The picture makes me chuckle. In another version I am cropped out, and the image is focused on the passion and vibrant colors of this impromptu roadside song. Why does this version seems so different? Because I stand out so sorely. As much as I like to pretend I’m not stranger in Haiti, I am, and always will be. My Haitian friends know all the soulful hymns and praise songs by heart, but the paper I’m holding doesn’t even have the right song on it. They have each experienced hardships and deprivation I can’t even imagine, but my awkward height in this picture proves I’ve always had enough to eat. And their singing mingles hope and pain in a way I can only mimic. I sing my heart out too sometimes, but I have to draw on personal experience, rather than collective. They are so used to singing the collective heart of their culture, that the air of Port-au-Prince was filled with worship the night of the earthquake, and for weeks afterwards.
For me, this serves as an illustration of what Vwazen Nou is all about. We support Haitian-led organizations and programs quite simply because we are strangers. We could teach community health classes, repair homes, feed kids and visit patients ourselves. But we would be depriving people of the chance to be understood, to be fully listened to, and to be welcomed into a Hope that lives in the hearts and songs of their own community – not one that comes from far away.
Vwazen Nou Vice President, Operations
Can you imagine walking by your neighbor’s home, greeting them, asking a simple, “How’s it going?” and hearing back, “I’m not sure that I’ll live beyond this month”. Our friends in Delmas 30, a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, are too closely accustomed to these words and the likelihood of their happening. As I grew up going back and forth to Haiti I knew I’d never get it. I had a US passport, I went home to a clean house, plentiful food, doctors when I needed them, and the hope of being able to learn a skill and give of it to the world. Although possessing little, what I knew and loved most of our Haitian friends was their joy, warmth, and deep love for neighbor. A few years ago, some American friends and I asked if there was anything they specifically desired that we could potentially help them with.
“We have nothing to give”, they said, “But if you’d teach us, we’d be able to help our community”. Instead of asking for material possessions, advancements or comforts, our friends desired to take care of the neighbor that felt close to death’s doorstep, or the one that had had one stroke already and faced another if their hypertension was not brought under control.
It was beautiful to watch these Haitian friends hearts grow. We did a massive survey of the community and every nook and cranny was explored. Although these friends had spent most of their lives in the area, they had not had reason to ask about illness and health related issues in the past. We watched as their compassion toward their neighbor and an urgency to see change and healing welled within them. Thus, the health workers came to be. They knew a vision for the community. They wanted to set things right. They had hope that healing could come to their neighbors.
I love the earnestness with which they are learning how to take pulses in this picture. Its as if they’re saying, “Finally! I can reach out and offer hope to that neighbor who thinks she’ll die next month… I can actually help my community”.
Vwazen Nou President
I know it sounds really dorky, but I’ve always been a big fan of technology. Before there were chat rooms, I would dial in to a bulletin board system and post notes to my virtual friends. I built robots for competition in high school. I went to college at Georgia Tech. (I think that speaks for itself.) I got cranky if I have to read a scientific journal in print instead of online. But even though I had embraced technology and knew it could change lives, I didn’t really get how transformative it could be until I saw the impact of Vwazen Nou’s electronic medical records (EMR) system on the community we serve in Haiti.
Imagine what it would be like if every time you went to the doctor you saw someone different and they had no record of your medical history or even what medications you were taking. You would have to remember and communicate everything about yourself each time! That’s a pretty extreme example, but it illustrates how having an EMR system helps improves the periodic clinic trips that serve the Haitian community. Another really important function of the EMR system is that it allows the health workers to keep track of patients with chronic diseases over time. Even cooler, if a patient has a problem that needs intervention between clinic trips the health worker can contact us, a doctor can access the patient’s records stateside, make a recommendation, and we can send money if it requires a hospital trip. Between the EMR system and the health care workers, we’ve seen real improvements in the care of patients.
Given all this, you can understand why we felt it was necessary to act quickly when we heard that the computer used for the records got caught in a rainstorm. Thankfully, the Grace Network is sending a few people down to Haiti this week and one of the team members agreed to be a computer “mule.” So Sunday John Dimeo (the guy who wrote the EMR system) and I took our nerd-dom in all its glory and bought a replacement computer. (Actually, to be quite honest, John is quite the computer guy so he asked the really important questions while I checked to make sure we didn’t end up with something pink.) We ended up getting a Toshiba netbook with Windows 7, Microsoft Office, a laptop case (water-resistant), and a corded mouse for $433.62. The computer has about 8.5 hrs of battery life by industry standards; this is important since electricity isn’t a reliable commodity down there. John set it up so that the user can easily select which language he/she would like (French for our neighbors to the south) and installed everything necessary for the medical records system. He passed it off to me yesterday and it’s pretty sweet. This afternoon I’ll give it to the “mule.” In the meantime, I’ll enjoy casting glances at this little piece of technology that holds the potential to impact hundreds of lives. It’s pretty exciting that I got to have a hand in something so transformative and I can’t wait to hear the stories of the lives it’s touched.
Vwazen Nou Treasurer