Rotary District 7255 Team on Medical Plus Mission to Haiti

A team from Rotary District 7255 (Suffolk, Nassau, Brooklyn, Queens) visited Haiti April 4-13, 2014 to conduct medical/dental clinics and work on other community projects in Anse-a-Galets and Nan Sema on the large islland of La Gonave. The team was led by Past District Governor George Solomon (his 25th trip) and included Northport Rotary Past President Andy Giffin. An account of the trip below, titled “La Gonave Remembered,” tells the story.


A baby’s cry announces new life, snatching hope from a long history of misery.  This new boy was delivered after his mother had a cardiac arrest reacting to a spinal anesthesia plus intravenous sedatives.  Fast action by the attending physician, Dr. Jean Eric Ferdinand, and nursing staff, assisted by visiting Rotarian and Podiatrist, Dr. Frank De Maria, brought the mother back to life leaving uncertain distress to the child.  Following an emergency Caesarian section, Mother and child survived, barely, a common occurrence at the site of birth, La Gonave island in the large bay off Port-au-Prince Haiti. 

In 2007, on his first visit to La Gonave, Long Island Rotarian and Past District Governor George Solomon (Mattituck) felt a small hand take his.  Frail, with orange streaks in her hair from malnutrition, this little girl smiled and has provided the inspiration for the next 25 trips to Haiti for George.  Today, she is a healthy 13 year old and the orange streaks are gone.

Haiti has been described as the land the world forgot, and La Gonave as the land Haiti forgot.  Once the refuge for Haiti’s unwanted criminals, sick and elderly, it continues to receive very limited support for its 120,000 inhabitants.  But, as a miraculous new birth and progress of a teenager attest, there is hope coming from the effort of local, national and foreign supporters.

From April 4th to 13th, 2014, a team of Rotarians, dentists, a podiatrist and volunteer visited La Gonave to follow up on prior work on the island.  Led by George Solomon, the team conducted medical and dental clinics in Anse-a-Galets, on the coast, and Nan Sema in the central highlands.  Dental work was done by Nilesh Patel (Ardsley, NY) and Amul Patel (Scarsdale, NY), assisted by Bhavya Patel (Huntington) and Tim Coyle (Huntington).  Tim, an EMT, also assisted with a medical clinic in Nan Sema with Dr. Ferdinand, Minister of Health on La Gonave and lead physician at the Wesleyan Hospital in Anse-a-Galets, and at the Wesleyan Hospital with Dr. Frank De Maria.  Rotarians Past District Governor Irving Toliver (Huntington), Forrest Dunbar (Shoreham) and Andy Giffin (Northport) assisted in the clinics and followed up on other ongoing projects.  The trip was sponsored by Long Island Rotary clubs, Rotary District 7255, Rotary International, the trip participants and other contributors.

This trip was particularly noteworthy because it represented significant progress, building on prior trips.  Delivering a new life by emergency C-section after the cardiac arrest of its mother was particularly dramatic, supported by efforts to equip a new operating room in recent years.  In addition:

·        The well in Nan Sema continues to provide clean water to over 20,000 area people and their animals, after being dug in 2006, repaired in 2011 with solar power added, cistern repairs in 2012, and fountain faucet repairs in 2014.  A clean water source, along with a church and medical clinic provide a community center in a farming community spread over many square miles.

·        The medical missions in Nan Sema and Anse-a-Galets were hindered by a lack of some basic medicines (e.g., for rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension) and supplies (e.g., pregnancy tests).  Trip funds were provided to buy needed supplies, which will be replenished on future trips.

·        While there have been many dental clinics in Nan Sema, this was the first time a team was able to do restorations rather than simply pulling teeth.  The team had a portable dental unit purchased for the trip (and future ones).

·        The Anse-a-Galets dental clinic included many patients with evidence of improved dental hygiene, the result of prior clinics and hygiene education.  This was particularly evident among the children.  Built by West Indies Self Help (WISH), the clinic hosts various teams of visiting dentists throughout the year.

·        The team redesigned stands to hold peanut grinders and gasoline engine to make them functional.  The grinders were brought to Nan Sema in 2012 but had not been used due to drought restricting peanut crops.  The grinders will be used with next crop to reduce local farmer dependence solely on selling peanuts at market following harvest in competition with all the other area growers, dampening the price.

·        The team also visited the Nan Sema sewing school established in 2012 with delivery of six sewing machines along with material and supplies.  The school helps to fund itself by selling some of its product such as table cloths, placemats and napkins.  Students (girls, boys, adults) are developing skills.  Clothes are made for local use, including school uniforms.  Trip funds were provide to restock material and supplies.

·        The team visited a new orphanage, Children’s Village, an Okipe project, with newly constructed houses for 80 orphans, supported by solar power and filtered water.  Now providing adequate food, shelter and education, this facility can begin to consider how to prepare the orphans for a productive life.

·        Trip funds were also allocated to support another school that is building in a new location to accommodate a growing demand for education.  Development plans were reviewed in preparation for a 2015 Rotary Grant project to dig a well, provide desalination and water purification, provide water storage, provide solar power for operating the well and lights, and other support.

·        Traveling from Port-au-Prince up the coast to cross over to La Gonave, the team saw progress in the closing of the numerous tent cities and some improvement to roads and markets.  Tent cities have now reverted to prior uses, e.g., soccer fields.  Although slowly recovering from the 2010 earthquake, much infrastructure building is still needed.

Progress on many fronts provides hope.  But more is needed.  Computers are needed in Nan Sema, powered by the existing satellite WiFi access, to provide training to local residents, along with internet access to information.  The sewing school needs to expand its markets to support teacher salaries and expanded facilities.  Many cases of extreme hypertension need a better response, including research on causes and long-term medications.  A rebuilt dental clinic in Anse-a-Galets provides room for six dental chairs but lack of air conditioning makes work difficult, given temperatures inside around 90 degrees.

Residents of La Gonave have little to help them develop beyond basic survival.  They remain vulnerable to reverses, such as the recent drought.  Yet, they are remarkably resourceful.  Lacking needed tools they find ways to fashion needed parts for water systems and machinery.  Balls and toys brought by the trip participants brighten children’s faces.  Gifts of medicine and small amusements are appreciated.  But, providing the means for building skills and creating new economic opportunities stimulate gradual long-term improvement in their condition.