(Photo: Special to the Chronicle )
The Tallahassee-Haiti Medical Team (THMT), an international aid group, has been providing medical care and other services to the people of Campeche-Dumay in the mountains east of Port-au-Prince, the capitol of Haiti, since the devastating earthquake in 2010.
“We have helped many, many people, but the needs are still acute,” says Dr. T. Woodrow Smith, known affectionately as “Dr. Woodie.”
THMT medical missions are at the invitation of the Bethel Foundation, a Haitian Christian organization that owns the clinic and dormitory buildings in Campeche-Dumay, but the team itself has no religious affiliation.
“The needs here are great, and our goal is to raise enough funding to build a new, larger and better equipped clinic,” says Dr. Woodie. Right now, THMT travels to Haiti every few months, spending a week providing medical care and other services, such as assisting in local schools and orphanages, and teaching adult medical education classes. The team has also supported a water purification project in the village and held dance classes for children as part of self-development and physical well-being.
Teams traveling to Haiti typically include volunteer doctors, nurses, emergency medical teams (EMTs), students, and lay persons dedicated to assisting the Haitian people. Each team leader is an accredited doctor who assumes responsibility for running the clinic, pharmacy, and laboratory as well as coordinating activities for the team when the clinic is closed.
Team leaders and volunteers come from Tallahassee and other parts of the United States. All bring two suitcases with supplies for the clinic procured from various sources, such as co-workers, businesses, family, and friends. These supplies pass through customs as “donated medical supplies.”
Team members are very “hands-on,” setting up the clinic upon arrival, and treating about 100 to 150 patients per day. And when cases are particularly difficult, Dr. Woodie has arranged to bring patients to Tallahassee for treatment at the Captiol Regional Medical Center.
Life in Haiti is not easy. Haiti is the most populous member state of the Caribbean Community and the poorest country in the Americas according to the Human Development Index. It occupies the western part of the island of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Greater Antilles. The Dominican Republic occupies the rest of the island.
Haiti lies over the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault, and the 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country, killing a staggering 230,000 people, and making orphans of multitudes of children. In addition to this natural disaster, soil erosion and deforestation causes periodic heavy flooding. In 2004, flooding killed over 3,000 people on the southern border with the Dominican Republic.
Further, Haiti’s politics have been volatile and the government unstable, with 32 coups in its 200-year history. The most recent coup was in 2004, leading to the resignation and exile of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI) has consistently identified Haiti has one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and a CPI report in 2006 points to a strong correlation between corruption and poverty in Haiti.
The International Red Cross says that about three quarters of the population live on less than $2 US per day. The World Factbook reports a shortage of skilled labor and widespread unemployment or underemployment: “more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs,” and describes pre-earthquake Haiti as “already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty.” And the United Nations has identified Cité Soleil, the largest slum in the capitol city of Port-au-Prince, as “the most dangerous place on Earth.”
“I liken helping Haiti to trying to move Mexico Beach one spoonful at a time. It can be overwhelming, but we have made progress and helped so many,” says Dr. Woodie. “It’s edifying. The people have an indomitable spirit that’s contagious,” he says, “and THMT is committed to making life better for them.” Dr. Woodie, a practicing family physician and Medical Director of a women’s prison in northwest Florida, is currently working on a book called “Spoon” that tells the story of the people the teams have met and their rich culture, a mixture of French, African, and native Taino. Dr. Woodie also teaches Advanced Pathophysiology at a local state university in the school of nursing graduate program.
THMT has a website: myhaititeam.com where people can learn more about the team. Volunteers are always welcome, as are donations of monetary support and medical supplies.