Providing Hope in Haiti
Mission Trip Challenges, Rewards Alumni
By John P. Sanko, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy at The University of Scranton
On Sept. 18, 2011, alongside a few colleagues and a group of Scranton physical therapy alumni, I embarked on a service trip to Haiti that I can say was both challenging and extremely rewarding. The mission trip consisted of several seasoned professionals, including Susan Pyrzynski Ficken ’87, Karen Wientjes Albaugh ’94, Amy Tafil Coyle ’96 and Jennifer Stephens Murawski ’97. Adjunct faculty members David Patrick and Barbara Linder also joined us to share their expertise.
Our team flew to Haiti’s capital city, Port-Au-Prince, where we met with Sarah Dutcher, country director for Hope for Haiti, a nonprofit organization based in Naples, Fla., and Les Cayes, Haiti. This organization has had strong ties with the University for several years, pre-dating the country’s crippling earthquake of 2010. While in Port-Au-Prince, we were driven through the city to get a first-hand look at the conditions and the damage as a result of the earthquake. Along with the rubble of the Presidential Palace and National Cathedral, we encountered massive tent cities where thousands of displaced people have called home for nearly two years. The sight was heartbreaking, to say the least.
In Les Cayes, we were introduced to the Hope for Haiti staff and received an orientation of the coastal town and its several local healthcare facilities. Then we went to work doing what we do best – helping people. At the Missionaries of Charity orphanage, the team helped the staff provide therapy for a number of children with a variety of physical and cognitive challenges. It was here that we saw the sensory integration room that was equipped in part through fundraisers by Scranton physical and occupational therapy students. After several days of service work, we took a boat trip to Île à Vache, a small island off the coast of Haiti, to assist at another orphanage. This facility housed and cared for a cohort of abandoned, handicapped children. Again the team went right to work assisting the staff with physical and occupational therapy services.
From our perspective, I would have to say the highlight of the week occurred at the Foyer, a geriatric home in Les Cayes. We organized an exercise session set to Haitian music that proved to be quite popular. Several weeks later, we actually heard that a team of physicians visiting the Foyer was impressed with the increased activity level and spirits of the residents following our visit.
At the conclusion of the trip, we visited the St. Étienne Infirmary, Hope for Haiti’s health clinic in Les Cayes, where we conducted a wound care in-service with the medical and nursing staff on hand. It was great to have a team like ours, which included a variety of specialists in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, sensory integration, wound care, therapeutic exercise, prosthetics and orthotics.
While the trip involved a lot of hard work, it was gratifying to help so many people in need. It is that why we look forward to organizing PT and OT alumni, student and faculty mission trips to Haiti in the future.
To support this and other physical and occupational therapy service trips, visit scranton.edu/microgrants.