Haiti Update: News from Union's Relief Team
Union College’s fourth Haiti relief team returns to Lincoln
Updated on March 23, 2010
After spending a week in Haiti, a team of 34 volunteers connected to Union College returned to Lincoln early Saturday morning. The team, which consisted of Union College students, faculty, parents and medical professionals, spent the week staffing public health clinics, assisting staff at the Adventist Hospital of Haiti, and building up infrastructure for volunteer housing facilities.
The trip included a day-long bus ride over rough roads into the rural north part of the country near Cap-Haitien to operate a mobile clinic at a donated residence. The trip took much longer than expected, so the group only stayed for one day before returning to the Port-au-Prince area. The rest of trip volunteers worked in the local public health clinic and also provided basic health care and fun for children at nearby orphanages. Several of the medical professionals spent most of the week working in the Adventist Hospital of Haiti.
Jason Warren, a senior nursing major, found the experience to be good training for his life calling, to ultimately work in a developing country. “We did a lot of clinics, taking blood pressure and vitals, and interviewing patients through an interpreter,” he said.
Brittany Nunez arrived in Haiti just two weeks after the earthquake with Union College’s second relief team to the decimated country. In Haiti again over spring break, she saw people were returning to normal lives. “But what is normal?” asked the senior international rescue and relief major. “Normal is walking barefoot through the trashy street and buying food off the ground at a dirty market where dogs and cats wander through everything. It’s finding a tarp to tack up to fix leak in your tent.”
Nunez found that even among so much need, helping even a few made a difference. “When I came back the first time it was hard to see school work as meaningful,” she said. “I jumped at the chance to go back because I wanted to make a difference in even a few people’s lives.”
Kylie Schnell, a junior education major felt called to go to Haiti since the first images of the quake crossed television screens in January. “’I’ve got to go to Haiti,’ I told myself. I wanted to love those kids and hug them and tell them it will be okay.”
Without IRR or medical training, Schnell did not go on the early trips to Haiti. But the time frame of the trip, originally planned as a mission trip to Belize, allowed more students to go. “We were able to do a lot with children, which was good” explained John Thomas, assistant director of the international rescue and relief program who led all four Union teams to Haiti. “A lot of adults in the northern area had never seen anything done for children before and they were very impressed.”
Part of the group stayed at base during the trip north and built bunk beds for sleeping quarters used by volunteers at the clinic, hospital and other nearby aid organizations. During the rainy season the ground in the tent sleeping quarters stays quite damp, so volunteers appreciate being able to sleep on a dry bed above the ground.
Like the other volunteers, Nunez knows that Haiti’s problems are far from over. “We can help with a stomach ache and headache,” she explained. “But when we leave, the chronic problems are going to resurface. They need long term health care and so much more.”
Union College sends fourth team to Haiti
Updated on March 12, 2010
A fourth Union College team departed for Haiti yesterday to spend nearly a week in the earthquake ravaged country. Comprised of 34 students, staff and parents, the team expects to work in a clinic located near the Adventist Hospital of Haiti and two mobile clinics. At the request of Eddy Delaleu, the Haitian physician who operates the clinics, the college chose to assemble a medical team to work in Haiti over spring break instead of sponsoring the originally scheduled mission trip to Belize.
The college recruited several medical professionals to make the trip, including some faculty and parents. Leroy Wombold, a general surgeon, decided to go to Haiti with his son Michael, a junior pre-med major, because “of the stuff I saw on television--like a kid getting his leg amputated without any medication,” he said. “I just had to go.” He brought two carloads of medical supplies donated by his hospital in Rolla, Missouri.
The spring break time frame allowed more students to make the trip without missing classes. “Haiti is a place in need and I’m excited to do whatever I can to help,” said Jason Warren, a senior nursing major who hoped to help in Haiti since the first team left in mid-January.
Jeffrey Schall, a senior international rescue and relief major from California, arrived in Haiti just one week after the quake with Union’s first international rescue and relief team. “As soon as I left I knew I wanted to go back,” he explained. An advisory predicting another major earthquake meant Schall's group had to leave the country unexpectedly without saying goodbye to their new Haitian friends.
In addition to providing vital medical care, some of the team plan to reach out to the children. “No kid deserves to go through this kind of experience,” said Kylie Schnell, a junior education major. “They need to feel important and loved.” Using crayons, coloring books, stickers and simple crafts, Schnell and other team members hope to connect with the children at the mobile clinics.
The team, under the direction of John Thomas, expects to arrive in Haiti today and will return to Lincoln on March 19.
