2013 August Haiti Trip

Fundraising has begun for a return trip to Fond de Blanc, Haiti to take additional needed photography and video footage to complete the documentary.Please help in any small way you can.

Fund raising will go directly to:

  • Cost of the flight (approximately $700 US)
    Note: You can also “gift” your American Airlines Advantage miles (in the name of Joseph Hodgeanthony@worldnation.com).
  • Equipment, including better camcorder and accessories. You can purchase via the Graphistation Amazon Wish List:  or choose to donate safely via any of the PayPal options set up on our Donation page. Note, there are also sponsor level donations, see details if you’d like to be listed as a sponsor (it is optional).

Haiti Documentary Trip Day Six: Coming Home

Saturday, August 18th


5:30am - Quick shower and cup of coffee then we all load up our suitcases plus the now empty ones we brought medical supplies down in and we head north to Port a Prince to catch a flight to Miami, then Jacksonville. It’s a along and dusty ride. As we got closer to the airport the traffic slowed to a crawl, reminding me of traffic in India or Manila. A lot of the scenery looks pretty much the same, but a little worse. Litter is huge problem in Haiti, so much that the country is putting a ban on plastic bottles – those you see everywhere, crushed and covering the sides of the road, even in the rural areas. 

I’d forgotten we were swinging by and artisan shop for last minute gift buying so  I was able to pick up a few things for next years fundraiser auction. The fundraiser for the foundation goes to the hospital itself, for buildings, such as the new complex for spinal cord injury patients, medical equipment and supplies and local staff. The hospital is always bustling with activity, seeing patients for general care – there are local Haitian doctors that do basic, but not specialized surgeries – they have a nutrition program, and there’s workers who cook and clean and provide administrative duties.

11:30am - The airport is pretty unorganized but we get through customs pretty quickly, with enough time to grab a nice cold soft drink – another thing the hospital doesn’t have is a refrigerator that keeps drinks cold or that can make a solid piece of ice. One nice surprise, half of us, including myself are booked in business class! Sitting down in my seat on the plane was a breath of fresh, “cold” air – the first I’ve felt since I left Jacksonville, and on top of that my choice of meal was a Caesar Chicken Salad – something else you don’t eat in Haiti unless you wash your own with purified water.

5:30pm -We should be boarding but our flight has been delayed : )  all flights in and out due to storms in south Florida.  At least by time I get home and cleaned up I’ll have worked up an appetite for a real dinner.

7:45pm - after a long delay, sitting on a plane without a crew, we’re finally in the air on our way back to Jacksonville!?
8:30 - Finally in Jacksonville – sure it will  be  an hour before we get our luggage, this airport is extremely slow at unloading a plane. Saying goodbye is a little sad, having lived and worked with this team for a week now. I have a feeling we may all be on this trip again next year!

Hait Documentary Trip Day Five

 Friday, August 17th

Last full day as we fly home tomorrow. I’m told Friday is  typically a slow day but what was slow is, it seemed to take forever for the workday to end. More so for the people doing the real work here, the surgeons, the pre and post op crews and medical staff volunteers that made this trip.Everyone on this trip is here at their own expense. Hard working people taking a week of vacation time from there regular jobs and lives to come help the people here at St. Boniface in Fond de Bloncs Haiti. These are incredible, caring people and it’s been fantastic getting to know them.

We did get an early start and took a walk to town center as Fridays are market day and the perviously empty wooden, and roadside quickly fill up with merchants with all kinds of goods hauled in by donkey back, human backs or large baskets balanced ever so precisely on the tops of women or children’s heads. Most of the goods are used, house hold items, clothing, auto parts, things you’d fine in a brick and mortar store in the U.S., but here in rural Fond de Bloncs and dirt road can blossom into a bustling strip  mall.  We did visit a recommended crafts store thats part of Haiti Project, that had some very nice hand-embroider items, but the most interesting sight to behold was the meat market. Just like the other Merchants, the people selling meats were also set up along he sides of the dusty gravel/dirt roads, offering everything you could imagine, two or four-legged complete with hooves ands heads and everything in between.

