Project Medishare | University of Tennessee visits local schools and conducts home visits near Thomonde
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University of Tennessee visits local schools and conducts home visits near Thomonde

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By Elizabeth Case

Twelve people have created this venture together. It began, in each of us, as a unique image, a medical trip to Haiti. We planned and packed with these images in mind and so designed an experience that is a blend of our separate imaginings. It is still hard for me to contemplate the whole reality of our group being here in Haiti.

If I stick to describing my individual experience and I have expressed only my own hopes, disappointments, and musings. I have captured nothing of the complexity: for example, the strange flow of moods tonight as we all processed our first day in Thomonde.

It was a day that none of us expected when we packed for a medical trip. We were invited by the Medishare staff to meet the community: first in a local school, then in the homes of several families. The trip to the school was also our chance to distribute toothbrushes and toothpaste to children. Two of the doctors worked on physical exams, while the remainder of the group found curious ways to explain the art of tooth-brushing. Brigitte, a translator and former Peace Corps volunteer, gave a lesson to the preschoolers from her perch on the floor. Whitney and several other students created their own artful presentation for the older students. William held a toothbrush in his mouth during the entirety of our visit, demonstrating an unrivaled commitment to dental hygiene.

The school was an environment so unlike the average school in the United States that a very long description would be necessary to paint a proper picture of it here. Furthermore, I think each of us would describe it differently, focusing on the elements that contrasted most with our school experiences. I was especially struck by the image of a woman frying bread under the shade of a tree (presumably for the children’s lunch). I am remembering the woman who handed me my lunch as a child… a woman in a hairnet and white apron scooping food onto trays.

Our lunch was peanut butter sandwich here at the Medishare compound. In the heat of the afternoon it’s easy to slip into a slower way of life. We passed a few hours on the shady veranda talking to one another. It is a lovely thing to find oneself in a foreign country, with strangers and friends as traveling companions, and nothing to do but talk. I had to remind myself I was still in Haiti – a country full of people I had yet to meet and enjoy.

In that spirit, our group piled back in the rugged SUVs and bounced and tumbled toward a group of homes on the edge of town.

The first home was poised on the edge of the main road. The family was not in, so we began trekking back along a footpath towards the hills. A grandmother and her three grandchildren greeted us at the first house we came to. One of Medishare’s health agents asked the grandmother some questions about the health of her family. He seemed worried especially about her grandchildren whose bellies were distended and whose legs seemed thin. He promised to follow-up with her. We said goodbye and ventured on to the next home.

The afternoon ended with a road-trip to the market and a brief visit at a clinic. Everyone is ready for the excitement of setting up our own clinic tomorrow.