Third Haiti Relief Team Returns To Nebraska
Updated on February 19, 2010
After five days in Haiti, most of the eleven-person international rescue and relief team is back in Nebraska. Eight students and instructor John Thomas returned to classes yesterday while IRR graduate Doug Gatz stayed in Haiti to continue helping with relief efforts. Staff member Aaron Kent flew to Nicaragua to join the IRR students and staff training there this semester.
While in Haiti, the Union group continued working with ACTS World Relief, an aid agency based in Florida. The group volunteered in a clinic located across the street from the Adventist hospital near Port-au-Prince and in mobile clinics spread throughout the city. Because of their medical training, the students assisted doctors and nurses with examinations and procedures and managed medical supplies for the clinics.
When the Haitian government called for fasting and prayer over the weekend to commemorate the one-month anniversary of the January 12 earthquake, frequent parades and celebrations filled the streets. “As soon as anybody heard singing, people would just rush out of everywhere and join in,” said Alicia Archer, a senior nursing major. “We didn’t open any of the clinics because the people said they would rather have their day of celebration and remembrance than use a hospital.” The group spent the weekend restocking medication, playing with children at a nearby orphanage and touring some of downtown Port-au-Prince.
Even as most of the initial earthquake related injuries have been treated and the medical teams now deal with many other medical issues, the lack of food and water remains a serious problem.
“Every evening Dr. Eddy, the local doctor who ran the clinic, took a group of us out to distribute the food [prepared by volunteers who fed hospital and clinic staff and patients] in the tent cities around Port-au-Prince,” said Archer. She and other team saw desperation as hungry people lined up for food—sometimes in an orderly fashion and sometimes pushing in on the volunteers in a dangerous mob. “It’s easy to think that these people have no respect,” Archer continued. “But they are just trying to survive.”
Pierre Omeler, a junior IRR major, was amazed by the spirit of the Haitian people. The son of a Haitian immigrant, Omeler grew up in Haitian communities in the U.S. and learned to speak Haitian Creole. He visited Haiti several times as a boy and has many close relatives in the country—all of whom survived the quake. “It was amazing that even though the people are in a very desperate situation, they take the time to help each other,” he said. “I personally might be a little more selfish if I were in a situation like that.” He remembered some Haitian translators offering him a coconut. As he drained the sweet milk from the shell, he noticed that the three Haitians shared another coconut, each taking a turn to drink. “I felt really bad,” he said. “After that I began to observe that people were sharing everything they had.”
Union College is currently making preparations to send a larger team to Haiti over the college’s spring break in mid-March.
Union College Haiti Relief Team Spends Time At Orphanage
Updated on February 16, 2010
When the ACTS World Relief clinics closed over the weekend at the request of the Haitian government, the team visited a nearby orphanage to play with the children and provide basic medical care where needed.
“The country declared three days of fasting and prayer and asked all businesses and services be closed,” explained team leader John Thomas.
The team enjoyed their time with the children on Saturday. “I made 285 paper airplanes,” John laughed.
On Sunday, the team spent most of the day restocking and sorting medicine and other supplies in preparation to reopen the clinics today. They also took time to visit some the heavily damaged areas of the Port-au-Prince.
The group plans to start the journey to Nebraska today with a bus trip to the Dominican Republic to catch a flight back to the U.S.
Union College Haiti Relief Team Helps Provide Basic Medical Care
Updated on February 11, 2010
The third Union College international rescue and relief team arrived in Haiti late Wednesday, and after enduring torrential downpours and a leaky tent, the team set to work this morning to provide basic medical care to the residents of Port-au-Prince. Some of the team helped medical staff in a clinic set up across the street from the Adventist Hospital of Haiti, while the rest of the team helped in mobile clinics spread throughout the city.
“They are helping see patients, running the pharmacy, all kinds of things,” said team leader John Thomas. Operated by ACTS World Relief, the clinics provide basic primary care so that the hospitals can focus on more serious medical needs.
The team arrived half a day later than scheduled when a snowstorm forced them to reroute. After an unplanned stay in Miami on Tuesday night, the group arrived in Haiti late Wednesday aboard a bus from the Dominican Republic.
After being stranded in New Jersey by the storm on Tuesday and Wednesday, staff member Aaron Kent continued on to the Dominican Republic today.
Union College to Send Third IRR Team to Haiti
Posted on February 8, 2010
Union College’s third international rescue and relief team will depart for Haiti tomorrow. After a flight to Santo Domingo, Dominican Repubic, the 11-person team will take a bus to a small town near the Haitian border before continuing to Port-au-Prince on Wednesday morning.
The team expects to work in a clinic in one of the large tent camps that is now home to thousands of earthquake victims.
