Midtown: Community

Bringing hope to mothers in Haiti

The Hope for Haiti Foundation came across my radar a couple years ago when a Cary doctor became the first American OB-GYN to travel to Zorangé to provide medical treatment to women who have grown accustomed to losing babies and each other in child birth.

That’s what HFHF does: Show and tell Haitians how to teach, preach, heal and build so they are empowered with the skills to develop their country themselves. Jean Elade Eloi, a Haitian-American who founded the Cary-based HFHF in 2000 with his brother, told me then, “Only Haitians can change Haiti – not in isolation, but in collaboration with the international community. Haiti’s development has to be owned by Haitians.”

And nothing has stopped the efforts, neither the 2010 earthquake that ravaged an already struggling country, nor the recent waters of Hurricane Sandy that bashed those just north of us after Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.

On Friday, the organization will introduce the Midwife Project Concert Series, a trio of $10 concerts to raise money to hire two Haitian midwives at a salary of $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year – for both. The kick-off concert, dubbed Blues for Babies, begins at 6 p.m. at Deep South the Bar on Dawson Street. It features Peak City Blues Project, playing hits from the ’50s through the ’70s.

And Peak City Blues Project features a long-time HFHF volunteer, Larry Butterton, who has taken seven trips to Haiti, two on his own.

“But we can’t be down there all the time,” said Butterton, who met his wife on a mission trip to El Salvador with the two daughters he raised, each of whom chose careers to serve the underserved. “We do what we do because we are so rich in this country, don’t we deserve to give back to our other brothers and sisters on the planet?

“If it wasn’t for people who have more, like us, they wouldn’t get any help.”

The concert series continues early next year with Illusions of the King with Keith Henderson on Jan. 12. Plans also are under way for Blues for Babies Part 2, which will feature two bands, a VIP section and a silent auction, said Kim Sniffen, an HFHF nurse.

You might be wondering why I am writing about devastation in Haiti when we’re still figuring out how to help New York and other home-soil cities rebuilding from the wrath of Sandy just weeks ago: Because it is by example that we learn to help ourselves.

Since 2001, HFHF volunteers from Haiti and the United States have served Eloi’s birthplace of Zorangé, a small mountain district of 9,000 in the city of Bainet. Through its missions, the foundation has opened a school and two medical clinics, and has plans for a hospital and dormitory.

“We have made a great deal of progress in meeting the needs of the pregnant women there, but we have a long way to go,” Sniffen said. “Now, we need to hire two midwives.”

The midwives will see women in the two HFHF clinics and train the matrones – traditional midwives who oversee a majority of in-home births, the norm in Zorangé.

“Infant mortality there is horrendous and, even, maternal mortality,” said Marlene Rickert, HFHF’s medical director. She described a time when a 21-year-old woman died in labor and the clinic was faced with five pregnant women laboring simultaneously – all with pre-eclampsia, or lethally high blood pressure.

Trips to the nearest hospital require a four- to six-hour motorcycle ride – through the river, not over it. Two HFHF jeeps make the trip 14-16 times per day.

“It is very difficult,” Rickert said. “Mothers die and, in all of Haiti, the infant mortality rate is 84 per 1,000 live births. That’s 60 times worse than it is here.”

Now that women can come to the clinics for prenatal care, the new midwives will identify high-risk pregnancies and get women to a hospital and educate traditional birth attendants about symptoms and what they mean.

“We’ve shown already by having the clinics there, we now see the reverse happening,” Rickert said.

That’s one reason what’s happening in Haiti matters here: What we can help others do for themselves, we can certainly do for ourselves.

Here’s another: “We should always care about our neighbor,” Rickert said. “This is an area that’s less than two hours’ plane ride away, yet it is the poorest in the western hemisphere.

“It is an area we can easily have impact.”