First Person: The Adventure of a Lifetime
I won’t ever climb Mount Everest but going to Haiti was an adventure of a lifetime for me.
My husband, Bret A. Tobler DMD, has made many trips to Haiti to serve the people with his skill of dentistry. I have always stayed at home to take care of the office — and worry. This last February (2009) he did some fast talking and convinced me that if I ever wanted to accompany him this would be the trip. I was very hesitant and worried myself sick to the point that I almost backed out at the last minute.
As the Lift a Life team flew into Port-au-Prince all my anxiety left and I realized that this wasn’t about me. This trip was about serving the people who live in the mountains near Timo. They live without running or clean water, without electricity, without the opportunity to receive dental or medical care — and with the biggest hearts on the planet.
This little village was so honored that they were chosen to be the sight of our week-long clinic. They vacated their small and modest homes and their beds for us. They fed us three meals a day and cared for us like royalty. They opened their heart and homes not only to us but to the hundreds of people who flock to their little village for dental and medical care. Never have I met a more generous people.
We hiked down to Timo, 700 vertical feet and about 3 miles. With the help of villagers and their donkeys, we also packed in 50 bags of equipment and supplies. The villagers greeted us with great excitement, and although I spoke no Creole and they spoke no English it was easy to share our hope for a great week with each other.
The “Elder” of the village proudly showed the team how a 16 year-old boy used a broken pick axe, a sickle and a five gallon bucket with a rope tied to it to dig a new latrine (36 deep X 6 feet wide) for our convenience. It took him seven days of working all day to complete the work. He was so tickled with his accomplishment he just beamed as we went in and out all week. He would catch our eye and give us a thumbs up!
The villagers began lining up at 3 am on the first morning, and word spread quickly that the American doctors and dentists were there. Some people walked for five hours to see us, and the line never died down. The medical and dental teams treated over 400 people each day. Families were given vitamins and medication for conditions caused by poverty and malnutrition.
The dental procedures we performed were very basic, mostly fillings and extractions. It broke our hearts to see so many young children losing their permanent teeth because they were rotted below the gum line. We taught classes every day about brushing and flossing. We did fluoride treatments and every person received a new toothbrush kit.
There are so many stories I could tell about our week in Timo but the one I will never forget is the baby that was born in the clinic. A woman in labor in a village 2 hours walking distance away was being attended by a local midwife. The baby was not coming so it was decided that she would walk to the American doctors for help with the delivery. She arrived at 5 am and not wanting to take priority waited in line until her turn came at around 7 am. In triage she was asked, “When is your baby due?” She replied, “Now.” At this she was taken into a room and examined she was ready to deliver but struggled to push the baby out.
Two labor and delivery nurses were part of our team. It was clear to them what to do and after communicating with her and her mid-wife the baby was born safely. They taught the midwife how to use a bulb syringe to clear the baby’s mouth and nose so he could breathe. The midwife was thrilled at the knowledge and was sure he would save many babies that would have otherwise been lost. It was very exciting. Two hours after delivery they wrapped the baby up and she walked home. That is how courageous these people are.
There were a few children that needed more care than we were equipped to give. A couple of the doctors paid out of their own pockets for these children to be taken into Port-au-Prince to be seen in a children’s hospital for further treatment. The doctors were amazing.
On the last visit to the village (last year) it was clear to the dental team that in their absence crude dental procedures were being performed without any skill, anesthesia, or sterilization methods. They came up with the idea to teach a young, bright villager to be the village “dentist.” After much discussion with the “Elder” of the village, a man by the name of Guichard was chosen. The team taught him the basics of extracting teeth. He worked beside them for the week they were there. They left him with some simple instruments, anesthesia, and sterilization methods.
This year we were happy to see Guichard again and get his report of the last year. He had helped over 100 people. He had learned some English so he was better able to communicate with us. He also gave us the good news that he was accepted into dental school in Port-au-Prince. We are so proud of him! He would begin in the fall and had already approved another village “dentist” to replace him, Bebe. They, Guichard and Bebe, worked beside the dentist all week and learned the basics of caring for their fellow villagers. We focused a tremendous amount of time on prevention as we figured that they would have the most influence on young mothers caring for their children’s teeth. We resupplied and checked their equipment.
Another story I can’t help but tell is about a local girl that lives in Port-au-Prince and was ask to be one of our interpreters. Farah speaks excellent English, in fact she speaks Creole, French, English and Spanish. She was so helpful, we couldn’t have accomplished half of what we did without her. We quickly formed a bond with her. We found out that she was trying to come to school in the United States. After many phone calls and letters and much work on her part, we were able to sponsor her to come to Brigham Young University Idaho. We receive weekly emails from her and she is doing very well. She will be a great asset to her country. She is studying to be a medical doctor and wants to go back to Haiti when she is finished.
The night before the team departed, the Villagers put on a program in gratitude for the service and supplies they received. Here is what they told the tired humanitarians:
“If we had a blue sky, we would give it to you. If we had some stars, we would give them to you. If we had a beautiful garden, we would give it to you. If we had money, we would give it to you. But we do not. All we have is our love and our grateful hearts. We hope you will accept these and come and see us again.”
We were with a team of 22 wonderful people that had all sacrificed to be there. The love that was felt in this group towards Haiti was over whelming. On bus ride back to the airport, even though we were all exhausted, conversations centered around “How could we do this better next time?” “What supplies should we bring next time?” “ What tool could the people use to better their lives?” I saw a difference in people’s eyes. It was so fulfilling to complete such important work. We all realized that we are so blessed and it is our quest to bless others.
I am so glad that I mustered the courage to go. I realized all the more that there will never be a perfect time to serve. Life will always get in the way. We must make it a priority and leave room in our busy schedules to do good. It really cost SO little for us to do so much good.