As we wiped the sweat from our brows and inhaled the 360-degree panoramic view of the Haitian mountains, we thought to ourselves, “Wow, our scrubs pants just got a little more worldly.” As nursing students in clinical, we are required to wear our school uniform. Our typical uniform includes, navy blue scrubs pants, a white scrub top with the Hopkins patch, and closed toed shoes. I am sure the JHUSON did not foresee the struggles of the cotton scrubs while hiking through mountains and ravines during the rainy season in Haiti. Our group separated into two groups for the day: one that would set out on a long hike to a small village to conduct interviews and the other to stay in the clinic and work directly with Dr. Wolf and Cherlie.
The hiking group consisted of Emily H., Nicolette, Caitlin, Tristin and Grace. Two translators, James and Jean, and Gemy, one of the main community engagement staff for Friends for Health in Haiti (FHH), fortunately accompanied us. If you could see us before our hike to a small village, we looked pretty good considering the melting humidity and lack of conditioner. We then set out for a 2-hour hike, one way, by foot from the main clinical in Gatineau. Not only did we make it in record time (less than 1.5-hours), but also we were able to take a small break before starting our interviews. We were surprised when Gemy pulled a basket of coconuts from the church where we were surveying. The basket held a young coconut for each of us. If anyone has never seen a fresh young coconut, it looks nothing like what we find in the grocery store. It is about 3 times as big with a yellow, fibrous covering. Gemy pulled out a machete and starting slashing the large yellow fruit. We didn’t know where this activity was heading until we saw the bright white and juicy flesh of the coconut. Gemy crafted each coconut to allow drinking of the milk and then cut it to enjoy the flesh inside, he even made us spoons from the shell to assist us in indulging. This was extremely thoughtful considering how much we need the rehydration. Coconut water has amazing electrolyte and fluid rehydration effects and was graciously given. We sucked down our coconuts and enjoyed the view.
At first we wondered if the community knew we were coming. No one was around other than our small group. Until approximately 11:30, we were just waiting. Then, like a flock, men, women and children came into the church to welcome us. We had a small prayer and, before we knew it, the small church benches were full. We introduced our project and ourselves. Each of us said our names in Kreyol and everyone enthusiastically tried to repeat back our names. We have never seen such excitement about sanitation!
Our next step was to assemble two groups each with a translator, two students and a community member to interview. Not only did we find that people walked hours to meet us, but that they had a wide range of water and sanitation knowledge. We were pleasantly surprised at the wide range of information they had about water treatment and storage. Since cholera has hit Haiti so hard and many of the interviewees had lost at least one person close to them from the bacteria, almost all expressed concerns about safe water, waterborne illnesses and latrines. We were able to explore more deeply about how they treat water (including aquatabs, Clorox and boiling) and where they store it. Many of these questions give us an idea of what the community needs and what their current resources are. We were able to crank out over 40 interviews though we kept wishing we had more time to talk about their ideas about what can be done to help.
By the end, we could hear the rain clanking on the tin roof of the church. We knew we’d get wet. However, we didn’t realize the elevation changes causes some major mud pits. Needless to say, we took a few digs into the mud. Our lovely Nico was going so intensely that her poor pants even ripped because of her long leg stretch to a non-muddy area. That’s commitment! Thank goodness the pants are double seamed! Marching back into the clinic after some wonderful good samaritans offered directions on the trail, we were covered in mud but felt hugely successful. The other half of the group was waiting on our arrival and we hopped in the truck to head back to Jeremie where a wonderful dinner awaited (along with a much needed shower!!).