KINGSTON – There are no formal ambulance services in Haiti’s Cité Soleil, and there is no 911 to call.
“When a child gets sick or there’s some kind of emergency it’s up to the parents to handle it,” says Aaron Sousa, the community coordinator at the St. John Ambulance Loyalist Branch. Easy access to medical care, even at the most basic level, is nil.
Last month Sousa spent 10 days in Haiti. He went to Cité Soleil with Kingston’s Tammy Babcock, founder of the charity Help Tammy Help Haiti, and there he taught a specific infant CPR program. Almost every day he had groups of 15 women, mothers and mothers-to-be, show up to learn CPR. By the end of the program, he had trained 105 women how to care for their infants in case of an emergency.
“Our hope was that we could teach some of these mothers some really, really basic things that they could do in an emergency to help keep their baby alive,” he says.
Since Haiti has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere, teaching mothers CPR is a very practical and lifesaving skill. He went over what to do when a child starts choking or stops breathing. He taught the women how to handle minor cuts and scrapes, and how to properly clean and bandage wounds.
“We wanted to give a lot of these babies one of the best chances they had, and the mothers, the best chance that they had to help their kids,” he said.
Sousa and Babcock have been friends for about a decade. Over the years he’s heard the countless stories Babcock has told about the work she’s doing in Cité Soleil.
“She’s working in the poorest of the poorest areas,” he says. “That is an area the Canadian government recommends that you do not go.”
He’s also heard stories about the people on the ground who are helping to sustain the projects Babcock invests in.
“They’re very welcoming,” he says. “They made me feel like part of the family right off the bat. And were really appreciative of the help that we were able to give when we were there.”
The clinic Sousa worked out of was a secured, walled compound Babcock’s charity helped build. And the work he did was an extension of the First Aid for Peace program, an initiative Babcock started that put 10 people from six rival gangs in the same room. Together they learned how to clean and pack bullet and knife wounds.
The earthquake that struck Haiti happened three years ago, in 2010, and a lot of money has flowed to the country since then to help them rebuild.
But “if you hadn’t looked and said ‘There was an earthquake three years ago,’ you would’ve just imagined it had happened a week before,” Sousa says. “The rebuilding is really, really slow. There’s still lots and lots of rubble everywhere. There’s still way too many people living in temporary tents.”
Some of the areas in the capital of Port-au-Prince are brand new. But as Sousa witnessed, the work is far from done.
St. John Ambulance donated about $800 worth of infant Actars – training mannequins – for future training in the clinic and more than $2,000 worth of first aid supplies and first aid kits. To make sure the program can be self-sustaining, Sousa trained a nurse who lives in the area how to teach the program.
Sousa says he has no immediate plans to go back to Haiti, but he’d definitely like to return to see how the program has developed and how it can be improved.