Canadian volunteers saving one life at a time

The Canadian Press ~ The News
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Haiti Disaster

Imagine trying to save the life of a seven-year-old boy. To do that, you need to amputate his mangled, infected leg. You explain to his parents that without this operation, the boy will almost certainly die.

Now imagine pleading in vain with his parents when they tell you, firmly, "No."

For most people, that kind of traumatic experience might be a once-in-a-lifetime nightmare. For a small group of Canadians, though, this is how they're spending their holidays.

Samantha Bochard, 10, waits to leave after having a head injury treated at the Canadian Medical clinic Tuesday in Leogane, Haiti after last week's devastating earthquake. - Photo by The Canadian Press

Leogane, Haiti -

Imagine trying to save the life of a seven-year-old boy. To do that, you need to amputate his mangled, infected leg. You explain to his parents that without this operation, the boy will almost certainly die.

Now imagine pleading in vain with his parents when they tell you, firmly, "No."

For most people, that kind of traumatic experience might be a once-in-a-lifetime nightmare. For a small group of Canadians, though, this is how they're spending their holidays.

A few dozen volunteers - mostly medical professionals - with a Canadian non-profit organization are taking time off work or using their holidays to provide help in one of the most devastated corners of Haiti.

For the sixth time since its creation in 2003, Canadian Medical Assistance Teams is sending a group of volunteers to a disaster zone. Its members are working alongside the Canadian military in a medical camp set up amid the rubble in Leogane, a coastal town about 35 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince.

The group doesn't receive government money and its members are paying for their own flights there. What do they get in return?

Just ask the locals.

"They came here to save lives," said Jean-Evans Cheridor, a nursing student who is helping the Canadians as a translator.

"They've already made a difference."

The group estimates that - alongside the military - it has helped treat 2,000 people since it arrived here five days after the quake.

They've delivered three or four babies. They've also helped treat 20 or more injured Canadians who were in the area when the quake struck.

One Haitian-Canadian man was carried to the camp on a stretcher Tuesday. Frail and barely conscious, Josef Ranville of Montreal had a fever of 40 degrees C when he was whisked into a tent.

A group of Navy sailors had driven a pickup truck to a neighbourhood full of tin and canvas housing, where the man was lying feebly in bed, with his eyes barely flickering open.

They placed him on a stretcher, onto the truck, and rushed him to the camp.

Between those two spots, a group of boys was playing soccer in the shadow of piles of broken concrete. Nearby, a schoolgirl grabbed the arm of a Canadian visitor and began jumping up and down. When the adult visitor emulated her and began jumping, too, she broke into delirious fits of giggling while more laughing friends came to join them in the jumping game.

The mood has changed in the town in recent days, according to Cheridor. He says the Canadian visitors deserve some of the credit.

"Thanks to them, you can say the majority of the population of Leogane has its smile back again," he said.

There may be smiles, and occasional giggles, but the area is still suffering from its share of misery.

There is still pushing and shoving at food-distribution points, as foreign agencies need military protection to get the aid flowing smoothly. One highway leading into town was temporarily barricaded Tuesday by residents of a nearby village who complained the food distribution was bypassing them.

UN peacekeepers stood silently by while the highway was transformed, for about a half-hour, into a dusty, rural, traffic-jammed parking lot. The protesters finally cleared the road when aid workers promised to drop off food in their area.

Even within the confines of the Canadian camp, the stories don't always end happily.

Dave Johnson is usually an air-traffic controller in Vancouver. His employer granted him time off to come to Haiti, where he's team leader for the CMAT volunteer squad. He takes pride in the people they've helped. When they got to Leogane, the town hadn't seen any foreign aid.

Since then, they've treated about 250 people a day - offering treatment that ranges from basic medical care and fixing broken bones, to amputations of limbs that have become infected from wounds opened during the quake.

Organizations: Canadian Medical Assistance Teams, UN

Geographic location: Haiti, Port-au-Prince, Montreal Vancouver

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments