This week, I am working in Jubile, a ghetto in Gonaives, with my friends from Much Ministries, teaching the first of six weeks of health seminars. My classes focus on health problems that are common to most Haitians, how to prevent them and how to treat them at home in the ghetto. In the following weeks, other Americans will come to teach first aid, mother-infant nutrition and health, basic care for a hospitalized relative, and to midwifery.
My first day went well. Over 35 people attended, mostly women, but a few men as well. About 7 were midwives, 4 were nurses, one was a nurses' aide, and the others were simply members of the community there in Jubile. The topic was heartburn and vaginal infections, two conditions that my adult patients constantly present with when they come to clinic or to my house.
Apparently I provided great entertainment when I demonstrated to the crowd why it’s better to pee on rocks than on dusty ground! Don’t fear – I wasn’t actually urinating, but still, the sight of a white woman, squatting in the dirt pouring water from a cup so that it fell between her legs was quite amusing.
Needless to say, there were a lot more men in the class the following day! They were probably disappointed, though, because the lesson was about hypertension, headaches, anemia, and back pain. The dramatic interpretations were more mundane; I demonstrated proper body mechanics when lifting a heavy object and then made everyone get up and practice by picking up one of the many children who were sitting on the pavilion walls to watch. The visual aid for blood pressure was a little more fun. I put 12 year old Rebecca behind the door to the school and told her to push against me with gradually augmenting force when I tried to open the door. None of us realized just how strong Rebecca is, especially me! Everyone was laughing when I had to push my whole body against the door to get it open. But they got the point and I was able to refer back to the door example many times during my talk.
I had spoken with the Haitian nurses after the first day’s session about how we could incorporate them into the seminars. We want to teach them but also empower them to be able to really use their skills to help Jubile, so when it came time to actually check blood pressures and talk about what the healthy levels are, we called the nurses up. Each one got a stethy and a cuff and did the check-ups themselves. Something that would have taken 45 minutes had I been alone took about 10 minutes and showed those nurses that we value them and want them to take ownership of this community’s health. They were simply beaming later when I thanked them and asked them to come every day to help, especially in the weeks to come when the teacher will be someone who does not speak Creole and is less familiar with Haitian culture and way of life.
All in all, a very good start!