As a physician, Dr. Jean-Marius Gardy can mend broken bones, deliver babies and stitch a bleeding wound.
But from his medical clinic in Haiti, he does more than heal the sick and has taken a holistic approach to healing a community, from teaching about nutrition to implementing projects that help single mothers to feed their families.
“We believe that putting a clinic in a community is not going to solve the problems, the clinic is part of the package,” said Gardy, who was in Vernon last week as a guest of Judy Douglas, a retired nurse who has been making regular volunteer visits to train nurses at the Oganizasyon Sante popilè clinic (OSAPO) in Rousseau, about 100 km north of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
At OSAPO, Gardy and his colleagues have been developing a number of different projects to ensure the health of the community, such as latrines, clean drinking water, food security and nutrition.
“With any kind of sustainable development, education is key for wellness of people and for their long-term success,” said Gardy. “It is very difficult to build sustainability in community if you don’t have a strong base in education. If people just come into the hospital, we give them some medicine, but if we can’t respond to their other needs it is not going to work.”
For Douglas, travelling to Haiti on a regular basis to volunteer at the clinic has given her the chance to not only share her nursing skills but to get to know the people she now considers family.
“Gardy heard what my background was and wanted me to show his nurses how to work in the OR,” said Douglas, who was an ICU nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital when she retired in 2009, having previously worked in the OR at VJH. “People in Haiti are very resilient, and this is furthering their training that will keep them working.
“I first went there in 2010 after the earthquake, and I learned from my experience of previously volunteering in Nicaragua that about six months after any disaster everybody goes home and that’s when the help is really needed.”
Gardy said having someone with Douglas’ training and background has been invaluable at OSAPO, and it is his hope that the expertise she brings will go a long way towards keeping his fellow Haitians in the country.
“There are more Haitian doctors in the U.S. and Canada than in Haiti, so the professionals that you have available are not upgraded enough to take on a class, so to get someone like Judy coming down to train is wonderful,” he said. “Without human resources, one of the biggest challenges in developing countries is the drain of people leaving the country and at the end if you don’t have any work force you don’t have any capacity-building.”
Gardy went to medical school in the Dominican Republic and then to Germany where he earned his master’s degree in global health. His intention was always to return home, explaining that he was born into one of Haiti’s poorest families, to a single mother with five children who struggled every day to feed her family and to ensure they were educated.
“I am the oldest in my family and in my culture if you’re the oldest, you take all the responsibility on. I had to leave my family at 12 and went to Port-au-Prince, where I had an uncle there, and he had me doing everything for him, so I left his house and spent a year on the street and have witnessed all kinds of things.
“I think to pass through all these situations, I had a very strong argument to come back to my country, to bring hope for youth because I know that millions of young people in my country live in the same situation that I did.
“I wanted to come back and serve my country and at the same time using myself as a model for my generation to tell them: don’t ever stop dreaming, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter the colour of your skin. Dream big and work hard and you can make it happen. That is what motivated me to come back. And I picture my mother when I was 12, with no basic education, so this is to reward my mother for all that she did, and she is very proud.”
Gardy said with Haiti hit by the 2010 earthquake and then Hurricane Matthew last fall, there is no shortage of humanitarian aid to the country, yet many people are living in extreme poverty.
“Haiti receives more donations than any other country but living conditions are getting worse, so maybe the strategy for helping people is not the best one,” said Gardy. “There are many organizations doing the same thing but what is making the difference is that we are Haitian.”
OSAPO has introduced a number of projects to empower people in need. When eight out of 10 pregnant women were presenting with anemia, OSAPO began distributing vegetable seeds, with a portion grown for consumption and the rest grown to be sold at market.
“The anemia dropped from 80 per cent of women to 20 per cent, but at the same time every single woman can earn money every month by selling the product.”
Gardy said Haitians consume more than 40 million eggs every year, but only 10 per cent are produced in the country, so OSAPO has introduced a poultry project. With several thousand chickens, eggs are produced that can not only be consumed but can be sold to women who in turn will sell them at the market and to resorts.
Gardy said while the Haitian government recognizes the work of OSAPO, it does not provide any funding. And, while money is important to continue the work, Gardy still believes education is at the basis of bringing his fellow Haitians out of poverty and towards living independently of foreign aid in what is still the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
OSAPO recently started a program called Global Social Medicine, where medical students from universities in the United States are invited to the clinic.
“This is a great opportunity for med students to see what type of medicine we do; we bring over 200 students every year from the U.S.,” he said.
Meanwhile, Douglas will return to Haiti in the new year with four others from Vernon to carry on with a project she started in February, where 10 local women are taught how to sew, another way of empowering them.
“Kids in Haiti wear a uniform to school so this could be a business for women, to sew the uniforms,” she said. “The idea is to keep training and that’s why I keep going.”
Douglas will also continue the work of distributing Days for Girls hygienic kits that women in Vernon have been sewing and assembling for the past three years.
“The Haitian people have lived through disaster after disaster. I came expecting to look after emergencies but they just move on. In my faith I believe that I was called to go there, God had been preparing me for years to go there.”