On January 11-18, 2014, our group of 15 missionaries went to help at the BeLikeBrit Orphanage in Grand Goave, Haiti. This was during the 4 year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that killed Britney Gengel, then a 19 year old college student on a Lynn University-sponsored mission trip to Haiti. Her parents subsequently built and run this orphanage in her memory, since it was her last request before her sudden tragic death.
The group consisted of Vicki Kvedar, MD, an ophthalmologist, and her 22 year old daughter, Julie, who graduated from Vanderbilt University and hopes to become a physician some day. The rest of the missionaries helped build a house for a family living in the neighborhood of the orphanage. The family consists of a mother with 9 children, living in a shack made from tree branches and tarps. On each mission, medical personnel must accompany the group, since there is no one at the orphanage to take care of medical problems that occur.
The orphanage currently houses 38 children, but the goal is to open it up to a total of 66 children by the end of 2014. There are 40 adult employees, most of them Haitian, who work in various capacities such as cooks, laundry, janitor, child care, social work, security, bus driver, plumber, teachers, soccer coaches, etc.
While the rest of our group was building a house, Dr. Vicki Kvedar and Julie did complete eye exams on every child and adult in the orphanage. We also spent 2 mornings in the Mission of Hope medical clinic down the street from the orphanage. There we came across some interesting eye and medical problems such as glaucoma from hypermature cataracts, high fever from malaria or typhoid, pterygia, bacterial conjunctivitis, abdominal masses, irritated eyes from garbage being constantly burned throughout the country, neurofibromatosis, and many people with a need for something as simple as a pair of glasses. In the orphanage, we discovered several people with glaucoma, including the 3 year old child of the family who we were building the house for. We were able to figure out who needed glasses and what prescriptions they needed. Then we fit them with used, donated glasses that we had labeled and brought down with us.There were many cases of scraped elbows, blisters, colds, fevers, etc. that are bound to occur during any week with that many people around. They were treated with donated supplies from Henry Schein Cares Foundation. Unfortunately, the most severe cases requiring surgery could not be properly treated because we did not have an operating room available. We did the best we could do with what supplies were donated and available to us. For the glaucoma patients, that meant giving them eyedrops that would hopefully lower their eye pressure.
At the Mission of Hope clinic, Haitians waited hours in line in the 90 degree sun to see us, and when we ran out of time, they came back the next day. They were most polite and appreciative of whatever we did to help them. When we took a picture of the people waiting patiently in line, many of them ducked their heads because they are afraid someone will perform voodoo on them if they have a photograph.
We received hugs and thank yous and smiles from the appreciative patients. Most of these people had never been seen by a physician before, and certainly not an ophthalmologist.
Articles about this trip appeared in the January 29, 2014 issues of Lynnfield Villager and Melrose Weekly News (Massachusetts).
We would like to thank Henry Schein Cares Foundation for their most generous donation of medical supplies to BeLikeBrit orphanage. Although not all the supplies were used on the week that we went down, they are now filling the cabinets of the new medical clinic in this new orphanage, which has only been admitting children for a year. There is no doubt that all the supplies will be used and appreciated by those living in BeLikeBrit orphanage over the coming years.