The group of ten students, graduates and staff includes Pierre Omeler, the son of a Haitian immigrant and a junior IRR major at Union. Fluent in Hatian Creole, one of Haiti’s official languages, Omeler grew up in Haitian communities in the northeastern United States. This third team will be led by John Thomas and IRR staff member Aaron Kent who will accompany students Alicia Archer, Mindy Wenberg, Rebecca Thompson, James Fernando, Beth Mason, Josh Few, Chris Daum and recent graduate Doug Gatz.
Second IRR Haiti Team Finds Inspiration in Haitian People
Posted on February 3, 2010
After five days in Haiti, four returning international rescue and relief students found inspiration in the resilient spirit of the people who had lost so much. “What caught me by surprise was the joy of the people,” said senior Daniel Rogers. “Even in the midst of their pain, they smiled, they laughed and helped however they could.”
The team learned quickly to be flexible. “We were expecting to work in the hospital,” explained senior David Skau. “We ended up spending two days doing body recovery.” Although the team had the help of a bulldozer part of the time, “it was slow work because we were hampered by the lack of heavy equipment to move the concrete and rebar,” he said.
The group spent Friday and Saturday searching a collapsed six-story apartment building for the bodies of family members known to be under the rubble.
“Body recovery was definitely a new and unpleasant experience,” said Rogers. “But we were able to bring closure to some families.”
Even with their sometimes-grisly task, the team drew inspiration from the Haitians around them. “Holly was an amazing woman,” said senior nursing/IRR major Joe Galan of the woman who owned the destroyed building. “She buried her husband and son in the same day, yet she was committed to finding the 18 people still buried in the building.”
Senior IRR major Brittney Nunez agreed. “She had a house in the country. She could have escaped the misery of the city, but she chose to stay and help in any way she could.” Holly would not let the team leave before feeding them a meal of rice, stew and orange juice.
Some of the students spent two days working in mobile health clinics helping doctors and nurses dispense basic care and medicine to the people in the city slums. “It was very rudimentary care,” said Galan, “cleaning wounds and treating minor issues. Anything more serious we referred to the hospital.”
Nunez felt her greatest blessing came from the children. “We took time to play with the kids,” she said. “They smiled and played even with the destruction all around them.”
She saw that same spirit in the adults. “People came up to us to thank us for helping Haiti and offer to carry our bags,” said Nunez. “They knew we could help them do things they couldn’t do for themselves, so they wanted to help us however they could.”
The four students resumed classes today while team leader John Thomas made a stop in Miami to recover some equipment before returning to Nebraska this afternoon. Team member and IRR graduate Jonathan Hoewing remained in Haiti to continue helping with relief effort and fellow graduate Garrett Brass flew straight home to Colorado.
The IRR program is currently considering sending another team of students to Haiti next week.
IRR Team to Leave Haiti Today
Posted on February 1, 2010
The Union College international rescue and relief team is schedule to fly out of Haiti at noon today and will return to Nebraska on Tuesday afternoon.
The team spent the majority of their time in Port-au-Prince helping at the Adventist hospital of Haiti and searching a collapsed multistory building for bodies of people known to be in the building at the time of the quake.
To minimize the amount of class time students miss, the International Rescue and Relief Program is currently exploring the possibility of sending a third team to Haiti over winter break. In addition, a spring break trip, previously planned for Belize, will give more Union College students an opportunity to help with recovery efforts in Haiti.
Union College IRR Team Searches Rubble
Posted on January 30, 2010
The second Union College international rescue and relief team arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, around noon on Thursday after a long bus ride from the Dominican Republic.
John Thomas, the team leader, reported that the team spent Friday searching the rubble of a destroyed multistory building near the Adventist Hospital of Haiti for bodies of people known to be in the building at the time of the quake. Today, some of the students expect to volunteer at a local orphanage, while the rest plan to continue searching buildings.
While resources remain scarce in the area and the team spent the night in tents near the search site, they do have access to restroom facilities at the nearby Adventist hospital.
Second IRR Team Departs for Haiti
Posted on January 27, 2010
Union College’s second international rescue and relief team left for Miami yesterday to meet up with team leader John Thomas. The team flew to the Dominican Republic this afternoon and will make the final leg of the trip to Port-au-Prince by bus early tomorrow morning.
According to Thomas, the team will work at Adventist Hospital of Haiti, assisting medical staff as they continue to treat earthquake-related injuries.
The second team includes IRR seniors David Skau, Daniels Roger and Brittany Nunez and nursing/IRR senior Joe Galan. They are joined by two recent IRR program graduates, Garrett Brass, a youth corrections officer in Colorado, and Jonathan Hoewing, a paramedic in Lincoln.
