Editor’s note: Dinah Waldsmith Dittman is national director for community engagement and philantrophy at Kaiser Permanente. She and Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, senior vice president for community benefit, health policy and research, are traveling to Haiti for the opening a new Ministry of Public Health and Population building in Port-au-Prince. This is her second dispatch.
Sunday Feb. 24
This is our first day in Haiti, joining other folks whose organizations are partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help improve public health in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people and displaced almost 2 million more.
As we flew from Miami to Port-au-Prince, it was sinking in for me that this trip is really, finally happening. The airplane announcements were in French, and then English, and I heard a smattering of Haitian Creole spoken among my fellow passengers.
This afternoon, we were met at the airport by U.S. Embassy staff and driven (with lots of horn honking and going around stopped vehicles) to a hotel in nearby Petion-Ville, where the Haiti Delegation is staying. We were welcomed to a reception and dinner at the home of Pamela White, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti. White has spent her U.S. Department of State career working in developing countries confronting issues similar to those that Haiti faces – infrastructure, sanitation, hunger, poverty and health. She is originally from Maine, and has a very candid and practical approach as to what is working and what’s not. She’s been in her post for about 6 months, but is very clearly a quick study and a results-oriented person.
Our colleagues in the Haiti delegation come from a wide variety of backgrounds and training. They come from U.S. government agencies, humanitarian aid organizations, and private companies. The group includes nurses, military officers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, business managers, and scientists. Many have worked in developing countries, some had worked in Haiti many years ago and returned to help with the recovery and rebuilding after the earthquake. It’s an impressive group, and it was nice to have an evening that included getting to know each other a little and finding the connections that we didn’t know we had. (Several of the Haitian guests told Ray Baxter that they had family members who work for Kaiser Permanente!)
At the reception, I met a woman named Marilyne, who is Haitian and works for J/P HRO, the humanitarian relief organization that Sean Penn founded to help with disaster relief rebuilding in Haiti. She talked about how the focus of their work is to help pay to create emergency and primary care clinics in the neighborhoods affected by the earthquake, and also to pay for removal of rubble in the places where people had homes. She reflected that people wanted to build back in the places that they were accustomed to living, that they feel connected to the place that they are accustomed to calling home, and they don’t want to move (or be moved) elsewhere. Such a familiar refrain….
Monday, we meet Florence Guillaume, MD, who leads the Ministry of Public Health and Population (Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population or MSPP), and the people who built the building that she and her staff will be moving into. We’ll take lots of photos!