Sharon Kennison - 2015 Program Participant

A volunteer in Haiti with a local teen

Naika, the girl with the sore throat, and me

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I originally went to Carrefour Haiti in 2012 on a mission trip. Once there, I was just utterly amazed at the living conditions of the people of the area. I remember riding along the highway from the airport, looking at the rubble that was still visible, and wondering how I would ever survive in such a place. We worked with the kids at a bible school, and the love for God that was evident was truly amazing. The smiles of the children, well they would almost have to be seen to be believed; the area touched my heart in ways that I had just never imagined, and I knew I had to go back someday.

Why did you choose International Medical Aid?

While in Haiti in 2012, I became acquainted with a young girl named Naika. She had a history of throat problems that could never get completely resolved. I first met her at the bible school when one of the ladies that I traveled with told me about this girl with a sore throat. I looked at her throat and it looked pretty bad. As a team, we gave what we could to help treat her. The next day, she was worse. Her throat was so very swollen and extremely tender that I was afraid that her airway would close and she would die.

I am an ER nurse, and her plight touched me so very much. She had this precious face and a sweet personality, cared for her small brother, and loved God so much. But she was in danger of dying. So we took her to the doctor and paid for her care. A tiny amount indeed, but it saved her life. I knew that there was so much more that I could do to help. Not by visiting and singing, or walking around a talking to people, but in a fashion that would make a difference in the health of the people of this area. Through our local ER doctor, I met Homayon with IMA and our first medical mission trip was born. We went in 2013 and I found that the feelings that I had the previous year were still there, so I was destined to return.

What was your favorite part about Haiti?

Seeing people that are truly in need and watching their reactions to you being there to care for them. They didn't have the "I am entitled" mentality that I so often see in my daily job. They were really grateful for us being there, and even with waiting in the heat for hours, they still smiled and said thank you when we left.

What makes International Medical Aid unique?

Being made to feel a real part of the team was an unusual aspect of our program. Instead of being told "this is what you will do and when you will do it," Homayon and IMA listened to my suggestions and balanced out all thoughts to make our medical mission a good one. No thought was not important enough to be considered, and he never made me feel as if I was any less important than anyone else on the team.

In what ways did local staff support you throughout your time in Haiti?

I had previously developed a friendship with one of the local pastors while on my first trip in 2012. When I started working with Homayon for our first medical mission trip, it was through this same pastor that we were able to really get moving towards our goal, and he and his friends have continued to be an active part of our trips. I like having some "friendly" faces when I hit the ground, it makes me very comfortable and more like I have come home again.

Mountain view in Haiti

 View from the balcony.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

It is hard to always remember that you are not totally in control, that God has that in his hands. But when you are seeing so many in need, and are used to not losing a patient, it is hard to back away a bit and not stress so much. My goal from year to year is to remember that we can't save them all, we save the ones that we can. And try to remember that we ARE making a difference in many lives.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

Mornings start early! Often before the sun rises in this part of the world. After a quick breakfast, we dress and head out to the location of the clinic. On the first day at each location, there is a lot more work, as we have to carry in the supplies and set everything up. But even with a return day, there is a lot to do. Getting supplies set out and ready can take some time. After we make sure that everyone has their translator with them, we start the morning with a prayer that we can do the best that we can, and that God will protect everyone that works as well as everyone that we see. Then the doors open!

Hundreds of patients come through each day. From triage to weighing and measuring to the providers table, than pharmacy table, the survey table, and then out the door. Treating those in dire need of care, starting IVs, and giving medicines to those in need. This year I worked at the pharmacy table, filling the prescriptions and monitoring the directions that the translator gives to the patients.

We stop for an hour for lunch. Often the food provided is scarce, and I usually leave it for the translators to eat. Our team packs snack foods with us and we eat these during the clinic days. It is hot, so I’m not that hungry anyway. There is plenty of water, thanks to Homayon; we work hard to keep hydrated. We are inside a concrete building, with limited windows and doors, and it is hot!

After the lunch break, it is back to work. More patients, more medicines to give out, more IVs to start, more smiles to see on their faces. Once the clinic "closes" it is time to pack up the supplies, to either be put out the next day or to take to the next location. We head back to where we are staying. Sometimes we talk about the day, what went right, what we can improve upon. We eat a bite, take a shower, and try to relax a little. It is early to bed, as morning will come early as well, and it will start all over again.

What are some of your favorite moments from your time in Haiti?

On Sunday, we hosted a hygiene clinic at one of the local churches. The pastor's wife taught the class, showed people how to properly brush their teeth, wash their hands, and general hygiene practices. Than we passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste that IMA brought with them. To see the smiles on the faces of those at the clinic!

