian diaspora who travel home regularly, it seems inevitable the infection will spread there. Here is a link to an updated map of areas infected worldwide. 

MSPP has announced their capacity to test for coronavirus. If a patient is suspected of having the virus, our staff will contact Ministry of Health. The patient is sent to a dedicated testing site, and the specimen is processed at the National Laboratory in Port-au-Prince. 

Our staff has been instructed on personal protection and we are in the process of trying to procure more equipment (goggles and gowns) to keep them safe.  Masks are provided to staff and to patients who cough. Hand washing and hygiene education is being given by our nursing staff to patients awaiting care at Lamp. The situation is evolving and under continuous review.

Thanks for reading this update, and for continuing to engage in solidarity with our one human family. 

Please take good care of yourselves and take seriously the need for precautions at this time.

My best to you,
James Morgan, MD
Medical Director/Board President
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Why Remember

Tomorrow, we mark the tenth anniversary of one of the most horrific natural disasters on the planet in the past 100 years. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake, or trembleman té, struck just outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince shortly before 5pm on January 12, 2010. In its wake, the earthquake led to the loss of over 100,000 lives, left about one and a half million people homeless and countless lives shattered. 

I was present soon after that earthquake hit, working closely with our Lamp for Haiti health center staff in the huge shantytown known as Cite Soleil, as well as with partner organizations like St Damien’s Hospital and CMMB (Christian Medical Mission Board). I saw massive destruction throughout the city, and heard the cries of wounded and dying. I heard, too, the similarly pitched wails of those scarred by the tragic loss of someone they dearly loved. I smelled death that week, literally; even today the memory of that smell returns unexpectedly from time to time.

So why remind ourselves of such a terrible day?

Some say that recalling the earthquake is too painful, and we ought not conjure that day again. It’s too much to bear. Others have suggested to me that pain is an inevitable part of being human, and even a major disaster is not completely unexpected. As such it is yet one more valley, albeit a deep one, in the roller-coaster that is life. We just need to keep moving forward. 

I would side with those who posit a third perspective. It is a perspective which looks at the catastrophe as a starting point, almost a chance to reset.

It’s no surprise to anyone who follows Lamp’s work or who follows events in Haiti that both human-incited and natural disasters have made daily life in Haiti a challenge. But that challenge has not gone unanswered by most Haitians, and we at Lamp, have walked in solidarity along with them in formulating a concrete response to extreme adversity. 

When we started Lamp back in 2005, we had one doctor and one manager, working two half-days per week. We hadn’t the resources to support anything more. We had to start somewhere, and with trepidation we began to walk on wobbly legs, confident that the mission of Lamp for Haiti would steady our gait. I recall when we had resolved our first “labor concerns” – staff were uncomfortable taking public transportation into Cite Soleil, as they felt they were targets for thieves; they were right, and we soon purchased our first vehicle — it coincided with the end of a remarkable first year. We knew at the time that once the question shifted from “Do we dare even consider trying such a project?“ to “That we are doing this is a given, now how do we navigate the next obstacle?” it would mark a turning point. Once the project’s existence was seen as more than an experiment, but became part of the fabric of a community, then we were confident we could build local support. 

In the wake of the earthquake ten years ago, Lamp staff came together, supported by generous donors, to expand our work and our footprint in Cite Soleil. Initially we hired trucks to dispense water , for example. Next we repaired a local water station in concert with the Haitian Kwa-Wouj (Red Cross). Today we help to manage three water stations, partnering with a local community leader and DINEPA, the water utility. 

We have continued to walk with the mission in our collective mind’s eye. Our programming has grown substantially. We now have 21 (!) staffers in Haiti, including one part-time and three full-time doctors, expanding the breadth of our primary care impact. We recently were asked by the Ministry of Health (MSPP) to become an official vaccine provider in Cite Soleil. (MSPP does not make such requests unless the organization is very well vetted. ) 

It is fitting for us to remember, then, on this day, not only as a way to honor the fallen, but as impetus for us to recalibrate, and reinvigorate and recommit. 

Thanks for being a part of this day, of this work, and of the movement that is Lamp for Haiti. 

– Dr. James Morgan, Jan. 11, 2020

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Reflections from Dr. Morgan at the Clinic

I am happy to be back “home” at Lamp, after we had canceled our three most recent trips due to street protests and insecurity.

Our day started in the usual way, with our driver Anglanes arriving at my apartment with a warm smile, welcoming me back to his country. But that smile faded quickly, as he told me about “blokis” or street barricades that he had to avert to get to work. There is a massive demonstration planned for this Friday, to protest the current president and force him from office, and sometimes things start to heat up a bit in advance of the main event. Vit vit, he said as he hurried me into the van and off we went, doors locked.