Today there ended up being 11 surgeries plus another last minute adult patient. Because there are no surgical physicians here, is why the doctors travel here from Jacksonville Florida. Word gets out in advance (broadcast on local radio) and the number of pediatric surgeries has dramatically increased, so much so that they’ve had to turn away 15 children and schedule them for next years trip. There is talk about scheduling two trips a year but the problem is there’s a shortage of pediatric surgeons in the U.S. There are only four in the city of Jacksonville, and while one is here with us in Haiti, it means one of the remaining three in Jacksonville will have to rotate being on-call. And I must say, the surgeon I’m speaking of is just a little older than me and has been on her feet all week (53 surgeries total) performing small miracles under challenging circumstances.

7:30 ish – I climbed e latter to get to the rooftop to grab a few shots of the sunset. It was a great view of the mountains around us and some beautiful trees and the sun setting behind the mountain did not disappoint.

9pm - Like previous nights, everyone waited until the last surgery was complete so we could all eat at the same time. I can’t say much for the food here, though I’m certain what we’ve served is better than what the locals would have had. Myself and most everyone else skipped the main course tonight, sort of fish stew, and instead opted for extra helpings of the red beans and rice.

11pm - Climbed the latter one last time to see the stars. With no light pollution to drown out  the

view the stars hang low enough to pluck out of the sky. It’s quiet now, with only the crows from a few time zone  challenged roosters and a motorcycle taxi speeding off somewhere in the distance.  Quick shower to cool off ( as there is no hot water here) then off to bed – in a small room that has seven twin beds and tonight there’s just four of us.

The ambulance/truck takes us to the airport bright and early. Not looking forward to the crazy, bumpy  four hour ride through this rural part of Haiti, we’re up a mountain and have to cross a few more to get to our destinatI am looking forward to getting home where it’s safe to drink the water.

Haiti Documentary Trip Day Four

Thursday, August 16th

Not a very productive day film-wise,  which was okay as last night was horrible for sleep. The heat and humidity built up in the afternoon preparing itself for a storm and rain that never came. Nothing like rolling over in bed only to realize the sheets are sweat-soaked.
I did film some interviews with the facility director, a very bright and caring physician. The biggest tech challenge so far…the rosters crowing through the interviews!
Afternoon. I did shoot a lot of miscellaneous filler footage of the grounds as well has the crowded admittance area where people have come sometimes from miles away for treatment or surgery. There were still ten surgeries schedule, but for the same conditions as the previous two days. There’s only some many ways you can shoot an undecending testicle or hernia operation, the majority of the pediatric surgeries.
6pm - change in plans, after a total of ten pediatric surgeries there was an unplanned adult operation for abdominal obstruction. Not to be insensitive, but it would have been better if dinner had not been spaghetti! : )

Haiti Documentary Trip Day Three

Wednesday, August 15th


Today was a holiday, though illness has a way of ignoring the passing of these human events and leaves us feeling all the more insignificant.

As usual, there are patients already waiting, many having arrived at three or four AM in an effort to have an early spot in line ensuring (they hope) they’ll be able to see a doctor. It’s a long process, after entering through the front gates they are screened by admittance personnel, asking specific questions in order to group them together so they will been seen by a doctor focusing on a given ailment – though the reality is the doctors here wear multiple hats. Once an assignment is made, vital signs are taken, the patients weighed, then begins the ever so long wait inside the halls.

Today was a light day, and after photographing some seriously ill (and one terminal) children a few of us were treated to a tour of the town. As rural towns go this one ranks right up there with its very few permanent looking buildings, a court house (a tiny, but new block structure), a school house and senior home that St. Boniface funded the building of, the start of a market house to replace the crude wooden huts that line street after street. Speaking of streets – there’s no paved roads here and calling it a gravel road would be stretching the truth – more like a combination of a dirt road with various sized stones. The ambulances (the trucks that brought us here from Port a Prince) must go through many sets of tires in a year, everywhere you go it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Motorcycles are the major mode of transportation and serve as taxis to the hospital, occasionally carrying expectant mothers and whole families – quite a sight to behold.

