Love/Haiti Relationship: Part 2

by | Jul 27, 2012

Recap of Part 1: 

DeSales University student Gina Locke of Wooster, Massachusetts had been volunteering for relief work in Haiti every year since high school. Despite being the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Gina came to love Haiti’s people and their unselfish, family-centric culture. The Haitian earthquake of January 12, 2010, regarded as the worst natural disaster in modern history, left Gina’s beloved nation and its people devastated. A senior year nursing student at that time, Gina was at DeSales’ Center Valley campus when she received the shocking news of the earthquake and immediately knew: “I have to go down there.” 

Part 2

Seventeen hectic days later, Gina had transformed her existence from college student on the idyllic campus of DeSales University, into humanitarian missionary headed straight into one of human history’s worst hellholes: post-earthquake Haiti. With the blessing of her DeSales nursing program instructors, Gina temporarily suspended her studies and signed on with Forward In Health, a Massachusetts-based volunteer relief organization. Day 18 after the quake, she was onboard a UN-sponsored plane headed for still-smoldering Port-Au-Prince, the capital of Haiti and epicenter of the quake.

“It looked like a war zone when we landed. It was very hot and the smell of death hung in the air because so many bodies were decomposing under the rubble of collapsed buildings,” she said.

Compared to her previous visits to the capital, this one was horrifying.

“It was devastated. Almost every multi-story structure had collapsed, including government buildings, hospitals and churches. Big chunks of the mountainside had literally fallen off. Many of the survivors were in makeshift tents but many injured homeless people roamed the streets in agony and death was everywhere you turned.”

Teamed with doctors and anesthesiologists from Forward In Health, Gina put her DeSales nursing skills to work in a clinic to heal the injured. “Our first patient was brought to us in a wheelbarrow,” she said. “She was a young girl whose leg had been crushed and the bone wasn’t healing properly so we had to re-break her leg and reset the bone. Not the kind of procedure you’d typically encounter in the States but cases like this were common at the clinic.”

When her mission with Forward In Health was finished, Gina was not. “I returned to DeSales and graduated with my BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) degree in 2010. But the memories of the Haitian people, their needs and how grateful they were for our help never left my mind. I knew I was destined to return again.” 

From September, 2011 to May, 2012 Gina headed to Haiti once again, this time as a newly-minted Registered Nurse with Quest Volunteers For Haiti, a mission organized by the Catholic order of nuns, Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM), U.S. Province. The sisters’ mission “provides the laity with an opportunity to serve God’s people in the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” according to the ministry’s website. “Volunteers are committed to developing their spirituality, living simply, growing in community and working for social justice that challenges unjust structures. They live with the Religious of Jesus and Mary sisters (RJM’s) and share in their mission.”

Gina spent the next 9 months working at Hôpital Alma Mater, a 50-bed hospital in the mountain province of Gros Morne, about 5 hours north of Port-Au-Prince. Hôpital Alma Mater is the only 24-hour healthcare facility for a community of 135,000 residents. (By comparison, the City of Allentown has an estimated 120,000 residents and is served by three full-service hospital facilities and multiple emergency centers.) 

Throughout her experiences in healing and dealing with the aftermath of the Haitian tragedy, Gina has learned invaluable life lessons from the people of this poor but proud Caribbean nation. “Their values are so different. They have practically nothing but even what little they do have, they willingly share with anyone in need, even a piece of bread. The family is everything and each family is a living example of how happy humans can be, even with the simplest of things, the things that most Americans take for granted. I am now more thankful for all I have and I learned a lot about the pure love of life from the people of Haiti.”

Now back at DeSales as a graduate nursing student in the university’s MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) program, Gina Locke is on track to graduate as a Nurse Practitioner in May, 2013. After reaching this next plateau in her healthcare career, she intends to continue her lifelong Love/Haiti relationship. “There is still a lot of work to be done there.

They had a terrible outbreak of cholera and while it is now getting under control, they still need help with that and so many other critical health needs,” she said. “I’m grateful for the healing skills that I’ve learned as a DeSales nursing student and I want to continue sharing them with the people of Haiti … they’ve become a part of me.”

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