Union College IRR Team Returns To Lincoln
Posted on January 25, 2010
The smiling students, fresh off a plane from Florida, walked into the Eppley Airfield terminal wearing shorts and flip-flops despite Nebraska’s sub-freezing temps. But even as the smiles on the faces of four Union College international rescue and relief students reflected the blessing they received from nearly a week of serving in earthquake ravaged Haiti, their hearts were heavy at the thought of the tasks left undone.
The four students left Lincoln on January 17 and spent the week in Haiti doing search and rescue and assisting physicians at the Adventist Hospital of Haiti. But even though they witnessed so much pain and suffering, “the worst part is leaving,” said junior Sarah Sexton. The group was forced to leave late Friday night, one day earlier than scheduled, amid predictions of more serious after shocks.
Sexton felt a connection with the Haitians who had lost so much yet were so willing to help each other and the foreign aid workers. “I wish I could have gotten to know them better,” she said. “They are great people.” She struggled because she could not do more. “It’s hard because you can’t run after everyone who needs help because there are so many.”
Ginger Hany, a senior who, like all IRR students, has emergency medical technician training and a variety of other survival and rescue certifications, learned many new things helping doctors in the understaffed hospital. “I learned a lot in a couple of days,” she said. “I did everything from searching to treating wounds to changing IVs to handing out medication.”
The students had to ride out many after shocks that rattled the hospital during their stay. The widely reported 6.1 after shock shook the hospital as they slept Wednesday morning. “People were screaming and jumping out of second story windows,” Sexton remembered. The hospital building didn’t sustain significant damage in the tremors and the team learned to remain calm during subsequent earthquakes even as people around them panicked.
This was a key message the team shared with a new team of seven Union College IRR students, graduates and staff who plan to leave for Haiti on Tuesday. The groups met together Sunday evening so the returning team could brief their fellow students on what to expect. The bottom line: get used to the after shocks and be willing to do anything.
John Thomas, assistant IRR director and team leader in Haiti, stayed in Miami to make arrangements for the second team to travel to the devastated country. He will meet the second team in south Florida on Tuesday.
Even though Hany and Sexton, along with fellow team members Jeffrey Schall and Justin Woods, subsisted on “squeezy beans” (refried beans in a bag), tortillas and granola bars they had packed with them, nobody wanted to leave. “I wish I could have stayed,” said Sexton. “They are going to need so much more.”
“I would go back in a heartbeat,” agreed Hany. “It was hard to leave. It was amazing to be able to help people.”
Union College Haiti Relief Team Back in U.S.
Posted on January 23, 2010
Union College’s Haiti relief team arrived in Orlando, Fla., early this morning aboard a US Air Force jet. After spending today in Florida, the team will fly back to Nebraska on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the International Rescue and Relief Program continued to prepare another team of IRR students and recent IRR graduates to leave for Haiti in a few days. John Thomas will to remain in Florida to coordinate logistics for the second team and plans meet them there early next week before making the trip back to the island.
Additional Tremors Haven't Rattled Union Team
Posted on January 22, 2010
Even after several smaller aftershocks shook Port-au-Prince on Thursday, the Union College International Rescue and Relief team is still doing well, reported team leader John Thomas on Friday morning. The team will continue to assist the medical staff of the Adventist Hospital of Haiti today as they treat the injured.
The hospital building remains stable and Thomas and the four international rescue and relief students have moved in doors and slept on the third floor of the facility for the last two nights.
Back in Lincoln, another team of Union College IRR students have begun preparations to leave for Haiti. The first team is scheduled to arrive back in Lincoln early next week, and the second seven-person team plans to leave for Haiti on Tuesday. Because of flight restrictions into Haiti, the schedule and details are still tentative.
Union Students Continue Working at Adventist Hospital
Posted on January 21, 2010
In a short telephone call on Thursday morning, John Thomas, Union College’s International Rescue and Relief team leader, indicated that the group is in good spirits and plans to continue working today at Adventist Hospital of Haiti.
Students spent Wednesday assisting the medical staff at the hospital as they care for the many injured seeking medical attention. “I’m very proud of our students,” said Thomas of the four international rescue and relief majors with him in Haiti. “They are willing to do anything. They do it quickly and well.”
Thomas says that they are hopeful to get access to water today for washing and bathing. The team hasn’t had access to water other than the drinking water they brought with them since they arrived on Monday evening.
Initial reports from Thomas on Tuesday night seemed to indicate that the Adventist Hospital of Haiti sustained heavy structural damage, but this morning he confirmed that the hospital is functioning and sustained only minor damage in the quake.
