“The poor you will always have with you…”Mathew 26:11
Since I became a doctor in 1996, I have always worked among and cared for the poor. For several years, it was in inner city Memphis, TN caring for refugees, homeless people, and addicts from a mobile clinic van, then for 5 years in India, among the poor, low caste, and marginalized communities of two different villages in rural India. Now, for the past 3 years, my husband and I have worked at East Liberty Family Health Care Center, a place of diversity and need among its patients, many of whom are also counted among the poorest people in Pittsburgh. The faces and stories of the suffering of the poor, both here and abroad have left an indelible mark upon my heart and soul. Though these stories are not easy to hear and the plight of the poor often agonizingly incurable, I am drawn to hear them and to enter into their stories because without a doubt, the heart of the Lord is tangibly present within them.
It is for this reason that I eagerly accepted the opportunity to serve this past June in a medical clinic in Bassin Caiman. My daughter Kavya, who also carries a heart for international communities, joined our team as well. Our first impressions upon arriving in Haiti were that of a remarkable familiarity – the heat, the harsh landscapes, the crowded and busy roads encroached by markets and garbage heaps, the ever present activity night and day, and the smiles of curious children – we both felt at home. Even more familiar was the eagerness of people to come to a medical clinic. By 5am of the day of each clinic, crowds began to gather around the church where our makeshift clinic had been set up, and by 7am, there were throngs of people. Each member or our team had a role and job to do, and through the long days of seeing patient after patient, the Spirit of God strengthened us to stay on task and succumb to exhaustion only after the last patient had been seen at the end of the day. As I began listening to the medical concerns of each patient, both young and old, I heard so many complaints that I have heard among the poor all over the world: “My knees and back ache all the time (every day of my life I have chopped and carried heavy sacks of firewood and buckets of water upon my head, and finally my joints can no longer take it)…my eyes hurt, and my vision is blurry (the grit of constant dirt and dust in my eyes coupled with vitamin deficiencies have rendered by corneas scarred and inflamed)…my stomach burns into my chest (the food I eat is only made palatable by potent and pungent spices that cause surges in stomach acid)…I have terrible headaches. I know I high blood pressure but cannot pay for medicine (in the absence of electricity and refrigeration, the food we eat is heavily salted as a preservative, and the genetic predisposition of my African heritage leaves me vulnerable to the complications of chronic hypertension)…”
During the days of participating in the busy medical clinics in Bassin Caiman, I was reminded that behind each medical complaint is also a story, and these stories are the real reason people came to be seen – to give voice to the pain and suffering in their lives. In a cement church building with no electricity, using benches as our examining tables and the dispensing of a 2 week supply of medicines, I knew the medical care I gave was limited at best. True health and healing for people in rural Haiti will involve layers and layers of multi-faceted change and interventions. Yet, in the organizing of this clinic for the people of Bassin Caiman and surrounding villages, Haiti H2O demonstrated great love in its willingness to enter into the stories of the poor among them, and over 800 people received a small balm of healing in the sharing of their story. In that effort, I am so honored to have been able to love and serve among the poor in Bassin Caiman.