The village of Chauffard, Haiti is just 15 miles outside of the country’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, but medical personnel and volunteers from the village’s “twin” parish, the Church of St. Michael-St. Peter in Syracuse, expect their fourth medical mission trip to the remote village Nov. 13 to 19 to be rough and grueling.
To travel to Chauffard and the Church of the Immaculate Conception parish, missionaries and visitors must journey by truck over rocky, unpaved mountain trails without seeing any sign of life until the truck turns a corner and the isolation gives way to a compound bustling with activity, explained Kate McMahon, coordinator of the Haiti Twinning Project for St. Michael-St. Peter. All around the area is evidence of destruction caused by an earthquake that wreaked havoc throughout Haiti in 2010. Homes and schools are still waiting to be rebuilt, but the people of the village walk past the rubble, eager to greet their guests with welcoming smiles. The arrival of the visitors means medical care for the village, especially for more than 600 children who attend school in makeshift classrooms in Chauffard, funded by the Syracuse parish. The idea of supporting a parish in Haiti, or “twinning,” was suggested 13 years ago by Ligory Fernandes, a parishioner of St. Michael-St. Peter’s, McMahon said. Fernandes contacted the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas and director Theresa Patterson assigned the Church of the Immaculate Conception to St. Michael-St. Peter’s. The parish began raising money to help build schools and provide medical care for Chauffard by organizing bake sales, quilt raffles and church dinners. Since they began the twinning project, the Syracuse parish has donated more than $140,000 to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which includes a monthly financial gift.
As they continued to support their “twin” parish, St. Michael-St. Peter’s volunteers noticed a growing need for medical assistance in Chauffard. Four years ago a decision was made to institute a medical mission trip every two years to Chauffard, but in 2009, those trips increased to one every year. Pediatrician Dr. Tom Abbamont, a parishioner at St. Michael-St. Peter’s, has participated since the first trip to Chauffard and is now on his fourth trip. Dr. Abbamont treats both children and adults for a multitude of complaints from headaches to stomachaches, from infections to malnutrition.
“Many of the villagers don’t eat enough but they get up and work all day in the sun on a small plot of land,” McMahon said. “When they work and are hungry they get dehydrated and weak.”
The medical mission program doesn’t advertise its arrival in Haiti: Sister Annemarie, a local medical assistant for the village, travels to homes letting the parishioners know the medical team is planning a trip. Villagers receive tickets that correspond to one of the four days the medical team will be in the village.
The medical mission team includes doctors to treat the patients and volunteers who help hand out medical supplies. During the time the doctors are present in the village, they will each see more than 100 patients daily and treat illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis as well as provide vitamins for the children of the village.
“The medical mission trips are essential to this village,” explained McMahon. “There are villagers who will walk all night just to get there by 6 a.m. the following day to make their appointment.”
In the future, McMahon would like to see the medical mission trips offer even more services to the village, such as dental and vision care. Currently the group brings a variety of reading glasses and an eye chart, but McMahon would like to see the vision program expanded.
“People are so appreciative of the help,” stated McMahon. “They never see government representatives in their remote village and due to the location of the village, it’s rare to even see another local vehicle. But once the church medical mission truck arrives, villagers run to the school knowing they will see the doctors soon. It’s been exciting to see how this twinning program has grown as the parish of Chauffard grows,” stated McMahon.
A familiar member of the medical missions team is McMahon’s husband, Dr. Gerald McMahon, an internist who volunteers his time to the program. According to McMahon, the trips to Chauffard have not been without humor.
“The first mission trip he took, my husband treated a woman who was about 80 years old and was having trouble breathing,” stated McMahon. “When he asked her if she had done anything strenuous lately she smiled and said, ‘I just walked up a mountain.’ The woman was 80 years old and walked up a steep, rocky mountain,” laughed McMahon. “That’s something a lot of our volunteers would have trouble doing without breathing hard.”
For more information or to donate to the St. Michael-St. Peter Haiti Twinning Project, contact Kate McMahon at (315) 492-2378.