Guest Blogger Katie Lawler: When Visitors Come to Haiti

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. -Elie Wiesel

This month has brought a huge number of visiting teams to the villa where we live, which has been both rewarding and challenging. It’s always interesting to meet new people and to hear about the great work they’re doing here, but it can also be exhausting to have a constant parade of strangers coming in and out and to keep having the same conversations over and over (and over) again. In general, though, it has been a good opportunity to reflect on the many things I’ve learned in Haiti and to refocus on my long-term goals for my time here.

Having short-term visitors working in the hospital has been especially eye-opening. Some of the short-term visitors have displayed a dismaying lack of sensitivity—visiting nurses have come to our NICU to see the unit and to “help,” which is both well-meaning and completely inappropriate. No nurse would ever think of entering an ICU in the United States without prior authorization, much less expect to work with patients there. I have witnessed nurses walk onto our unit, ignore the staff (because they haven’t learned any Creole), and start touching our babies (without permission, without scrubbing, and without bothering to wash their hands between patients). While it’s true that Haiti is a poor country and many foreigners come here to volunteer and offer aid, this does not mean that standard rules of conduct are obsolete. Other visitors have made much more of an effort to engage with the staff and speak the language, which is a great start, but I still feel like there is a lack of understanding in their judgments of our NICU—these people have not taken (or had) the opportunity to begin to comprehend the culture and the life here. It’s easy for outsiders to come in and point out all of the problems on our unit, but the issues that I have seen—lack of resources, staff shortages, poor and uneducated parents—are endemic to Haiti, and not ones that can be effortlessly solved in two weeks or one month. Every time I hear the statement, “They just don’t care,” I cringe. While I am aware that there are many nursing practices here that could be improved, I have also worked shifts alongside the nurses here and can honestly say I have never worked harder in my life. No matter how much you care, it is physically impossible for one person to provide good nursing care to five or six critically ill babies all alone.

However, I have also been grateful to have these visitors—it has made me realize how much I’ve learned about Haiti thus far, how many wonderful friends I’ve made here, and how much my Creole has improved in the past four months. In addition, having new people on the unit has forced me to think again about why I am here and how to keep making progress. I am looking forward to the rest of the year and to the many rewards and challenges yet to come.

by Katie Lawler on November 28, 2014

Be sure to check out Katie’s personal blog @http://katiemarielawler.blogspot.com/ for more regular updates on her life and work at the Saint Damien’s Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre, Haiti.

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