Union Team Feels Aftershocks
Posted on January 20, 2010
The Union College international rescue and relief students in Haiti felt the ground rumble at 6:03 as an aftershock measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale shook Port-au-Prince this morning. John Thomas, the team leader, called back to Lincoln via a borrowed cell phone early this morning to report that the Union College team members where not hurt in the quake.
According to Thomas, the Adventist Hospital of Haiti is still functional, and the Union College students will assist medical personnel conducting surgeries on the many injured.
Relief Team Assists Search and Rescue Efforts
Posted on January 19, 2010
The five-person team of staff and students from Union College’s International Rescue and Relief Program spent Tuesday searching through rubble in the vicinity of Adventist Hospital of Haiti in Port-au-Prince, reported John Thomas, the team leader. Thomas, the assistant director of Union’s International Rescue and Relief Program, reported via a borrowed cell phone on Tuesday evening that the hospital, although operational, sustained damage. Assisted by a search and rescue dog and handler, they found bodies but no survivors.
On Wednesday, Thomas expects to resume search and rescue operations while the four students, all certified emergency medical technicians, will assist surgeons at the hospital in treating the many injured.
The team took enough supplies to remain self-sufficient for several days, and after spending Monday night on the floor in the busy Port-au-Prince airport, plan to spend tonight in an open field near the hospital.
“You train and try to be prepared for everything,” said senior IRR student Daniel Rogers, an alternate for the Haiti relief team. “But you still have to be flexible and expect the unexpected.”
Relief Team Prepares for New Assignment
Posted on January 18, 2010
As the Union College International Rescue and Relief team waited in south Florida for a flight to Haiti Sunday night, team leader John Thomas received a new assignment.
Originally, the team was asked to help develop relief centers that would act as bases of operations for future relief teams. According to Thomas, associate director of Union’s International Rescue and Relief program, the team will now be training and directing about 100 volunteers working with a rescue dog and handler in search and rescue efforts on destroyed areas of the island.
"Many of the volunteers do not have any experience in search and rescue so our students have been put in charge and will train the group on site,” Thomas explained.
Since they received the new assignment after arriving in South Florida, the team spent the last twelve hours gathering search and rescue supplies such as ropes, pulleys and harnesses. “This is baptism by fire,” Thomas said. “But this is what we have trained for and we are preparing for the challenge ahead.”
Thomas expects the team to depart for Haiti on a chartered jet this afternoon.
Union to send relief team to Haiti
Posted on Friday, January 16, 2010
For Justin Woods, a senior in Union College’s International Rescue and Relief Program, helping people runs in the family. His parents spent years working for relief agencies in developing nations including a year in Haiti when Woods was a boy. “My father has worked in situation like they are facing right now in Haiti,” he explained. “When I heard about the earthquake, I was really interested in going, more so because I know the place.”
Now Woods will get his chance. On Sunday, January 17, he will join a five-person team of International Rescue and Relief students and staff departing from Union College to help set up relief centers in earthquake-devastated areas of Haiti.
According to John Thomas, the administrative director of Union’s International Rescue and Relief program who will lead the team, the students will work in conjunction with ACTS World Relief and World Vision to set up relief centers that will function as bases of operation for relief workers in the area.
The level of devastation makes planning this trip difficult. Aid workers can't risk being a burden on sparse resources. “We’ll have to be completely self-contained,” he explained. “We’ll even have to pack our own water.” The group plans to fly from Lincoln to Miami on Sunday and then stock up on supplies before the final leg of the trip into Haiti on Monday.
Union College’s International Rescue and Relief degree program is designed for adventurous students who want to serve around the world through disaster and humanitarian relief. All certified as emergency medical technicians, each student must also complete training in wilderness survival, search and rescue, swift water rescue and high angle rescue and other emergency preparedness skills. Another group of IRR students and faculty are currently in Nicaragua for a scheduled semester abroad, working with a medical team to bring health care to isolated villages and towns. This specialized training combined with general education course work gives graduates a specialized degree with an emphasis in one of seven areas including business, pre-professional and counseling.
Woods believes that much of his IRR training will prove useful. “We’ve taken critical incident stress management and psychological first aid,” he said. “That will play a key role in helping the people cope with what they have experienced.”
Ginger Hany, a senior from Washington, Sarah Sexton, a junior from Oregon, and Jeffrey Schall, a senior from California, will round out Union’s team. “These students have within their nature a desire to help people in difficult circumstances,” said Thomas. “That is what their degree is leading them to and that is why we are going to Haiti.”