||Beloit nurse Pam Charles ministers to a child at the orphanage in Haiti where she was working as a volunteer when the earthquake struck. (Contributed photo)
BELOIT -- A call for action comes through in Pam Charles’ voice as she describes the urgent need for donations of money for an orphanage in Haiti where she was a volunteer when the January 12 earthquake hit the island nation.
Charles, a nurse, mother of four children, and member of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Beloit, was in Haiti with a group of six women serving as volunteers for Health Ministries for Haiti (HMH). The team was providing medical care at a mobile clinic and at an orphanage at Croix de Bouquet, a town near the capital city of Port-au-Prince and the international airport.
||For updated information on the Diocese of Madison's collection for Catholic Relief Services aid to Haiti, click here
Charles is making a determined effort for donations. “Our work now is to raise funds. I’ve seen the need in Haiti. I’m trying to help get the message out the best I can that money is needed so the children in the orphanage can have a better life.”
HMH is a non-profit Christian group founded by Madison nurse Jennifer Weitzel Blahnik. Her sister, Sarah Weitzel Cain, an imaging technician at Beloit Memorial Hospital, assists with the ministry. Both are Beloit natives. Also with the group was Mary Parry, Beloit, serving as a support person, and two nurses from Madison.
As Charles speaks, her voice reveals the emotional toll from her experience. She described the poverty in Haiti, the devastation from the earthquake, the terror and fear, and the people who suffered horrible injuries.
The walls of the orphanage building collapsed during the earthquake. From messages received since she returned to Beloit, the 56 children in the orphanage served by HMH are still together, sleeping outside, according to Charles. They range in age from 18 months to 16 years.
Before the earthquake
The six women with HMH arrived in Haiti on January 10. One aspect of their work was to help improve the orphanage as a home for the children and to arrange a plan so that every child there would have a sponsor.
“When we got off the plane, we saw the terrible poverty in Haiti. I call it disgusting. Even dogs are exceptionally skinny,” she noted.
For information or to donate
One hundred percent of donations to Health Ministries for Haiti are sent to the orphanage for the children. People can also sponsor a child. A donation of $35 a month supplies one child with food, clothing, and medical care. For more information, people can call Health Ministries for Haiti, 608-213-1301, or go to www.healthministriesforhaiti.org or find HMH on Facebook. Donations can be sent to HMH, 9 East Spyglass Ct., Madison, WI 53717.
Charles said when the HMH volunteers arrived at the orphanage two days before the earthquake, the children met them with smiles and hugs. “The children at the orphanage are so happy, though they have so little in basic needs. A five-year-old child was the size of a two-year old.”
Before the earthquake hit the area, school classes were held outdoors. A broken chalkboard was nailed to a tree. There were some paperback books.
She described the orphanage building as basically four walls on a dirt base. There was no privacy. The kitchen was in the back. The children ate cornmeal mush, cooked in a huge cast iron pot over an open fire. “It was gratifying when we heard the children sing a song thanking God for their food,” she said.
The first day in Haiti, the mission group passed out treats to children, distributed clothing, and did outreach work at a mobile clinic set up in a deserted building.
The earthquake hits
On January 12, after an early dinner, Charles said the HMH group was sitting at a table in their house when the room began shaking. The house was built of concrete, but everything in the house began to shake; water lines broke.
“It was the sounds that I remember, the rumbling that became louder. We could hear crashing, and in the distance we heard terrible sounds and screaming. Screams of terror continued when an aftershock occurred,” Charles related.
She said at first the women did not fully realize the damage caused by the quake. “I soon saw it was the worst possible when people began bringing the injured into our yard.”
Charles had experienced an earthquake in past years while living in California. “I knew you should not run into the streets. I stood in the doorway and grabbed onto the frame. We began to pray. Eventually we moved our beds out into the front yard,” said Charles, referring to “polka dots on my body” from bug bites.
Ministering to the injured
The next day, the women ministered to the injured at the clinic. There were open fractures, a little girl with the right side of her face crushed, people with crushed hands, and other serious wounds. The injured were carried into the clinic on boards and slings made from bed sheets, said Charles.
“We attempted to give the injured antibiotics and something for pain. We cleaned wounds; most of the injured required surgery. We took care of them as best we could,” she said.
At the orphanage, Charles said amidst the devastation and injured, the children continued to have smiles on their faces. “I am amazed at the generosity of those children as well as that of many people. At one point, I saw an injured person step aside and point to another child to be attended to first.”
She shares a fond recollection of a little girl eating a shortbread cookie. “I had given the cookie to a boy, but he in turn gave it to the younger child,” she said.
Contact with family
Charles was able to contact her family in Beloit due to the generosity of a man who had international access calling. She described the man’s assistance as “almost a miracle.” Charles said her husband, Dr. Pierre Charles, a surgeon at Beloit Memorial Hospital, “was able to help us from a distance.” He advised the women how to deal with the wounds they treated.
Noting the situation in Haiti, the destruction, hunger, and lack of water and food, the HMH mission group went to the United States Embassy where they knew they would be safe. She said the usual 20-minute drive took more than one hour.
On the way, they met a child with a large scalp wound. “We were able to give the child some medication for pain. Another person with a crushed arm was making his way to the Dominican Republic,” she recalled.
Reluctant to leave
Charles said she did not want to leave Haiti. “I felt that I could not leave. I was determined,” she said. But the group had used up most of their food and water. “People there needed so much. We would be eating their food. And, we were running out of supplies.” she said.
They were flown to the U. S. in an Air Force C-17. “We were treated very well,” she said. For the trip on the cargo plane, crowded with people, the women were allowed to bring a backpack. They had to leave their baggage in Haiti.
Charles gave an example of the Haitian people’s need and ingenuity. “I gave a man my luggage. He used the suitcase as a crib. His baby fit perfectly.”
When the women arrived at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, their families greeted them with “tears and joy.” Charles reflected that she believes this experience has had a positive effect. “I think families often take each other for granted. I see a different attitude now,” she said.
Charles said after she had heard about the purpose and work of HMH, “I knew I wanted to participate. I knew I wanted to go. I love kids and when I heard of the poor conditions in Haiti, and the work
of the orphanage and the needs of the area, I wanted to become involved in the work. I also like to travel.”
Charles said, “I’m glad I was in Haiti. I feel we helped many people. We showed our compassion. We gave people the feeling they had somewhere to go, that someone cared for them and could help them.”
Charles hopes people will not forget the children in Haiti. Athough the HMH mission was interrupted, “We did the best we could. We’re hearing good stories now of how the people are being helped.”
She said, “I did feel protected, somehow. I thank God for that. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to be in Haiti, to be with the people. I consider it a privilege and I plan to return next year.”
Fr. Gary Krahenbuhl, pastor of OLA Parish, affirmed the contributions and value of people who commit to a mission calling. “The work of anyone who does mission work is so important, not only for the good of those they serve, but for the good of the Gospel,” he said.