Statesboro United Methodists serve, heal in Haiti
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Living in the United States it’s hard to imagine not seeing a medical professional in five or more years. Not a nurse, a doctor, a dentist, an optometrist, a pharmacist – no one.
And it’s even harder to imagine walking three miles, barefoot, to see a medical provider when you do need one.
That’s what life is like for many in Haiti, a country that was devastated by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake in January 2010 and then hit by Hurricane Isaac in August 2012. There, residents often go years without having their medical needs addressed and live with chronic issues that could easily be healed or addressed by medicines and medical professionals.
In October, Susan De Bonis, a member of Pittman Park United Methodist Church in Statesboro, will travel to Haiti to participate in her seventh mobile medical mission trip to the country. One of 17 who will make the journey, De Bonis runs the team’s mobile vision clinic and serves as their photographer.
“De Bonis Optical Clinic” is a table and chair where she dispenses reading glasses to patients who need them. In addition to basic vision troubles and eye irritations, a lot of patients with cataracts and glaucoma are seen, and they’re referred to the main clinic in Port-au-Prince for further treatment. Most never make the long trek, De Bonis said.
During the five-day mobile clinic, the medical team will treat stomachaches, headaches, high blood pressure, a host of skin diseases, burns, and children who are borderline malnourished. The clinic is equipped to do almost everything, including laboratory testing for malaria and HIV, except general surgeries and x-rays.
Dr. Randy Smith went on his first medical mission trip in 1980. The Statesboro family medicine doctor and Pittman Park UMC member has been serving on medical mission teams for 35 years, in Central America, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Cuba. This will be his 36th trip.
Coordinated through Village of Hope Haiti, a non-profit organization committed to supporting programs and ministries that promote excellence in education, spiritual growth, and primary health care of Haitians in need, the teams are sent to remote villages that most need their services. The Pittman Park teams have never gone to the same village twice.
“The areas we’ve worked in have been very remote,” Dr. Smith said. “I’ve seen a woman walk to our clinic for four hours, over the mountains, pregnant. We’ve seen things you’d never dream of seeing here.”
It’s hard serving in Haiti, where temperatures regularly soar above 90 degrees, electricity is rare, and dirt and dust cover the floors and fill the air.
“It’s not easy. I’ve worked in many places around the world, but there’s nothing like Haiti,” De Bonis said.
In 2011 the team was tear gassed in a Haitian tent city. Another year they met a 17-day-old baby whose mother had died in childbirth.
But the teams work despite the hardships and God is in the midst of the trials.
Dr. Smith told the story of a sick one-month-old baby who was brought into the clinic one year. Although they gave her intravenous fluids and helped her as much as they could, the baby died after about 10 hours of treatment. The nurses, though, didn’t give up and continued performing lifesaving measures and were able to revive her.
“That was a miracle,” Dr. Smith said. “We just wouldn’t see that happen without God playing a role.
“When we (saw her) the next year she was a cute little toddler, walking around. It was a wonderful thing to see, how God worked in that situation.”
There is great need in Haiti, said both De Bonis and Dr. Smith, and that’s one reason they and others continue to return. The 17-person team includes three members from Pittman Park UMC, Dr. Smith, De Bonis, and her husband, Nick De Bonis; and three members of Statesboro United Methodist Church, Karen David, Becky Holmes, and Eleanor Schneider. Several other area churches also have members who are participating, including First Baptist Church Statesboro and Eastern Heights Baptist Church. Pittman Park UMC graciously supports the team with fundraisers, transportation, prayers, and other necessary assistance.
Returning team members are seeing conditions in Haiti slowly improve over time, Dr. Smith said, and it brings him joy to know that they are able to play a small role in helping change people’s lives.
“Christ tells us to go to all the world spreading the gospel,” Dr. Smith said. “I don’t have the gift of preaching, but I do have the ability to offer comfort and medical care to the sick and the needy. Hopefully they will see Christ through that in me.”
From now through October the team will collect over-the-counter medicines, which are critically needed in Haiti but have to brought in to the country by the team. Contact Susan De Bonis at email@example.com to support the team financially or with donations.