Josué Jeanty leaves Charlotte Dec. 15 with indelible memories of a fairy-tale four-months’ visit – but also with skills that he and supporters hope will prove useful to his earthquake-ravaged homeland.
His supporters, mainly medical professionals who met him while treating the injured in Haiti, hope that prolonged exposure to the English language and a stint working for a large plastics recycler will lead to a better future for both him and his chronically impoverished country.
He’s been working at a variety of jobs at Charlotte-based Custom Polymers, “learning to weigh. Negotiate prices.” And he’d like to find a way to put that knowledge to work while providing recycling jobs in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.
In Haiti, a country where “it’s very hard for some people to have a meal a day,” recycling hasn’t been a priority, he says. But if it could be linked to jobs, that would be a different matter, he feels.
Whatever he does on his return, says the 26-year-old son of a Baptist minister, “I will try to do something worthwhile.”
Six weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed 300,000 and leveled large parts of Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, Jeanty was already doing something so worthwhile that the arriving Charlotteans marveled at it.
Injured victims, turned away from Port-au-Prince medical facilities because there was no room for them, were being transported four hours to the southern city of Les Cayes, where Jeanty was an environmental science student at the American University of the Caribbean.
Les Cayes had received a lighter blow, and though shaken up, Jeanty was uninjured. He heard a loud noise, went outside, and “I fell. I couldn’t see very well. You cannot have your balance.” Once he found out that his parents, three hours away in the town of Baradères, were safe – that took three days – he started searching for ways to help the quake victims.
“They need water. They need food. They lost everything,” he says.
But, college student that he was, “I don’t have money.”
He saw his chance at Immaculate Conception Hospital in Les Cayes, where crowded, chaotic conditions prevailed but the injured were at least being treated.
“I can help with my ability,” he decided. With his competency in the English language, he became the hospital’s best translator, a go-between for patients and medical-team volunteers.
“I don’t speak French or Creole,” says orthopedic surgeon Jerry Barron, who with his wife Midge organized the Charlotteans’ trip. When he and the other surgeons operated, it was critically important to have someone “to tell the patient what you’re doing, what needed to happen.”
People would be dying, and Jeanty would be sent for because he spoke the best English. It was: “ ‘Josué, we need you,’ ” he remembers.
“He had absolute empathy to the patients,” remembers Midge Barron, a nurse.
Jeanty remembers one boy about 10 years old who broke his arm falling out of a coconut tree. The bone was sticking out of the skin. The wound had become infected, and though the boy was in terrible pain, the only treatment before Jerry Barron operated had been bandages.
Operating at Immaculate Conception was a challenge, Barron remembers. “Half the time at least, we did not have electricity.”
The only X rays available were poor quality, and “We were having to treat things with our intuition.”
When the Charlotteans arrived, “The worst part was, there was no pain medicine,” says Midge Barron. “And no antibiotics,” her husband adds.
The Charlotteans brought with them an estimated $200,000 to $240,000 worth of donated medicines they’d collected in the U.S. The patients, says Jeanty, “kept thanking me for the doctors.”A HAND UP FOR HAITI
As they prepared to leave after their week was up last March, the Charlotteans decided they wanted to stay involved in Haiti’s future. They’d raised $50,000 before they left Charlotte, and had spent about half of it on supplies.
They formed a nonprofit, A Hand Up For Haiti, to team with a local mission group, El Shaddai, in starting a permanent Good Shepherd Clinic near the hospital. The rest of the money will go to that.
They also realized they wanted to help Jeanty realize his dream of helping his fellow Haitians climb out of their desperate circumstances. People are still living in tents, and heavy rains can be devastating.
Haiti’s troubles go further back than the earthquake. Unemployment estimates are chronically at 50 percent or above.
Haiti is rich in the natural resources of sea and sun, but when Jeanty, as an environmental science (agriculture and forestry) student, planted a garden, he had no way to use a nearby river to irrigate. He lacked the necessary equipment.
Yet amidst the miserable living conditions, you’ll see smiling faces, says Jeanty.
“We rely on hope. The attitude, he says, is: ‘I’m suffering, but somehow I’ll have a better life.’”He shares that faith and hope, and, the Barrons say he has an incredible work ethic.
“We felt he could do good things. We were inspired by him,” Midge Barron says.
Thus the trip to Charlotte, where the Barrons have become like his second family. Their dog lays its head in his lap; he plays minor-key Haitian hymns on the piano. A map, GPS and a bicycle have helped him around the city.
And soon he’ll be on his way back, four months wiser in the ways of business after being guided by Custom Polymers partner John Calhoun, a friend of some of the Charlotte volunteers.
The best of all possible scenarios, a “home run,” says Calhoun, would be for Custom Polymers to be able to join with Jeanty in establishing some sort of recycling in Haiti, 45 minutes by air from Miami. But as to what actually happens, “we haven’t quite figured all that out.”
No matter what happens with recycling, A Hand Up For Haiti is working on establishing the clinic.
And Jeanty will go about finding his own mission, knowing he has the support of his Charlotte friends.
“I’m like the motor,” he says. “They will accelerate me, and I will go forward.”Want to Help?
What: A Hand Up for Haiti Contact:Dank.firstname.lastname@example.org