In addition to medical assistance, volunteers help with preparedness for the next disaster
With 25 years as a paramedic under her belt, Cindy Henderson is no stranger to traumatic injuries. But when a vehicle pinned two people against a wall near the Haitian orphanage she had been teaching at, Henderson found herself in an entirely new element.
Henderson watched as a doctor carried the victim inside a house that served as a makeshift clinic and started an IV. She said the doctor told her to assess the second victim's wounds and, finding they couldn't be sutured, had her clean and bandage them.
"It was my most exciting experience over there," said Henderson, Del Norte's emergency services manager. "There is no hospital down the street. You can't just call 911. It was a huge experience for me."
Henderson and CERT instructor Debra Wakefield are the newest members of this region's Team Redwood, which returned from its fifth trip to Haiti on Nov. 17. While their teammates - engineers, dental and medical personnel provided clean water, food, vitamins and medicine - Henderson and Wakefield taught disaster preparedness to more than 100 Haitians.
Wakefield said she and Henderson were also eager to hear their students' stories of what the January 2010 earthquake was like and how they survived it.
Wakefield and Henderson showed them how to splint, bandage and treat wounds using sticks and other scant material they may have. Their students learned CPR and how to resuscitate a choking baby. Wakefield said her students are now teaching other residents across the country.
"They desperately do not want to ever be in a place where they have a disaster and they don't know what to do again," she said. "The students didn't understand a word I said, but they hung on every word, watching everything and listening. They were very, very attentive."
One of the hardest lessons Henderson and Wakefield had to teach their students was the concept of duck, cover and hold on.
"One of the Haitians said, 'I would run,'" Henderson said. "I said, 'where are you running? The earthquake is everywhere. You got to duck and you got to cover and hold on.' That was a hard sell for them."
Wakefield and Henderson were accompanied by team leader Carolyn Dikes, a local physician's assistant, former Crescent City Mayor and retired teacher Dennis Burns, special education teacher Fred Victor and local engineer Mike Young. Crescent City resident Wendy Abasolo, who works with Dikes at Open Door Clinic, also went to Haiti for the first time.
Other team members included YMCA director Janine Manny of Oregon, who ran the Haitian pharmacy, Napa physician's assistant Kathy Luce, Eureka optometrist Paul King and dentist Vue Bai, who is also from Eureka. Arcata nurse Susana King also volunteered.
The volunteers all paid their way to Haiti and arrived with suitcases filled with medicine, nebulizers, shoes, vitamins, school supplies and eyeglasses, Dikes said. They also brought 90 Creole Bibles and disaster preparedness supplies, including CPR dummies.
Dikes said she arrived in Haiti a few days ahead of the rest of the team to shop for food. Every orphanage received 200 pounds of beans and rice, 100 pounds of corn grits, six gallons of oil and a care package, which included Children's Tylenol and Motrin, allergy medicine, hand sanitizer, first aid kits, shampoo and anti-fungal creams.
"We try to spend our money locally to buy supplies for the orphanages," she said, adding that every dollar spent in Haiti helps the local economy. "We spend every dime we earn on the orphans."
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but it is almost back to what it was before the earthquake, Young said. Still, 40 to 60 percent of the population lives on about $2 a day.
On his trip to Haiti with Team Redwood in 2012, Young said he was pleasantly surprised that Port-au-Prince, the country's capital city, had regular garbage service. Much of the rubble and debris left behind by the earthquake had been swept out of the streets, he said.
Even though Team Redwood started as a rescue and relief group, Dikes said much of that work is no longer needed.
"The country's almost back on its feet," she said. "But there is a great need in the orphanages and a great need in teaching Haitians to empower themselves."
Henderson said there are also many lessons she learned in Haiti that can apply to Del Norte. As soon as she got home, Henderson contacted state emergency officials to help her train local folks on setting up areas where food, water and fuel can be distributed following a disaster.
She said she saw the importance of training people to man a distribution point in Haiti where a medical clinic had been set up. There were long lines of people at that clinic, Henderson said, desperate to see the dentist and the eye doctor and to get medicine.
"We're going to have that desperation here when we don't have enough food and water and we don't have enough fuel to run generators," she said, adding that small communities like Gasquet, Klamath and Smith River would be isolated during a Cascadia earthquake. "They need to know how to store it and how to dole it out and how to make sure it's fairly given out to their community when times are hard."
Another lesson Henderson said she took away with her from Haiti is the need to teach disaster preparedness to folks who don't speak English. She pointed out that Del Norte has a large Hmong and Spanish-speaking community and said there are ways to teach them.
"The Hmong is one of those populations who may not come to a CERT class, but if we take the CERT class to them I think we can get it into that population," she said. "We don't want anybody left behind in Del Norte County."
Team Redwood is continuing to take donations and has a PayPal link on its website, www.teamredwood.org. Donations can also be sent to Team Redwood 550 East Washington Blvd. Suite 100, Crescent City, CA 95531.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org.