September 24, 2020
By Janice Biehn
(with files from Renaud Thomas, Community Coordinator/Manager Rayjon Share Care Haiti)
In Haiti, organized crime has left people in poorer neighbourhoods living in a state of fear, particularly the most vulnerable people such as pregnant women, children, disabled people, the elderly and the ailing.
COVID-19 has further complicated the situation. Because the Haitian people in general do not trust the government, they tend to associate the pandemic with politics. Instead of following the recommendations of the government, they hid themselves, avoiding going to hospitals even if they were sick.
At the same time, most hospitals in the country closed their doors because they did not have adequate supplies to treat people infected with COVID-19. Bénicie Pierre, CEO of the Saint-Laurent Healthcare Centre of Barbe, planned to close the centre because of insufficient rooms, lack of masks, and lack of medications. But she recognized that pregnant women and sick babies would be at risk without support or intervention.
Pierre is a strong and capable leader within her home community of the village of Barbe, and also as a leader within the Haitian Women’s Federation. When local NGO Rayjon Share Care Haiti (with Canadian office in Sarnia, Ont.), learned of the centre’s plight, it started looking for funding partners to help it stay open and educate people about COVID-19, encourage them to wear masks to protect them from being infected, and to find more rooms to receive the patients and appropriate medication.
PWRDF supported Rayjon Share Care Haiti (RSCH) with a grant of $10,000.
The Hospital Saint-Nicolas organized a free training session in July 2020 on COVID-19. Pierre and the local municipal government group CASEC (Conseil d’Administration de la Section Communale) attended, as well as three women from the Haitian Women’s Federation and the Barbe Healthcare Center (transportation and food were covered by the grant).
The goal was to follow the workshop with a series of conferences in churches and schools, but when the Ministry of Public Health announced the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in region, the women changed strategy. They drove a pickup truck with a sound system around the town and into remote areas with megaphones to tell people about the pandemic and how to prevent being infected.
Distribution of face masks
Following the education campaign, the women’s federation and the healthcare centre distributed face masks in the communities, prioritizing high-risk individuals with widespread community contact, such as motorcycle drivers, patients coming to the centre for treatment, breastfeeding women and elderly people.
Improvement of the Barbe dispensary/clinic building
One of the constraints of the Saint-Laurent Healthcare Centre was lack of patient rooms, especially a maternity room. Pierre insisted on improving and expanding the building, including putting on a new roof, stuccoing the walls, installing doors and building a fence around the alley.
Overseeing a construction project in just one month, in the middle of pandemic, interrupted by a hurricane, and complicated by regional gang activity, required all hands on deck. Other local organizations in the village were astonished to see how fast the centre was finished. They are now more aware of their strength and believe in organization and planning. For the next project, they know they will be able to be even more effective.
Pregnant women have new, clean room in which to give birth, the healthcare workers have more space to welcome sick people, and they have an expanded dispensary.
The team now plans to put gutters on the new roof to collect rainwater into a new garden. That project will be financed by the community and the healthcare centre.
The efficiency with which these partners jumped into action with preventive education, and then successfully expanded and improved the clinic and health care services during a time of crisis, did not go unnoticed. RSCH has received multiple requests for partnership from other local groups who are now wanting to work with such a strong partner.
Members of the Women’s Federation were motivated by the project, seeing first-hand what can be accomplished when partners commit to supporting one another. “They became aware of their strength,” says Renaud Thomas, Community Coordinator of Manager Rayjon Share Care Haiti. “Not because of Rayjon but because of our own attitudes. It’s a privilege, it’s an opportunity for all of us to learn.”