Nurse Joy Sheppard says Haiti revealed her true nature
I’m a 31-year-old registered nurse from Stag Harbour, Fogo Island. I’ve been an emergency room nurse for seven years.
I’ve been on two missions with Team Broken Earth, both to rural Haiti. The first was in October 2013 and the second was in March 2014. My reasons for volunteering with TBE were initially very selfish. No matter how much I told myself that I wanted to help “those less fortunate,” I knew I also wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone and see what I could handle or what I could contribute to the world. What did I have to offer? After that first visit, I’d answered all my philosophical personal questions, and I can say with confidence that there was nothing selfish about my return trip. I knew I could be useful and I had plenty to offer.
Still, my first trip to Haiti was very surreal. It felt like we’d landed on another planet. I’d travelled to parts of Mexico and Cuba that look similar in terms of landscape and level of poverty but that was seen from a tour bus window. It’s very different to step out into that reality and live it for 10 days. I don’t remember putting a lot of thought into what it might be like living in Haiti. I was more concerned about what I would be doing at the clinics each day. I have very limited experience with pediatrics so I was anxious about that more than what my living conditions would be like.
I just wanted to leave Haiti knowing I had helped someone. It didn’t even have to be a patient; it didn’t have to be with a medical issue. I just hoped to do something good for someone. It’s hard to establish more concrete goals when you don’t know what to expect or what your role will be.
On my first trip to Haiti, I and two other nurses would help set up the clinic in a new town each day. Our job was to triage the kids, identify a chief complaint with the help of a translator, assess their vital signs and get them seen sooner than the rest if needed. We also screened adults for hypertension and diabetes and referred them to a local doctor for treatment if needed (as our focus was pediatrics). There were occasions when I would help out in our little traveling pharmacy dispensing medications or assisting one of the doctors with a particularly squirmy baby.
My second trip was very similar to the first but my role was much more logistical. That time, I was the volunteer coordinator with Haiti Village Health, an organization set up in rural Bod Me Limbe that partners with volunteer teams like our own. They organize every aspect of a team’s visit, while maintaining a permanent guesthouse, clinic and pharmacy. Because I had planned a lot of our trip, I took on some of the team leader duties which meant our team leader was freed up to assist others with their work (our team was very unique, with members doing research, education as well as practicing medicine). I guess what I’m trying to get at is that on both trips I was part of a team. Personally, I did very little to help anyone, and if I’d gone alone I wouldn’t have accomplished anything, but as a team, we helped hundreds of Haitian children and we may have even saved a few lives.
The number one most memorable moment would have to be hearing the kids yell out “blanc, blanc” as we’d pass by, especially on the first day when all the village kids ran over to us and wanted to touch our skin and our hair. In their innocence they thought we were so different from them but my only thought was “Look how happy these kids are!” The best part of volunteering is making these kids smile.
My experience in Haiti taught me, first of all, that my life isn’t just for me. I’m here to help others whenever and wherever I can. Second, that you have to make the most of what you have. Sometimes we felt that we didn’t have the right tools to do our job, due to lack of availability or high cost for example. You have to adjust to the circumstance you’re in at the time and believe that you’re doing the best you can do. You can’t judge yourself based on the ideals of another time or place. Third, I learned that there’s no better way to volunteer than with a team.
I have no doubt I’ll visit Haiti again. It’s a beautiful country full of amazing people.