The images from post-earthquake Haiti have been incredible, but nothing we have seen back home is as devastating as the real thing in Haiti. Just ask IBO Clarence Freed, a semi-retired surgeon who was among 45,000 Americans who were there when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck. He was one of 27 Pennsylvanians on a mission from the Souderton Mennonite Church.
Dr. Freed, his nurse Brenda Leister, and others on the medical team, were in the village of Posse-bois-d'orme, west of the capital of Port-au-Prince about 50 miles from the epicenter, dispensing medical care to villagers, when trees swayed, roads buckled, buildings crumbled and the world came tumbling down around them.
"Being in Amway over the years has changed my attitude and priorities significantly," says Dr. Freed. "This business has nurtured my dream to do third world medicine and it gave me the time to do my dream. We had been assisting a new Haitian doctor, who didn't have a lot of surgical background." Dr. Freed was advising on surgical care and sizing up conditions for a return visit. "Third world medicine is extremely different than here in America. We were seeing patients with malaria, parasitic enteritis, things I’d never seen before."
After the earthquake, everyday medical care turned into primary emergency care. Because no buildings were safe to stay in, they took their clinic outside, operating out of the back of a pickup. The average Haitian speaks Creole, a dialect of French, so Dr. Freed had to work through an interpreter, and he had to tell people there was only so much they could do because of circumstances. With already limited medical supplies now scarce, healing broken bones meant improvising splints out of cardboard boxes.
Many of the people were dehydrated from lack of liquids as basic as drinking water. After two hours working in the hot sun, Dr. Freed became dizzy. "I told them if I didn't get some water, I was going to become one of their sick," he recalls of the dilemma. "All they had were a limited number of bags about the size of a sandwich baggy containing about 8 oz. of water. The Haitian doctor gave me one, and as I broke it open and started drinking, I looked up to see 400 pairs of eyes staring at me desperate for water. I was working on a patient and as the water dripped from the bag, he sopped up the drips with his fingers."
Once they had done all they could there, they drove to another nearby village, Corts-de-Fer, which sits on a fault line. The 1,300 inhabitants had abandoned the wrecked village out of fear, erecting a makeshift tent city out of bed sheets and blankets on top of a nearby mountain. Collecting a few meager supplies from a nearby mission center, Dr. Freed's group filled about 45 bags with rice, canned beans, and cooking oil to distribute. "We saw these kids run down the mountain to streams where the only fresh water was, fill buckets to within an inch of the top, and carry the buckets on the tops of their heads all the way back up to the mountain. However, those streams are also where cattle defecate, people bathe, and town sewage washes out. Yet, that's the only place to get water."
After a few days in the country, Dr. Freed and a few others on the medical team decided to travel back into Port-au-Prince to see how they might help there. The drive out to Corte-de-Fer, only about 90 miles, which would normally take about 8 hours before the earthquake, took much more than that after the quake. All along the way, they found devastation and the wounded. "We were constantly aware that of the good we were doing, it was only a drop in a bucket of constant need," says Dr. Freed, who wants to return to Haiti soon to do more. The need in Haiti is desperate, says Dr. Freed, and "I am already planning my next trip."
Meanwhile, IBOs back in the U.S. and Amway Global are reaching out to the people of Haiti, too. IBOs, Amway, and Amway's affiliates, employees, and customers have given more than $1 million in donations, including more than $823,400 in cash giving.
Here is a heartwarming video update to our story on IBO Clarence Freed and one of his original patients in Haiti, an elderly man with a broken leg. Perhaps as we remember the anniversary of this terrible natural disaster, you have experiences from helping the people of Haiti you would like to share. Please e-mail us with a brief description and contact information. (Video linked with permission.)