The following trip report is from Liberty Mountain employee, Christian Weaver.
As a volunteer and board member of the Haiti Health Initiative, I spent a week in Haiti on one of their bi-annual health trips a couple weeks ago. Base on my lack of medical know-how, I was assigned the leadership responsibility of the March 2013 Dental Trip.
The Haiti Health Initiative is a non-profit organization that focuses on improving the public health of the rural Haitian people. I chose to join the Haiti Health Initiative because it paired perfectly with my love for both the outdoors and being of service to people that are far beyond the reach of modern civilization.
Traveling to Haiti required that we pack nine days worth of personal camping gear into one small carry-on backpack because all our luggage was full of dental supplies. After landing in Haiti, we drove two hours outside of Port au Prince to the mountainous region of Tomgato. From there we backpacked for a good hour in the darkness on what only could be described as goat trails into the village of Timo. The local women helped us by hiking in our suitcases of supplies by effortlessly carrying them in on their heads without flashlights or shoes while we tripped and stumbled down the dark and rocky trail.
Upon arriving at the village, we set up the dental clinic and our camp and began seeing patients early the next morning. Our dental clinic lasted for six days, Saturday thru Thursday. The village of Timo had put out the word that our small dental team—comprised of five dentists, four assistants, and three hygienists—would put on the clinic, causing individuals from all around the region to hike in to receive dental treatment and care. We had people lining up as early as 3 a.m. each day. It was not uncommon to hear stories of families who walked all night or slept on the trail so that they could reach our clinic and see a professional dentist for the first time in their lives.
The work was hard and the circumstances where not always the best with generators breaking down, chickens running around the sterilization table, tropical rain downpours, and the dreaded “curse of Montezuma.” Our dentists even got the surprise opportunity to practice their emergency first-aid skills with two local machete incidents. At the end of the week the village put on a culture night for us that included singing and dancing late into the evening as we all celebrated the fact that 389 patients were served in the clinic.
This trip was made a lot more comfortable than it would have been because of the gear that I chose to bring for myself. I cannot express enough at how impressed I was with my Vaude backpack and sleeping bag, Klymit sleeping pad, Grand Trunk pillow, and Honey Stingers protein bars. Although, in a tropical island environment where it is expected to rain almost everyday, I should have brought a good tent and not relied on the tent that was provided.
In the end, it was an incredibly humbling experience and it was tough to say good-bye to the people we worked with. I was amazed to see the gratitude that the rural people of Haiti had for something that many of us take for granted. The local Timo villagers worked side-by-side with us to learn how to improve the health of their own people. They did not have much but they were willing to give everything they had to help. Based on the experience of my first health trip to Haiti, I hope that this becomes something that I can do year after year.