The senior home was a nice treat. We were pretty beat from the walk – though we had no right to complain as we continued to pass small children lugging jugs of water from nearby Sistine wells, many walking much further than we had and making that trek multiple times in a day. One of those wells was on the property so we sat to rest under some shady trees (another item of shortage in this country) and watched the children crank the pump to deliver much needed water to the containers waiting. We had sat on rocks, myself on the ground and we’d not been there five minutes when an elderly lady – I’m guessing in her eighties – began to bring us chairs to sit on. It wasn’t until later when I walked up on the porch of their home that I realized she brought us the chairs they’d been sitting in! We spoke via our translator with several residents, none of whom actually knew their own age, and none shy, even asking me to take their photo without me ever having to ask permission.

Guilty pleasure. Another treat of the day was a trip (another bumpy ride) to the beach. There’s no other shade of blue as the Caribbean Sea. We get a taste of this a little in the U.S. in the Florida Keys, and the last time I saw it was on my honeymoon 14 years ago. It was a sharpe contrast compared to the hospital and small town from where we’d just come. The water was almost cool, but refreshing just the same, a fine treat indeed.

The last treat – for me as it was my first time – was making the last rounds with the doctors and surgeons to check on the patients that were operated on earlier in the day. You could already see improvement in their well being and for some, the smiles returning to their young faces. It was the most special treat of all.

Haiti Documentary Trip Day Two

Tuesday August 14th

What an incredibly long and wonderful day. Today went from one extreme to another. The first half was spent with a doctor, an assistant and a translator seeing patients in the pediatric area. By noon we had seen a dozen parents and their children – some children brought in by a friend or relative as well.
There were some very sad stories, young  (as in under 10) that had been sexually abused, many with illnesses that had just gone too long without any treatment, now becoming possibly life-threatening. Most of the children seemed frightened, possibly it was there first experience going to see a doctor, let alone one of a different skin tone who couldn’t even speak to them without an interpreter.  

My impression of the parents was one of genuine concern, even several fathers who brought in there son or daughter looked intensely eager to try and understand what was happening to their precious little ones. Most were not contempt to leave without a very precise diagnosis or at least a prescription for medication or follow up tests to justify their caring or at least for the long journey it took them to even reach the clinic.

1pm - after finding a pair of scrubs to wear in the operating room and a hurried lunch with the team in the small post-op room I spent the rest of the day filming surgeries on young children and capping the day off I was able to see a child be born – a wonderful event considering all the sickness and death around.

Haiti Documentary Trip Day One

Monday August 13th

To date, these trips have yielded over 2000 surgeries, this  time they hope to average 10  per day,  sometimes additional, sometimes there are no shows. Next years fundraiser is focusing on “surgeries” to help fund additional trips.
After initial planning meetings for a scheduled trip, a week prior there is a packing party. The volunteers, made up of surgeons, nurses, pre- med students and some just donating their time and helping hands to the cause, meet at a local hospital’s conference room, and with donated suitcases neatly pack as much surgical supplies as the cases will hold. The airline we are flying luckily allows two free checked bags. This means any personal items such as clothes, toiletries (and in my case camera equipment) will have to be squeezed into the two permitted carry-ons.

The first part of our journey is smooth, minus one person forgetting their cell phone charger. We met early (as in 4:39am early) at the Jacksonville Airport, and from there too a small, twin engine prop (puddle jumper) down to Miami International and wait on our final flight to Port a Prince. From there it’s a fun-filled, roller coaster three hour ride to Fon de Blancs.

4pm ish – So I’ve been on roller coaster rides many time, none compared to this long, 4-hour trek to Fond de Blonc. We were cramp backed in an ambulance (really a truck/jeep type of vehicle) I lucked up because of my motion sickness tendency when setting in the back of a fast moving auto so I, the driver and another volunteer, along with essential carry-on bags (video camera case under our feed) were a snug fit in the front. Everyone else pretended to be a sardine and and squeezed in the back. All our check on bags and carry-ons that wouldn’t fit were stacked in the back of a pickup truck, roped, tied and covered for the long journey. And a long journey it was as we crossed over several mountains and passed through rural towns, three rivers and 90% of this took place an a dirt/rocky roads.

 

Once we arrived we pried ourselves out of the truck, took our carry-ons to our dorm-style rooms, then took the checked bags with supplies to the hospital for un-loading. Afterwards we all took a break on the veranda before dinner. As most locations located along this latitude line this time of year, it was hot, very hot. We were all looking forward to a shower, but for the guys no luck – our side of the building did not have water our first night, which made for a poor nights sleep.