On the way I chatted with Dr. Hyppolite and the nurses and our newest lab tech, Miss Blais.  As we approach the outskirts of Cite Soleil, like he does every day, Dr H. hangs his stethoscope around his thick neck, and it makes both ends of the instrument sort of stick out so one has the sense that it will fall off . He wears it this way, I ‘ve come to learn, deliberately. He wants people to know that if they plan to hold up the vehicle,  they may ultimately be harming themselves or people they care about if the doctor can’t get into work. Thus far, it’s been quite effective.

During my morning meeting with Dr. Hyppolite, we talk about the gangs in the area, and how their presence impacts our staff. Then we talk about medications, and he tells me how we need to deepen our reserve as the needs are growing at Lamp. “It’s a great need, Dr. Jim”. Next we discuss how he wants to take the exam for ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) as he has taken the course online because it’s not available in Haiti. He has studied it over multiple times and is sure that he can pass it, but he cannot find a way to take it, and can I help him? After telling me about his ultrasound skills that are growing, but which are still not good enough because of limited opportunity to get more training, our conversation comes back to the community, and that despite the troubles and the gangs and the ubiquitous trash and lack of electricity  and poor sanitation… despite these things, he is committed to Lamp, and Lamp is committed to the zone.

As I sit down at my desk, readying for the patients, I feel that I’ve just conversed with one of the most committed doctors I’ve ever known, and I feel privileged to call him colleague and friend.

One of my first patients of the day was Lourdy, about 40 years old with a cough for the past month. She had been to see a doctor at the general hospital about one month ago, and they suggested some medication, but she hasn’t the money and could not afford to buy it. She has asthma, and we were able to give her some medication which will control her symptoms.  She thanked me as she left, and   wished me a good day, smiling and coughing as she did.

There were multiple patients like Lourdy, facing challenges like will I be able to eat tomorrow?, and how will I access medication?   Clearly these are problems not unique to the slums of Cite Soleil, but they are indeed acute here.  But what’s even more clear to me is that committed people, like you who would take the time to read this, or Dr. Hyppolite, who is living this, together play a vital role for this place.  We are having a positive impact.

– Jim (via email from Haiti)

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Nine Years Later

Nine years ago today, at 4:53 pm, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. With that event, came abrupt devastation and loss of life and suffering.  Accurate counts are hard to come by, but suffice it to say many died, many became amputees, many lost a home.

None of us have given up.

I recall in the aftermath of the tranbleman tè a physical fear that we might not be able to access food or water, and feeling constantly parched. I recall the smells permeating around the city, as bodies began to decay under the rubble. I recall the exhaustion of the seeming never-ending line of patients to be yet seen.  But in particular, I recall one young man whom I was helping to care for. He was about 25, and he had been working in a local business when the building collapsed suddenly. He lay on a thin mattress on the tile floor before me, his left arm crushed. The once sturdy radius and ulna of his forearm were quite literally ground into a sand-like state; the swollen, red soft tissue of the arm belied an insidious growing infection. We gave him fluids and antibiotics and pain medication, and we prepped him for surgery to have an amputation.

And I sat down with him and we talked. “You have to save me”, because, you see, he had a fiancée, and was to be married in a few months. Also, he had a job, and his mother was counting on him to provide for the family. “So you have to save me.” He asked me about my family, and wanted to know what brought me to his country. He had so much pain, he said, but the medicine helped.

I saw many patients that night, stopping to check in on my friend several times before my relief arrived. I tried to reassure him that the surgeons were working as fast as possible. I examined his swollen arm and noted his growing fatigue, and said goodbye one last time.

The next day, I found out my friend died. I wept for him then, knowing that my tears were but a few drops in the sea of tears, and I went back to work.   As we all know now he was one of many who would perish, and yet he left behind people who would not allow their lives to be defined or confined by this tragedy. People like you who would continue to stay engaged in life, and try to make it a little bit brighter.

There exists in certain parlance a simple notion of see, judge, act. We keep our eyes open to the world around us.  Should a certain condition arise, the see-judge-act model suggests we follow observation with deliberation. Is this situation normal? Can I, ought I, involve myself? Finally comes agency. Agency involves risk taking, and engagement.

Today we have an opportunity to recall in solidarity the pain of the 2010 earthquake. But with agency, with organization, with great hope let’s continue to engage the personhood of one another.

Warmly sent, on this cold January day-

Jim

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