Mission Trip To Thomassique
Bishop O'Connell High School Chapter, Medical Missionaries

In June 2012, a group of 6 students from the Bishop O'Connell High School Chapter of Medical Missionaries traveled to Thomassique to meet and work with a Youth Group that meets weekly at St. Joseph Clinic.  The O'Connell Chapter members had raised funds and collected materials to support Medical Missionaries' work for more than three years.  The students raised the funds needed for their travel and lodging and additional funds for work they planned to do with the Thomassique Youth Group.  Three chaperones and two Medical Missionaries volunteers accompanied the students.
The group flew from Dulles International airport to Santo Domingo airport (Dominican Republic) and went by bus to Banica and Pedro Santana on the border with Haiti.  From there, we went by Medical Missionaries truck to Thomassique.

The first day of the trip started very early.  We had to be at the airport by 4AM.  By the time we flew from Washington, DC to Miami (the first leg of the trip), some of us were ready for lunch.

When we arrived in Santo Domingo, we were met  by a bus ("guagua") for the ride to Banica (Dominican Republic), where we would stay the night before crossing the border into Haiti.  Most of us had never seen luggage loaded into a bus like this before.

Most of the group stayed in this hotel, just outside of Banica (in Pedro Santana).  Some have referred to the hotel as the Pedro Santana Hilton because the quality far exceeds the accommodations anywhere else in the area.  A few stayed at "El Centro," a lodging facility of St. Francis de Asis parish in Banica.

After a breakfast at El Centro, the group boarded our Army truck.  This would be the major form of transportation for the next two days and on the return trip from Thomassique to Banica at the end of the week. 

Some were disappointed that there was no Passport control as we crossed from the Dominican Republic into Haiti, only this bridge across the Artibonito River.

Who would not be captivated by the beauty of the countryside, especially on an open-air ride?  The 18 mile ride took more than 2 hours due to the ruts and mud encountered along the entire route on this "national highway."

One bright point of the trip was passing through this new village that has been built within the past year and a half.  These homes are typical of new villages like this.  Each is about 450 square feet, built of concrete block, on a cement foundation.  It looked like these homes had concrete roofs as well.

At one point, we thought we might be caught in a traffic jam when we saw another truck approaching.

At still another time, we thought we could outrun an approaching rider on a horse, but it turned out that the horse maneuvered this road faster than the truck.

The ride introduced us to the ways many people live in this part of Haiti, including this compound on the highway.

Most of the houses were small but some had lush gardens.  More than 90% of the people in this part of Haiti survive as subsistence farmers.

When we arrived at St. Joseph's Clinic, we found that the Thomassique Youth Group had posted welcome signs on the Staff House.

Most of us would spend the next five days living in the Clinic's Guest House.

The rooms each had two sets of bunkbeds.  It got so hot at night that some of us ended up sleeping in a screened porch on the roof of the Staff House.

Meals were taken with the resident staff in the Staff House.  A hot breakfast and hot mid-day meal were served by Mdm. Gilbert, the cook, and her kitchen team each day.

After unpacking our suitcases and having our mid-day meal, we went on a tour of the Clinic departments, including the maternity ward.

In the pharmacy, Nicole the Pharmacist explained how she dispenses medications to patients and maintains the pharmacy inventory.

We also visited the Clinic's Cholera Treatment Center, where thousands of patients were treated for this terrible disease when it broke out in November 2010.  The Center had no patients when we were there but it stands ready in case there is another outbreak of the disease.

We had a chance to walk in the Clinic's back fields and surveyed where we might locate the food trees that we would plant with the Thomassique Youth Group.

The following day, we traveled by truck to one of the outlying villages, Bouloume.  The Clinic has formed a Community Health Center in this village and hired a Community Health Worker who promotes good hygiene and illness prevention practices and arranges a mobile health clinic for a doctor and a nurse or midwife every month.  On the way to Bouloume, we passed a few farmers who were tilling the fields with their oxen.  These are the "rich" farmers who have large fields and can afford oxen.

Bouloume is about 10 miles from the Clinic, about half on the main highway and half on a small roadway.  On the way to Bouloume, we had our first blowout.  While we toured Bouloume, the truck driver, Atile, and his assistant removed the tire and installed a spare.

One of the first things we saw in Bouloume was a double latrine that had fallen into a sink hole.  A Medical Missionaries volunteer doctor who had visited Bouloume last December has committed funds to replace this latrine (in a nearby, safer spot) as well as one other along the road into Bouloume from the main highway.

We sat in on a meeting of the Bouloume Community Health Committee, which was held in the church.  The Committee discussed health needs of the village and programs they have in place to address some of those needs such as contaminated water and malnutrition.

After the meeting, the Committee members posed with their new T-Shirts that identify them to the rest of the community as members of the Committee.  The two people on either side of the front row are Medical Missionaries Global Health Fellows (Anand Habib and Saskia Guerrier) who serve in Thomassique for a year before entering medical school or graduate studies in public health.

We then hiked about a mile to see one of the water sources for Bouloume.  Along the way, we were surprised to find this new lake that had just been built by the (President) Marteley government.  They are building lakes like this in all the villages around Haiti.  They have stocked it with fish.  Right now it is being used as a swimming hole by residents of Bouloume.  Eventually, once they get a pump, it will provide irrigation for crops in the area.

This water resource, once thought to be a "spring," is actually a catchment for run-off water from farms.  People used to come here with buckets and use the water for drinking.  Now they are discouraged from doing that because all the water is contaminated.

