New Volunteers…updates from the village

May 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm

May 2, 2011

Today my wife Alysha and I have finally made it to Bod Mer Limbe, a small fishing village on Haitiís north coast. Santo, the Haitian manager of the organization where we will be volunteering at, drives along the beach past mango and coconut trees, fishermen mending their nets, and a pick-up game of soccer. Pulling in at the guest house, we see a small island just offshore with a stretched-out shoreline and shady palm fronds.

Haiti, for all of its well-known ills, has a way of quickly growing on you. Even in the major cities were the roads are utter chaos, there is a method here that is attractive. I have even heard other visitors refer to it as charm.

For me, I knew that coming to Haiti would be different, but I did not expect to see a donkey wearing white dress pants and a rider in a pink tuxedo. Sparking any ideas for Rendezvous?
Things get really confusing when worlds start colliding. Everywhere you look, almost everyone has a cell phone. They are also really into Celine Dion, and gas trucks here play an ice-cream-truck melody of Titanicís ìMy Heart will go On.î One night we even stayed with a group of young Haitian men and women called Nouvelle Vie, where they taught us how to do Shanti Yoga in Sanscrit.

After all this mind shifting, we are sure looking forward to orientation tomorrow. It has been exciting getting here, but there is a sense that our trip has only just begun.

We will be working with Haiti Village Health, which is an organization that manages a medical clinic as wells as other projects that meet the communityís basic needs, such as pre-natal mobile outreach, immunizations, and clean water and sanitation.

From our window we can look out towards the postcard island of Isle Caramel. From the school next door we hear students singing. Santo tells us that we will be having fresh lobster for dinner and is arranging for some Voodoo dancing later tonight.

It feels great to receive such a warm welcome. We hope that with our six week stay we can be helpful to the organization, but also grow closer to and learn from the people here.

Edward Westerhuis is a filmmaker from Whitehorse and his wife, Alysha McFadden, is a public health nurse. Together they are in Bod Mer Limbe, Haiti for six weeks volunteering with Haiti Village Health (aka Sante Pou Yo). You can learn more about the organization or see blog updates at

May 10, 2011

Returning from the mayorís office on the back of a motorbike taxi, I try not to think of the thin wheels connecting with the large rocks and ruts that make up the road. Instead I yell over Dr. Tiffanyís shoulder to ask how she thinks our meeting went.

ìWell itís great to know that he has someone who can build wells and install pumps.î

This is a real breakthrough for us, as it is the first time we have heard of anyone being able to source the needed materials.

ìAnd if we can get the contractor to come out, that means we can put clean wells in Bod Mer Limbe, Booshi, Mango Yo, and Mon.î

She is referring to the villages surrounding her medical clinic Sante Pou Yo (Haitian Creol for ìHealth for Allî) on the north coast of Haiti. My wife Alysha and I are volunteering here for six weeks to assist the Haitian doctor, nurse, and staff to help improve the health of the local population.

Dr. Tiffany is the Canadian founder of Haiti Village Health, which manages the clinic and surrounding community development projects. She visiting from her home in Bermuda to check in with how things are operating, and to make sure Alysha and I are up to speed on our duties.

This includes everything from Alysha helping prepare a vaccine campaign to me meeting with the mayor to source materials for wells.

ìItís not enough to just treat illness, because health is much larger than access to medications,î Dr. Tiffany explains. ìIf we can prevent illness by providing basic needs such as clean water and clean toilets, we can make a big difference in the area.î

Only one village nearby has a pump. Other villages have wells that are either dried up, contaminated, or need to be treated with chlorine. Dr. Tiffany estimates that only 25% of people in the region have access to either clean or treated water. There are also very few latrines, some of which have become too contaminated to use due to Cholera.

Being in a country like Haiti, where problems can be so complex and overwhelming, it feels good to be around someone who is so clear minded and focussed. Haiti Village Health is a small NGO and likewise has to prioritize in order to make best use of its resources.

ìThe goal of our organisation is to provide these basic needs, so that we can have the biggest bang for our buck,î says Dr. Tiffany.

Our motorbike pulls up to a large section of the road where it is washed out and under half a foot of water. During the rainy season, access in and out of our village is difficult, as most people either walk or take motorbike taxis.

ìWhile Iím gone, keep bugging the mayor to fix this road. The people here need better.î

Road building as a form of health care? Not typically the way we think of it in Canada, but I guess Dr. Tiffany is not looking to just solve problems, she is here to prevent them.

Edward Westerhuis is a filmmaker from Whitehorse and his wife, Alysha McFadden, is a public health nurse. Together they are in Bod Mer Limbe, Haiti for six weeks volunteering with Haiti Village Health (aka Sante Pou Yo). You can learn more about the organization or see blog updates at

May 9th, 2011

ìI think her contractions are three minutes apart,î I say as we bring a pregnant woman to the clinic.

The Haitian doctor turns to the friend who brought her moments earlier. ìPlease go and get the midwife.î

Somehow I manage to be her doula, or birth coach, despite my limited Haitian Creole.

The women looks like she is 7 Ω months pregnant at most; we try to assess how far along she is, but we are not getting a clear answer.

The clinic at Haiti Village Health (HVH) is not typically used as a birth centre. Today we donít have any other choice, as HVHís truck is in for repairs. This is the only vehicle in Bod me Limbe and the surrounding villages and is often used as a makeshift ambulance. The only other way to take her to a hospital would be to call a motorcycle taxi, but that seems completely inappropriate at this point.

Luckily we have birth kits available, which are given to pregnant women during HVHís prenatal outreach clinics.

ìI see the headî Dr. Brinvert reports. This is all happening a lot faster than I had anticipated. Looking at my sun dress and sandals, I am feeling completely inadequate.

The woman in concentrated dedication focuses on her breathing and moments later delivers a healthy baby boy.

One of the United Nationsí Millennium Development Goals is to decrease maternal mortality by two thirds by 2015. HVH has integrated this into their strategic plan and are making significant strides to reach this goal within their region.

HVHís nurse provides prenatal mobile clinics to women surrounding Bod me Limbe, where they are assessed and referred to doctors if needed. HVH also provides mothers in their third trimester with a birth kit; the birth kit provides lifesaving equipment such as a sterile razor blade to cut the umbilical cord.

Most women in the Bas Limbe region only have access to traditional birth attendants, known in Creole as fanmsaj. HVH supports the fanmsaj, by providing transportation monthly to Cap Haitian for pertinent education sessions. The fanmsaj are very grateful for this extra support, the birth kits, and other needed items such as head lamps.

Considering the speed of this unexpected labour, I too am tremendously thankful for the kits.

While the mother is recovering, she asks me to hold her baby. She has a quick discussion with her friend and the fanmsaj who just arrived. ìYou will be his godmotherî she says with a warm smile.

Less than an hour after his birth, she walks back to her home in Bod me Limbe. I am happy because I know I will see them again. In the meantime, I just have to figure out what being a godmother means in Haiti.

Alysha McFadden is a public health nurse from Whitehorse and her husband, Edward Westerhuis, is a filmmaker. Together they are in Bod Mer Limbe, Haiti for six weeks volunteering with Haiti Village Health (aka Sante Pou Yo). You can learn more about the organization or see blog updates at

One Response to New Volunteers…updates from the village

  1. Sandra Peterson says:

    I am Edward’s aunt. I am completely amazed at their dedication and dream of coming back to Haiti to volunteer their talents and gifts. They are very special to us. God Bless, Sandy