My Trip To Haiti

In early February of 2012, while attending a memorial service in Pacific Palisades California, I was introduced to Dr. Carmel Pradel by a mutual colleague. Upon learning of my occupation, and without much hesitation, she asked me if I would consider joining her on a missionary trip to Haiti. Just as quickly, I replied yes. I had never before gone on a missionary trip but had always wanted to be a part of one. Shortly after our first meeting Dr. Pradel passed on my information to the person who she said was responsible for the trips to Haiti. A gentleman by the name of Joe Domond. Soon after, I began receiving emails from Joe and quickly learned how passionate and dedicated he was about giving back and helping his fellow Haitians, and as a result I became even more convinced that I needed to do whatever I possibly could, to assist in that cause. Later on, that year, I was invited to a fund raising event, where I would eventually meet Joe and Rita Domond, along with several persons who had participated on previous trips to Haiti with the Domonds. Watching photographs and listening to testimonials from these individuals further solidified my commitment to participate, and I was anxious to go!

I am a dental hygienist practicing in two prestigious private offices – one in Beverly Hills and the other in Toluca Lake, California, both specializing in periodontics. I shared with both offices the plan for my missionary trip to Haiti, and was quickly assured by my doctors and office managers that I would have their complete support and would be provided with any and all supplies needed to perform my duties. As I shared with my patients my plans for my trip- I was overwhelmed with the response of these people who wanted and insisted on helping anyway they could. Some donated cash, clothing and numerous items for the Haitian people. One patient offered to pay for my airfare while another offered to pay for my expenses while in Haiti. Often I would be called away from my patients by front office personnel because someone was delivering gift items for me to take on my trip for the girls at an orphanage. I was moved many times, by their kindness and generosity.

I travelled to Haiti with three large suitcases over-stuffed with items for an all-girls orphanage and with the dental supplies needed for work. Items provided for by my patients, co-workers, family members and friends. It felt good to give.

The hospitality of the Haitian people was warm and genuine. We gathered at the home of Joe and Rita in Port-au-Prince and rapidly became acquainted with each other. Gail- the sole pharmacist, two physicians-Monica and Diane, two general dentists – Tom and LaRon, one oral surgeon – Carmel, two occupational therapists – Bibi and Elizabeth, two registered nurses, Rita and Val, Ban – a college student from Duke University, several local volunteers, and myself – the dental hygienist. We stayed one night in Port Au Prince, awoke to a wonderful Haitian breakfast and immediately proceeded on our journey to our final destination, Marbial. We made a brief stop in Jacmel at the Monsignor’s residence (Joe’s brother is a Monsignor and one of his sisters is a nun). We dined together that Sunday afternoon as missionaries, both local and foreign, bound together for one goal. To provide basic medical and dental care for the underserved people of Marbial.

We arrived at Marbial, a place very close to Joe’s heart ever since he was a young boy growing up in Haiti. We immediately proceeded to convert the back of St. Therese’s Catholic Church into our temporary clinic. A pharmacy was quickly set up and portable dental units were rapidly assembled. We arranged and organized our respected areas and as nightfall set in we stepped back and marveled at our handy work. Our clinic was ready for patients!

Dawn broke early that Monday morning and after a most interesting night spent in the sparse comfort, very tidy and quiet tranquility of a nun’s quarters, I was well rested for the days’s challenge. Hundreds of patients lined up even before the crack of dawn, some having walked ten hours in hopes of earning a spot as a patient. It was indeed a humbling experience. We ate our breakfast and prayed for the strength, patience and guidance to work and treat as many patients as possible and proceeded to our prospective post. The church was rapidly filled with patients. All waiting to see a doctor or dentist, many of them in some form of pain or discomfort. Some eagerly waited for their first ever teeth cleaning. What struck me was how well- behaved they were. Old and young they gratefully sat in place waiting their turn, quietly. We worked all day, breaking only to eat lunch. The crowd seemingly growing every hour. We worked by the light of day, not having lights on our portable dental units and so as daylight waned, we ended our day. Exhausted and excited at the same time.

Mostly we worked, we were not there for sight-seeing, and we were missionaries, not tourists. However, twice at dawn we went hiking. We took advantage of the proximity of the once fertile and green mountains now mostly barren and depleted of nutrients, and hiked. A place once rich with vegetation capable of sustaining its people now stood naked and bare, resembling from afar the brown naked humps of a camel’s back.

The week quickly vanished and on Friday morning even before the break of dawn some of us loaded our belongings, what little we were now returning with, on the SUV belonging to the Monsignor, and headed back to Port-au-Prince. I was leaving the trip early, months earlier I had committed to run the 26.2 mikes of the LA Marathon. The race was scheduled for March 17. I was leaving Haiti on March 15 to arrive back in Los Angeles on March 16. No problem. Five hours we traveled that early morning, two hours of painstaking bumps and jolts as we traverse a dry river bed pretending temporarily, to be a highway. It succeeded, miserably.

After my week in Haiti, and having experienced staying in a convent and seeing what the Haitian people endured on a daily basis I resolved to never complain about trivial things. I vowed to not worry about the little things in life. I put the marathon in that category, a little thing that I was not going to worry about. I trained for months for that race, one week in Haiti was not going to affect me negatively. After all, earlier that week, some folks had walked for ten hours in Marbial, to receive care from us!

I am blessed in so many ways. I am humbled and will be forever grateful for having been a part of that missionary group. I am certain, by God’s good grace, that it will not be my last. I must thank the Domonds for their dedication, their resiliency and unyielding dedication to their fellow Haitians. Last but not least a special thanks to Dr. Pradel, the oral surgeon who I met that faithful day in Pacific Palisades. That memorial service celebration proved memorable indeed. How blessed I am for having met you!

Virginia Lawrence

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