On June 10, 2015, Haiti Outreach – pwoje espwa (H.O.P.E.) / Alyans Santa Borgne (ASB) celebrated two major milestones: we graduated 240 women who completed their Mothers’ Club training, and we inaugurated a brand new gynecological surgical suite and delivery room. As my old friend and mentor Simon told the group at last October’s community forum to launch S.E.E. Fanm, our women’s empowerment project funded by WomenStrong International, with these substantial additions, H.O.P.E./ASB has shifted into high gear. Its health care system now ranks second in northern Haiti. It was an extraordinarily important day, and the community celebrated with enthusiasm and panache!
Thanks to the hard work of the planning committee and many volunteers, the ceremonies went off without a glitch! The afternoon before the event, a group of excited women arrived and in a couple of hours cleared rubble from what previously had been a construction site; later, another group brought armloads of palm fronds, which were then braided into a fence to mark the site, and others worked late into the evening to make flower arrangements and boutonnières.
Graduation Day kicked off with a mass at the Catholic Church, complete with liturgical dancers and fabulous music – several staff even participated in the festivities!
There was no denying the excitement in the church as the graduation ceremony unfolded – speakers congratulated the women for their commitment and hard work and commended the dedication of the S.E.E. Fanm team, who worked tirelessly to make the Mothers’ Club program a tremendous success. Godparents of the graduating class, Dr Susan Blaustein, Executive Director of WomenStrong International, and Dr Ernst Jasmin, Director of the Ministry of Health for northern Haiti, distributed certificates, to the warm applause of a packed church. The valedictorian carried the day with a rousing speech complimenting her peers and thanking S.E.E. Fanm, H.O.P.E. and ASB for offering the women of Borgne the opportunity to take charge of their lives and make a major contribution to their community. The ceremony ended with a touching passing of the torch, from the graduating class to the candidates for next year’s program.
The graduates and their families and friends then marched a mile to the hospital, to the rousing sound of the fanfare, the Boys Scout band, and the cheers of the crowd lining the way. Without missing a beat, we transitioned to the afternoon portion of the festivities – the inauguration of the first surgical facility in the region, a new delivery room and neonatal ward. It is an impressive space – modern, bright and spacious! Dr Flora Rodriguez, our new Ob/Gyn, has since opened the operating theater and has quickly gotten to work. The community had clearly identified a surgical facility as a top priority, and it was thrilling to witness this need become a reality.
For many years we watched too many women and children die or suffer needlessly because we did not have the staff, equipment or supplies to do routine, simple gynecological interventions at the hospital. The experience of Marinette, shortly after the inauguration, dispelled any doubts we may have had about developing a strong women’s health program. At risk for a complicated delivery, Marinette was brought to the hospital a week ahead of her due date to await the birth of her child. We often saw her walking the halls, anxious for her baby to arrive. Then one afternoon, we heard loud moaning and knew her labor had started — but things did not go as expected. Marinette was experiencing strong contractions but was not dilating. She was in excruciating pain, and her screams let us all know that she was indeed in distress. Had the OR been on line, a simple cesarean section would have ended her pain. Instead, she had to be transported to the closest place where she could have the surgery – a two-hour ride over rough country roads. Thankfully, both mother and baby are doing well, and now, pregnant women experiencing difficult labor no longer have to make the arduous journey for basic gynecological interventions.
Marinette’s story makes it clear that focusing on maternal health and ensuring that women deliver healthy babies and receive emergency surgery right in Borgne was absolutely the right decision for H.O.P.E. and the entire commune of Borgne. We can now help any pregnant woman in northern Haiti in need of emergency support – here’s to safe motherhood and safe newborns!