by Lindsay Hand
Formed shortly after the 2010 earthquake, Hands Up For Haiti (HUFH) has made extraordinary progress in bringing much-needed medical supplies and help to the devastated country, as well as teaching natives important life-saving concepts.
The non-profit organization is a self-proclaimed “medical humanitarian organization committed to improving the quality and sustainability of health care in northern Haiti.” Initially founded by Mount Kisco Medical Group doctor and now organization president Jill Ratner along with several others from Northern Westchester, the group wanted to be on the ground to help after the January 12, 2010 earthquake ravaged the developing nation.
Ratner was tireless, contacting colleagues through the American Academy of Pediatrics, and with support from both the local community and MKMG, she organized a team to travel to northern Haiti. After that trip, their goals became clearer and the organization incorporated and gained non-profit status. According to Ratner, “we recognized that our goals were to facilitate clinical trips, incorporate teaching and new technologies to be shared with Haitian doctors and nurses, and to bring much needed equipment to facilities on the ground.”
Through the continued efforts of doctors, nurses, students, and volunteers, the organization has made a huge difference in one of the most medically challenged countries in the world. As Ratner explained, “When you work in Haiti, you are given the gift to see your own life in different terms. All people deserve an equal opportunity to lead fulfilling and healthy lives. It is our goal to try to right the inequality that exists, one person at a time, through promoting improvement in ongoing care.”
Almost 200 people are now involved, most of whom have traveled to Haiti as volunteers numerous times. In the past four years alone, HUFH has facilitated 29 trips to the country and treated over 6,000 patients. In June 2014, HUFH sent 17 people, its largest group ever. Their destinations included Cap Haitien, Bwa de Lance, and Bord de Limonade. The volunteers “worked nonstop,” said Ratner. “They were triaging patients, starting IVs, assisting the doctors, and distributing and administering medication.”
None of this is easy, as for the most part patients are seen and treated in deserted churches and cramped clinics without electricity and running water. In addition, the volunteers prepared and delivered “community lectures” for and to the people waiting outside.
Riley de Jong, a Hunter College nursing student and Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corp. EMT who recently went on her first trip with HUFH, recalled a poignant day when she made the important decision to bring an extremely malnourished three-year-old boy directly to one of the doctors. “That day it really didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment,” she said. “I felt a little helpless, seeing this little boy suffering right in front of my eyes from severe malnutrition. It just seemed so unfair. However, looking back now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Our team provided him with more assistance than he would have ever seen.”
While the organization’s efforts are greatly appreciated by the Haitians, the effect of these trips on the HUFH volunteers is profound. “This work is a labor of love and each person involved has felt that they gain more than they give. It crystalizes for myself and others why we went into health care in the first place, and the satisfaction that it brings to help another human being,” said Ratner. De Jong couldn’t agree more. “Haiti is one of the most beautiful countries you will find, full of beautiful people, beautiful mountains and beautiful smiles. Once you go, you too will fall in love with the country and its people–it is inevitable!”
Hands Up For Haiti will no doubt continue to do unparalleled work in the country. As Ratner explained, “Once you have been to Haiti, you cannot walk away. It stays with you every day of your life. It is the people who have nothing and yet are so grateful for anything you can do for them that keep you constantly engaged. It is the camaraderie of working with so many people who are like-minded and determined, and willing to spend their time just trying to make things better.”
For more information visit www.handsupforhaiti.org.
Two-time Inside Chappaqua Guest Editor Lindsay Hand is an incoming freshman at Cornell University.