Sunday, July 31, 2011

Volunteering.....GREAT advice from Ben Pritchard in HAITI...

by Ben Pritchard on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 4:31pm
This is for those who are considering coming down to volunteer here in Haiti.  First and foremost, if you come for a few weeks or stay for months, this will change you at your core.  It is a hard thing but it is incredibly rewarding to be here and the need is still great.

There is need for both medical and non medical personnel.  For the non medical, I live at GRU (Grass Roots United).  They are a sustainable resources based group that works with housing, water supply, resources management for other groups, logistical support and aids a Haitian NGO (nongovernmental organization) in its goals.  It aim of GRU is to work themselves out of a job.  Many of the NGOs come down here, provide a service and when they leave that service leaves with them.  GRU wants to hand their organization over to Haitians in time so that the services that they provide stay here.  Further, much of what they provide is education that will further disseminate on it’s own.  They are looking for people with all kinds of skills from construction to web design.  If you can do something they can find a way to use it.
The base is an informal affair.  They have a walledcompound and 24/7 security guards but unlike many ORGs down here you are allowed to leave the base and in fact it is encouraged, whether it is for a project or just to go wander.  It is actually encouraged.  They feel that unless you are part of the community the work you try to provide will miss the mark.  We wander out for projects in the tent cities, education trips up into the mountains, backpacking trips to map water sources up in the mountains to aid in the identification of cholera sources or just to head out to the clubs and bars in our neighborhood.
While there are some rooms, most of us sleep in tents on base.  We do have a functional kitchen and meals are prepaired for us.  There are “showers” that are bucket operated.  We even have a hole in the back wall that provides beer and bakara (DR rum).  It is a bit roughing it but not so much so.
There is a core staff here that is fantastic and is always running more projects than you can shake a banana leaf at.  This is actually quite difficult as they are kind of floppy.  In addition to the core staff there is an ever changing group of volunteers meandering in and out.  The people that you get to meet here are all in all fantastic in their own “unique” way.  Seriously this is one hell of a group.
For the medical folk.  I work with a US MD Dr Megan Coffee at the TB ward that she runs.  It is located within the main hospital in Port Au Prince.  It consists of one permanent structure that is essentially an open, metal pole barn.  We have cots, head to wall towards the center and when the volume increases they line the center as well.  Many of the patents here are quite stable and are just waiting to become healthy enough to head home and continue their care on an out patent basis.  However, often when these people come to us they are crashing with severe respiratory distress.  These are clearly ICU patents but as one does not exist, we are it.  It is a totally different type of medicine and we do pretty well.  It is defiantly a challenging environment but it is safe and the work is good.  in the US, if you leave there is no one to take your place.  Your presence makes a difference like no other place you have been.
I work with Jeannie who is an Rn who came down here after graduating without ever held a medical job before.  She is teaching me things left and right.  This place teaches you clinical skills that you could not acquire in the US.
If anyone  is interested or knows someone who might be please contact me and I will answer all of your questions.

Thank you for your time
Ben Pritchard RN EMT-P

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