Back at the Clinic, it was time to get down to work.  We had come to plant trees, help with data entry, and do anything else we could to help in the Clinic.  One of the things we saw on our tour of the facilities is that the Pharmacist could use help organizing the medicine depot, where all the medicines are stored.  She had everything sorted and stored in the boxes it came in but that made it difficult for her to quickly locate the medicines that would be needed on any given day.

We located shelving in other parts of the Clinic that was not being used and had it moved to the medicine depot.  Then began the tedious job of unpacking all the boxes and placing the medicines on the shelves, a good opportunity to learn a little about the medicine that is available to patients at the Clinic.

When we were done, two days later, the Pharmacist had a storage room that made her job a lot easier.

While some of us were organizing the medicine depot, others got down to the task of entering patient data.  One database involved entering complete data on the more than 500 births that took place at the Clinic in 2011.

Another database chore involved helping the Clinic's Registrar and Archivist get through a backlog of patient ID information that allows them to quickly find patient records.

Still others got the tools and supplies ready to begin preparing the ground for planting the food trees in the fields behind the Clinic.  This activity required close cooperation with the members of the Thomassique Youth Group.  That group will care for the trees, watering them every day until they are well established, a year from now.

The Youth Group and the Clinic Managers had arranged for us to have plenty of compost in addition to the trees we were to plant.

It took teams of us two or three days to prepare the ground and plant the trees.  We really got to know a lot of the Youth Group through this activity.  In a couple of years, these trees will provide them with many crops that they can either sell at the market or use for food for Clinic patients or the poor in Thomassique.

Each planting received special care.  It was a good learning experience for us and for the members of the Youth Group.

Some of our chaperones got involved in the planting.  Dr. Sensenig, shown here, knew a lot about food trees and how to plant them.

Some of the trees were planted in their own little area.

Others were planted in groups, such as this patch of papaya trees.  Small fences were placed around all of the trees to protect them from goats and other animals that might be attracted to them.

We would sometimes take a break in the afternoon to enjoy some of the mangos that we picked from trees right outside the door of the Staff House.

It was not all work and no play.  There were many opportunities to play with the children who flocked to the Clinic to meet us.

A couple of our group members got special treatment from some of the Youth Group, who showed them how hair is cared for in Haiti.

Sometimes it takes a village to make sure it is done correctly.

There were also opportunities to learn more about how medicine is practiced in Thomassique.  Here, one of the group learns to find and listen to the fetal heartbeat.

Some of our group even got to witness the birth of two babies, facilitated by the nurses and midwives of the Clinic's Maternal and Infant Care program.

Some walked into town to get a better sense of how the people of Thomassique live.

On our last full night in Thomassique, we held a party for our group and the Youth Group.  The Kornetsky wing was decorated by the Youth Group.  Food was prepared by our group.

Everyone pitched in to put out the food and prepare the drinks.

There was a wide variety of food that appeals to the youth of Thomassique.  It included sandwiches, vegetables, cakes, popcorn, and cookies.  A funny thing happened during preparations: The Staff House ran out of cooking gas before we had baked the cakes.  We had to go to a home in the town and beg to use their stove to bake the cakes.

There was plenty of food and drink to keep everyone happy for the night.

Following the food, the Youth Group put on a skit to keep us entertained.

Junior Charles, the Clinic's Assistant Manager, served as MC for the night.

Following the skit, there was time for dancing.

We think this type of line dance was new to the Thomassique Youth Group.

The evening ended with a group photo.  But with over 50 of us (between the two groups) it was hard to get everyone in the photo.

The following morning, we got back on the Army truck and said our farewell to the many youth who had come out to see us off.

As luck would have it, this was not an uneventful ride back to Banica.  We had two more tire blowouts and returned to Banica on nine wheels instead of the normal ten.

But all was not lost.  One of the blowouts occurred right under a Tamarindo (Tamarin) tree, giving some of us a first chance to taste this fruit.

When we got to Banica, our truck driver, Atile, invited some of us to see his house, which he built about two years ago.  It was probably the most modern of any of the houses we had seen

Some of us stayed at the hotel in Pedro Santana and took a walk to the town square, just a block from the hotel.

A few of us grabbed a ride to Banica and took a walking tour of that town.  We could hardly believe it when we saw this man with a Paul VI high school shirt.

We especially could not believe it when he turned around and we saw that the back of the shirt read "Beat O'Connell."  It seems that he had gotten the shirt from a group from Paul VI when they visited Banica on a mission trip sometime earlier this year.

One of the highlights of our walking tour was to visit the church of St. Francis de Asis, one of the oldest churches in this part of the Dominican Republic.  This is the parish that is run by priests from the Arlington (Virginia) diocese at the request of Bishop Jose Grullon of the diocese of San Juan de la Maguana.

Another highlight of our walking tour was to go to the Artibonito River, the dividing line between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and look across into Haiti.  People cross this river by foot every day.

Following our tour, we all had dinner in the screened porch of El Centro, a facility of St. Francis parish.  We joined another missionary group from Nebraska that had been working in villages outside of Banica for the week.

The following day, we had breakfast at El Centro and had just a few minutes for final photos.  This one was taken at the Marian shrine at El Centro

We coaxed Tom Brock, our host at El Centro, to sit for a photo with us.  We were also joined by Gachard Jean Pierre, who had become a great friend and mentor to us during the week.

We also coaxed Atile, our driver to and from Thomassique, to pose for a photo at the last minute

Finally it was time for our five hour ride to the airport.  How appropriate that the motto on our bus was "A Dios sea la gloria," "To God be the glory."  We were thankful for this opportunity to serve the poor and to make many new friends during the week.  We plan to stay in contact with the Thomassique Youth Group on a regular basis by having a Skype call with them during their weekly meetings on Sundays.

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