When Barry Procter set out to do volunteer work in Haiti for a few weeks, it didn’t quite go as planned.
Instead, after a trip back to Canada, Procter has turned those initial two weeks into a full-time job as principal of a nursing school in the tiny Caribbean country.
It all started when Procter attended a presentation for Clean Water for Haiti. He liked what he heard and decided he wanted to help the organization that builds water filters for communities in Haiti.
“They had a requirement that you go for a couple of weeks. I really enjoyed the two weeks, wished it could be longer, so when I got home I retired from my job, sold all my stuff and moved back.”
When he returned to Haiti, Procter began teaching math at an English language school. Through the grapevine, the principal of a nursing school heard about Procter and called to recruit him as an instructor.
Dr. Mane Ricot Felix is a young Haitian physician and when he was at medical school in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, he saw that there was a huge shortage of nurses and they were not well-trained.
Felix formed an NGO called COPSA-Haiti, dedicated to the improvement of healthcare in Haiti. And, with other medical professionals he set up a nursing school in his home town of Saint-Marc.
Now a member of the NGO, Procter is principal of COPSA-Haiti Nursing School and Laboratory, which opened in October 2011.
This year, there are 246 students enrolled at the school, which runs the four-year nursing program, a nurses’ aid program and programs for pharmacy technicians and laboratory technicians.
“We wanted to have well-trained people and wanted to do it in a way that people could afford to come to the school, so we set our tuition very low, but this is Haiti and we had a stream of students who said ‘someone in my family got sick and I can’t come anymore.’ It’s really sad to see talented students who can’t finish the program.”
All of the school’s instructors are Haitian doctors and nurses, individuals who are committed to seeing improvement, said Procter, who are willing to make considerable sacrifice to teach.
“It’s such a pleasure to work with these people — Haitians are really willing to get the education they can in the hopes that it will turn into a job and into a living.
“It is so much harder for them to go to school than it would be for someone here, you get to know their stories.”
Procter said other challenges are the lack of text books. Instead, instructors will write out notes and make copies for each student. While there are text books in French, it’s almost impossible to find those written in Creole, the language spoken by the majority of students.
With years of government corruption, mismanagement by non-governmental organizations, debt and natural disasters, Haiti has been dealt an unfair hand over the years, said Procter.
“If you take the time to look at the history of Haiti, it’s one thing after the other that’s been done to them. And since the earthquake, I hear from everybody, ‘what happened to the money?’ I think the Haitian government got one per cent of aid and .4 per cent went to Haitian NGOs.
“Some of the NGOs have done good things, but the spotlight is off Haiti right now. People’s picture of Haiti is terrible, but it is a beautiful country.”
For Procter, what brings him back to this impoverished nation is its people, with their resilience and their hope for a better future.
“They are happy people; part of that is if you think you’re going to understand it all, you’re not. But part of it is because they have a huge sense of community.”
Now living in Pierre Payen, a village 20 miles from Saint-Marc, Procter has adapted to life in Haiti, made easier by the friendships he has developed. He has learned to speak Creole well enough to communicate, and his lifestyle is similar to that of his friends and neighbors.
“I live in some ways much like they do, and I believe that they kind of respect that I’m not down there living miles above them, that I treat them like my friends, because they are.”
Procter uses solar panels to charge his laptop and phone because he doesn’t have electricity. And he enjoys the Haitian diet of rice and beans, with perhaps a small portion of meat and vegetables.
“Most people don’t cook at home, as it’s too hot; they will set up on the side of the road. It’s relatively inexpensive to buy food, so long as you’re buying what’s local; if you want to buy what we have in Canada, it’s horrendously expensive. A box of cereal will cost you eight or 10 bucks.”
Procter moved to the Okanagan from Manitoba in 2003, working as a nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital before moving to Armstrong and working for Kindale.
When he returns to Canada, he divides his time between the Okanagan, which he still considers home, and Winnipeg, where his family lives.
A father of four and grandfather of two, Procter said missing family is the biggest challenge so far. His youngest granddaughter was born the night he left for Haiti.
“I miss family and friends, but a lot of the other stuff I don’t; some of the excess I find here I don’t like. I’ve even reached the point in Haiti where I have too much stuff. I’m with people who make do with nothing.”
Procter takes each day as it comes, and as long as he is needed, he has no plans to leave Haiti.
“There is a significant faith component to what I do. I believe my faith should focus on others, not on myself. I have always loved Matthew 25 where Jesus says our doing simple things for others is service to Him.”
For more information on Procter’s work in Haiti, please e-mail him at email@example.com