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Dr Helen Connolly Writes About a Recent Trip to Haiti

Haiti is a country which even before the earthquake was one of the poorest in the western hemisphere. Unemployment stands at over 50% and 3/4 of the 9 million poeple live on less than $2 a day and 50% on less than $1 a day.1 in 12 children die before the age of 5.

Haven is an Irish charity established by Lesley and Carmel Buckley in 2007.The aim is to provide shelter  and sanitation and implement development plans as part of community based projects in Haiti in conjunction with local workers.

Twice a year approximately 300 Irish builders and medical staff raise 4500 euro each and travel to Haiti as part of a building week.This was my first trip with Haven but I have previously travelled on a similar projects with the Niall Mellon Township Trust in South Africa in 2008 and 2009. All medical staff are expected to build as well as act as medics so I am gradually perfecting my plastering skills!!

Despite having just completed the Desert Medicine Training Course in Namibia the week before, I was struck by the intense heat in Haiti. We travelled by coach from Port au Prince 160km north to Gonnaives - a town which was badly devastated by the earthquakes of 2004 and 2008. The journey took 8 hrs along pot-holed dirt tracks. We passed miles and miles of rubble heaps, the remains of peoples' houses and fields of blue aid relief tents; now homes to the displaced.

On arrival in Gonnaives we set up a medical centre on site in one of the completed houses and also a 4 bedded cool room. Because temperatures soared to 45 deg in the day and 55 deg in our 6 bedded tents we also used air conditioned buses to allow people to rest  in the  enforced siesta period at midday. We also had 2 isolation tents which thankfully remained redundant.

Our back up was a small UN clinic in Gonnaives which has a small operating theatre, a dental unit and an ambulance. For major trauma we had an 'on call' helicopter to transfer patients to the Dominican Republic. In the event we saw approximately 60 patients a day mostly with minor eye injuries, cuts, blisters, a couple of orthopaedic injuries and  some heat-related illness.

Before we travel out again in October we have had ac lose look at our medical set-up and changed a few things including our pre-departure questionnnaire and our medical and casevac plan.T his is largely due to the distance to secondary medical care and the fact that a building site is an accident prone environment.

During the week we, along with the Haitian builders we trained, built 63 houses, a community cente and a children's playground. Over the next 3 years Haven has pledged to build  or upgrade 10,000 homes in Haiti to help alleviate the suffering of the 1 million people left homeless by the earthquake. Having spent a week living in a tent in that heat I can only begin to imagine the misery a mother with young children or an elderly person must be enduring in the camps on a daily basis, so the need for accommodation is urgent. Certainly the smiles of relief on the beneficiaries faces on handover day is a memory none of us will  ever erase.

If anyone would like further information on the work of the charity they should visit



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