One of the best parts of working with Peacework Medical, is meeting people from all over who share a common goal. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a P.A. from Denver, Stephen Konieczny, on the past 2 trips to Ranquitte.
He’s a pretty modest guy, but an amazing clinician. When he’s with patients, there’s a sense of patience and compassion that embodies the work we do. I asked him to make a post for Ropa and he wrote possibly the most mature and coherent piece that will ever be posted on this site. As a Father himself, he offers a different perspective that I think many of you will appreciate. Enjoy:
Traveling to Haiti can be a bit of a mind-warp for your average American. You leave the comforts of your home in America to the chaos of Port au Prince, heat, and overall “third world” conditions that still are pervasive throughout this beautiful country. I had the privilege of being a member of the Peacework Medical Projects team that just returned from an eleven day trip to the community of Ranquitte in the northern mountains of Haiti.
As a father of two young boys ages 3 and 6, everything I have seen and experienced is now filtered through the prism of being a father. I was constantly asking myself how my children would fit into the environment and social structure in a community like Ranquitte, Haiti. Perhaps the most striking first impression I had upon returning to the community this year is the happiness and joy on display from the children in the community.
Roaming the streets of Ranquitte are tons of children playing, socializing, joking around, play fighting, playing football, and everything you wound expect children to do. Almost universally they have huge smiles on their faces and are playing with joy. I could certainly see my own children fitting into the scrum of children horsing around at the community football game one evening–name calling, kung fu fighting, wrestling on the ground, and generally putting on a show for the Blan (white people) in town. The kids also are cruising the community almost entirely without parental supervision that I could see. Kids as young as three were out in the streets with the older siblings or friends with the parents nowhere in sight. It seems that this can only occur because of the strong sense of community in this agrarian community. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows to which family children belong. Instead of watching television at night (because there are none), the people of the community are on the streets talking and socializing. It seems it takes nothing more complicated than this to create a strong community.
The typical sheltered American might ask themselves: How can kids be so happy in a place like Ranquitte with no electricity, no reliable running water, no shopping malls or grocery stores, no movie theaters, no televisions, ipads, xbox, wii, and generalized shaky access to education? On a more philosophical level, we can ask: What do children need to be happy?
To answer this, I would like to address the inverse of the above question: What can make children unhappy? After observing my own children and the happy roaming children of Ranquitte, I have come to the conclusion that some of the most fundamental things in human existence that can make children unhappy are hunger, illness, and lack of safe shelter. Don’t get me wrong: Ranquitte is not a virtual utopia of happy, care-free children. The children at the orphanage were often smiling, but the anxiety, malnutrition, and lack of the constant love of parents is written all over their faces. The children in the feeding program who are only guaranteed one solid meal a day were not always bouncing bundles of care free joy. Also, there are the ill children who are visibly unhappy. For example, the unfortunate 15 year old girl we cared for last year dying of cancer was miserably unhappy.
Children will be children, and children are innately happy creatures. However, if a child is hungry, ill, not cared or loved, or generally getting soaked in the middle of the night when it is raining, that innate happiness can disappear in an instant.
This is where organizations like Ropa de Relief, Peacework Medical Projects, and the other countless similar organization across the globe come into play. These organizations want to improve communities such as Ranquitte on a fundamental human level. To do so, we must first provide the children food, health, and security. We come to provide medicine. We come to put roofs over heads. We come to support feeding programs and orphanages. We come to get to know the community and work with them as partners. With basic human needs met, children can do what they do best: play with joy and live life to the fullest. In the end, isn’t this what life is about?
We all want the “third-world” conditions of Haiti to slowly erode into history, and this is the way to make it happen. Provide the children with their health, satiate their hunger, and keep a dry roof over their heads. With these basic needs met, children can pursue play, education, and life. In the end we hope this can infuse the next generation with self-determination, and the people of Haiti can improve their own country how they choose, not necessarily how aid organizations choose. After all, timoun yo tan kap vini an (Children are our future)…
I am honored to be affiliated with all the great souls of Ropa de Relief and Peacework Medical Projects. Thank you for allowing me to contribute a small part of the narrative.