Also, this year we were able to go to the home of another pastor, where we had visited a few years ago. He has many children he took in after the earthquake and another organization has helped him to rebuild his home to accommodate these children. We were able to see the work that has been done and know that these children are truly blessed to have this pastor in their lives.

We also were able to visit the beach this year for a few hours. To get away and relax as a team, and to be able to see more of the beauty that Haiti has to offer.

Health clinic in Haiti

Area shot of one of the clinics

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

This year we stayed in a home owned by an American couple. They were very sweet and provided well for our needs. We actually had beds to sleep in this year and didn't have to use our air mattresses. They provided breakfast and supper, and even cooked us American foods to eat. It was very nice to have such a place to stay, but the best part of this house was probably the view. You could see for miles, the ocean, towards Port au Prince, the mountains, and the houses that dot the side of the mountain, and you could hear the roar when the electricity finally came on for those houses. It made me appreciate even more what I have here at home.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Haiti?

Pack light! The weather goes from hot to hotter, so bring light weight clothes. You can find someone to do laundry for you, but I still recommend a clean pair of socks and underwear for each day you will be there. Mosquito spray! A hat and sunscreen are a must. Bring water bottles, and fill them at the airport so they are ready to go when you arrive in Haiti!

I always make sure that I bring food too, such as tuna packets, protein bars, peanut butter, etc. Foods which provide protein and are convenient to put in your luggage, with little waste as far as trash. (nothing that is in a can). Food can be iffy at times and being away from your norm can cause some stomach upsets. You don't want to become ill because you didn't eat enough to keep your body going.

Also, remember to not make yourself a target, so leave the expensive items at home (such as rings and watches, fancy shoes, expensive cameras, etc.).

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

The biggest benefit of volunteering abroad, I feel, is seeing how others live. Yes, we can do that here as well, by going to a section of the country that has a poor standard of living, poor healthcare, etc. But it is just different when you see how people manage to survive in a place such as Haiti. Where they have so very little, they have a very poor chance of ever climbing out of that pit to achieve a better life, yet they are still trying and working at raising their children and making the best life possible. They don't sit around and wait for someone else to provide, they do the best that they can.

Again, it makes me realize just how blessed I am to live where I do, and to have healthy children and grandchildren who are able to take care of their own family without the struggles that I see in Haiti. It has opened my heart to being more willing to give to others here, and allowed me to see that it is truly better to give.

How has volunteering in Haiti impacted your life?

Visiting Haiti the first time in 2012 opened my heart to helping others. Each return since, doing what I do best, has only enhanced that feeling. Through these missions, I have found myself being more open to helping others here. Paying it forward has become almost a way of life. Donating to others in need is a part of my regular routine now. Whether it is a relief organization in Haiti, a person in need here, or even a dog rescue who is trying to make a difference, I find myself thinking more of others than I do myself. Because of our medical missions, I helped to start our own organization, which helps the efforts here as well as in Haiti. And I have managed to talk to others, and have had friends join me in trips to Haiti. And it doesn't stop! It is like these trips have become a snowball, which I pray continues to grow and grow, until everyone everywhere understands how important it is to help others!

What is the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

The hardest part about volunteering abroad is the not knowing. Leaving my own "comfort zone" where I know the people around me, the culture, the language, and the situation to go to a location where all the above are unknown. Leaving family behind, and that little part of your brain that tells you that you just might not make it home again (let's face it, we all see the stories of plane crashes and foreigners being kidnapped abroad). Just having to step away from all that I know to go to a third-world country is probably the scariest thing I have ever done.

Sunset view from an airplane

The sun setting as I was flying home.

Would you recommend International Medical Aid to others?

Absolutely! I have visited Haiti with Homayon and Roger three times now, and plan to return in the spring. They make it almost effortless to get there by booking the flights, etc. They make the arrangements on the ground, so we always have a safe place to stay and have adequate transportation. They go out of their way to make sure that they are watching out for us.

This past trip, one of our team members went down. He called the driver and had them come and take her home so that she could rest. His concern was his team, and that is where it should be. Through the time planning as well as when we are there, they always take into consideration the suggestions that we make to them. It definitely is a "team approach" while they retain the final choice based on safety, expense, etc. I hope that this relationship also continues for many more years to come.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

Would I volunteer again, and to where? That one is easy, back to Haiti. Haiti has captured my heart and is hanging on tight. I love the people that we work with, I love seeing how things are improving slightly to the area each year that I return, and I love seeing how some of the children are growing and doing better in their lives. Seeing how you can make a difference in people’s lives, there is no better feeling. I look forward to returning to Haiti for several years to come.