But Haiti has a special place in the heart of Dr. James B. Smith, a general surgeon at Colorado Surgery for Life in Pueblo who has been volunteering in the island nation since 2001. Smith and a team of medical and non-medical volunteers continue to return to Haiti to assist in medical operations. Immediately after the earthquake, Smith and his team took over an existing hospital but have since moved into their own clinic. In 2010, Smith founded Health4Haiti, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives and health of those affected by the earthquake.
Health4Haiti started out as a series of mission trips by members of Pueblo’s Ascension Episcopal Church and has grown to a medical center in the city of Gonaives, a large city in northwest Haiti. The center is staffed with a doctor and nurses year round. The organization relies on instruments donated by surgery centers in Pueblo and surrounding communities to stock its facility and tax-deductible donations from the community to pay their full time employees and cover the cost of medications.
Since the earthquake, Smith says that Haiti’s recovery has been very slow. “More people are getting housing, though,” says Smith. “When we first arrived, there were about 1.5 million people living in tents; today there are 600,000.” While conditions are improving, the need for aid is still there. Smith, along with 29 other individuals, traveled to Haiti last month for nine days to work at the clinic. “At the clinic we do gallbladder surgeries, hernias, breast cancer surgeries in addition to several amputations,” explains Smith.
The amount of gratitude Haitians have is what keeps Smith going back. “They’re proud and thankful we’ve come to help and have so much pride in what little they have,” he says. After traveling to Haiti around 20 times, Smith says there are certain stories that stick out in his memory. “A teenage girl came into our hospital after the quake with two broken legs and a broken arm,” he recalls. “Both of her parents were killed in the quake but she was smiling before going into surgery. She was happy we were there to help. She had a very resilient soul.”
Ben Massey is a first-time volunteer for Health4Haiti. Though having traveled all around the world, he had never volunteered in a nation that suffered from a natural disaster. “I’m most interested in meeting the people and seeing how they’ve handled it,” said Massey prior to the trip. He is the photographer, in addition to aiding in whatever way he can. “I think the earthquake brought attention to an already failing country that still needs help,” contends Massey.
The group, which will likely travel back to Haiti two or three more times in 2012, is seeking an experienced grant writer to help bolster its project fund. “Bigger organizations just give the money to the country and it never gets to the people who are really suffering,” states Smith. “I think this is the best form of aid to the country because we know the people are actually receiving it.”
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3 unCommon ways to help Haiti-
1) Vacation there. This may sound crazy too you, it did to me at first as well, but as someone who has been to Haiti twice and Hawaii three times in the last 18 months, the natural beauty of Haiti not only matches, but in many cases surpasses that of Hawaii. Once you get outside of the city of Port Au Prince and drive threw the mountains on your way to Jacmel the scenery is spectacular. The beaches are fantastic, the water is the beautiful Caribbean blue , the hotels are nice and the entire trip is affordable. World class Creole dinners, coffee, rum and great service. All of this and helping to spur on an economy that desperately needs it. You can find info for tours and vacations at www.voyageslumiere.com Jacqueline can help you plan the perfect trip whether it
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