Local efforts in Haiti to be featured on NBC Dateline

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Remote Medor, Haiti, was thrown uncharacteristically into the spotlight during a recent medical clinic hosted in part by a delegation from Arlington's Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish's Haiti Committee.

For two weeks in December, the small village in Haiti's central mountains was taxed for space and food as dozens of medical workers and builders descended upon the area - some literally parachuting from an airplane - to provide assistance to thousands of Haitians.

Lest the volunteers have forgotten their cameras, crews from NBC Dateline news, led by reporter Ann Curry, were there to pick up the slack. The network is scheduled to air a one-hour program on the medical mission Jan. 9 at 7 p.m., barring any unforeseen changes in programming. The program marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit the country last January.

OLQP has "twinned" with the people of Medor and the local St. Joseph Parish since 1997, visiting numerous times and providing financial support for many projects. The number of delegation visitors - usually only a handful of people from Our Lady, Queen of Peace - expanded for this trip due to a new partnership between the parish and the Knoxville-based nonprofit Remote Area Medical (RAM) Volunteer Corps.

Sue Carlson, chair of the Our Lady, Queen of Peace Haiti Committee and an ophthalmologist, said the parish became connected with RAM through word of mouth and mutual acquaintances. Since last September, RAM's founder and president, Stan Brock, has been a force to be reckoned with, Carlson said. Within three months, he met with the Haiti Committee, surveyed the land and organized the trip.

"We've had a lot of trouble getting affiliation with other organizations because as soon as they find out where Medor is located, they say 'thanks but no thanks,'" she said. For an organization specializing in remote areas, "Medor fit the bill perfectly."

According to Carlson, NBC had been interested in featuring RAM, and the organization's December trip made for a prime opportunity.

During the first week, a medical clinic, eye clinic, dentist and veterinarian treated hundreds of patients, many of whom walked for hours to receive care. Carlson and other volunteers gave talks on Haiti's newest plague, cholera, including what the disease is and how to prevent and treat it. Pediatrician Dr. Heidi Sampang, an Our Lady, Queen of Peace parishioner, said that with more doctors present they could care for adults as well as children. Most patients were treated with Tums, Tylenol and vitamins, Sampang said.

After three days, the volunteers had run out of vitamins, most over-the-counter medications and glasses. They made small care packages with whatever leftovers they could find.

"It was overwhelming," Sampang said. "We felt so bad because some we had to turn away because there was not enough time and not enough meds."

For even a little, the Haitians were grateful. When you gave them even a small bottle of bleach or oral rehydration packets, "it was like you were giving them the world," Carlson said.

In addition to the medical work, volunteers and hired Haitian workers constructed a road to Medor - without it, the trip from Port-au-Prince takes eight hours via van, truck, mule and legs - and created an airstrip to enable access for emergency aircraft.

NBC camera crews, meanwhile, were constantly rolling. Volunteers interacted regularly with Curry - sharing meals and even hiking up the mountain with her on the first day.

Carlson said she hopes the attention brought to Medor by NBC will help Our Lady, Queen of Peace's efforts in the village. In addition to needing funding for medical care and clean water programs, the Haiti Committee needs to raise money to repair and rebuild St. Joseph Church and the primary school that was damaged after an earthquake aftershock last February. The bill is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars - a truly overwhelming number.

"Without grants or outside donations we can't do all of the things that we would hope to be able to do," Carlson said. And she hopes the combined efforts of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, RAM and NBC will be "a dream come true for the people of Medor."

Find out more


Mark your calendars

NBC Dateline special on Haiti

Jan. 9

7 p.m.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011