As people in North America and worldwide continue to donate funds in order to help the people of Haiti recover from the earthquake, a Canadian-American organization called Healing Hands for Haiti is already on the ground helping Haitians meet their immediate and long term health and disability needs. The following is an interview with this organization’s Executive Director, Eric Doubt.
Paul Boin: I understand that your organization’s facilities were also damaged by the recent earthquake in Haiti.
Eric Doubt: Yes, The main structure housing the Medical Clinic, prosthetic workshop and administrative offices has been destroyed. The only building that is still somewhat usable, despite sustaining some damage, is the guest house [where some rotating medical and treatment teams are housed], which can be secured, repaired and made to be a temporary headquarters.
PB: How many people did you have working at the clinic at the time of the earthquake?
ED: We have a working staff of forty five, and fortunately, the earthquake struck just after clinic hours so no one was in the building when it collapsed.
PB: And those are people from both Canada and the U.S. that are part of that team?
ED: Our permanent staff in Haiti are all local. We have a Manager of Operations, a Clinic Manager, we have a team of physiotherapists, a team of prosthetic technicians doing the fabricating, we’ve got administration staff, and we’ve have guest house staff. We want to play a role in training Haitians and contribute to the building of the long-term healthcare infrastructure in Haiti. We also have a rotating staff of about 10 medical teams which are made up of volunteer professionals from Canada and the U.S.
PB: What is the make-up of these rotating medical teams?
ED: Each team [that is rotated in] is comprised of about 25 people. We have doctors, nurses, prosthetic therapists, wheelchair technicians, dieticians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists; quite a variety.
PB: I noticed from your organization’s website that your most recent flight scheduled into Haiti had been delayed and was awaiting clearance. Has that flight now arrived in Haiti?
ED: Actually it’s leaving late this afternoon and is scheduled to arrive in Port Au Prince this evening. This is a special flight with a contingent of 130 medical and construction people including a number of our very top medical volunteers. All kinds of professional people, ex-UN people, USAID people, helped to coordinate this flight. Prior to this flight, about 3 days after the quake, we got in another 7 professionals of our group into Haiti via the Dominican Republic.
PB: What are your organization’s immediate needs so as to best help you to meet the needs of the injured people of Haiti?
ED: Number 1 and way at the top of the list is money. The reason for that is simple. Prior to the earthquake our organization had plans to build a new Physical Medical Rehabilitation Institute on our property. Now it’s a whole new ballgame. Now we have to start from scratch, and our immediate priority is to set up a semi-permanent facility to most quickly begin serving and rehabilitating the enormous number of new amputees and injured people in Haiti. So money is needed immediately for setting up special tents and equipment and personnel. Once those immediate needs are met, we’ll need to restart our longer-term goals of building the institute and contributing to Haiti’s medical infrastructure. We’re the only functioning rehab and physical medicine facility on the ground in Haiti, and we have outreach. Our teams go throughout the country of Haiti to orphanages and schools and clinics and so forth.
PB: I noticed that Healing Hands for Haiti is a registered charity in both Canada and the United States.
ED: Yes, and Canadians interested in donating should also know that we qualify for the Canadian government matching of their donations [designate HHHI (Healing Hands for Haiti International) in the message/instructions box]. Americans interested in donating can go directly to our website.
PB: And what about volunteers? Is there a greater need for volunteers now?
ED: We have been inundated. We have over a thousand applications. We have an online application form which is helping to identify different skills and interests [from translators to nurses to doctors] on our volunteer page. These applications are going to be an invaluable resource in terms of expanding our team and outreach programs. Right now we have 10 teams, but we’re going to need over 20 teams.
PB: What is the average length of stay for these rotating teams?
ED: So far it’s been between 10 days and 2 weeks. We’ve also now partnered with Physicians For Peace, who, in addition to helping with medical personnel, are helping to bring in equipment, medical supplies, prosthetics, and fabrication needs. Someone just called this morning offering to donate an entire 52-foot trailer load of new prosthetics. So that’s just wonderful!
PB: Do you have a rough estimate as to how many new amputees there are in Haiti?
ED: I’ve been careful with that number. We have people on the ground surveying various make-shift medical clinics as to how many amputations have been conducted. So far we’ve only gotten around to about half of them, but the numbers are already well over 2,000 thousand amputations. But that number will likely grow substantially.
PB: There are also a large number of significantly injured people, who are not amputees.
ED: And these injured people will need extensive rehabilitation.
Eric Doubt is the Executive Director of Healing Hands for Haiti. Visit their website to donate to this organization.
For a list of other reputable organizations working in Haiti consult the Canada Haiti Action Network.
Dr. Paul Boin ([email protected]) is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Windsor, founder of the Media Justice Project and is the research coordinator for the Haiti Media Research Project (If you’re interested in becoming involved in this media research project contact [email protected]). His forthcoming book “Media for the Public Mind: Creating a Democratic and Informative News Media” will be published by Fernwood Publishing in the Fall of 2010.
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