July 22, 2008, Torbeck, Haiti, 3AM. "How did I get here?", was the question running through my mind, followed by, "And, why do I already know that I'll be back?". It was the last night night of my first trip to Haiti. The temperature was around 90F, humidity ridiculous. The power was out again, so my one source of cool air, a pedestal fan I had positioned as close to myself as possible, was dead. I was miserably hot and sweaty, suffering from cumulative sleep deprivation, and nursing a pounding headache from too much time in the sun with a heat index of 115F the day before. I had already made half a dozen trips to stand under the cool trickle of water that was called the 'shower'.
The week before I left for Haiti had been spent on Hilton Head Island, celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. The day after returning home from that trip, I left for an eleven day trip to volunteer at Maison de Naissance (MN, "Home of Birth"), a birthing home that provides maternal health care and birthing services at no cost to women who could not otherwise access or afford them. I had traveled often and extensively before, but never to any place like this, and I was on my own. The upside was plenty of time for reflection, which led to my decision that I would continue to help MN in any way that I could. It was a profoundly life changing experience and decision, light years away from my former 20+ years in IT.
It started with a presentation by one of the clinic's founders, Dr. Stan Shaffer, at our church in 2007. I was intrigued, but not sure how I could help. In February of 2008, I happened to ask the pastor of our church if he had any news from MN, and he told me that they were having a meeting for 'community friends' the following week, and suggested that I attend. Halfway through the meeting, I stepped out to get some coffee. When I returned, Dr. Shaffer approached me and said, "I understand you have a background in IT, and like to work on cars. When can you go to Haiti?". As it turned out, these were two of the areas of greatest need at the clinic, and so I agreed to go.
Now, you must be wondering, why did I go back? I can only say that in the midst of the most abject poverty, hunger, lack of clean water, sanitation, and health care, I found the most resilient, upbeat, and enterprising people that I'd ever encountered. And I finally found what had always been missing from my professional career, meaningful work that truly made a difference in other people's lives.
In April of 2011, I was hired as director of the Maison de Naissance Foundation (now Global Birthing Home Foundation, sponsor of Maison de Naissance maternity clinic), and I've now made 26 trips to Haiti since July 2008. I will be heading back next month, and I can't wait.