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Former Trimble County resident Kathie Yager Perkinson has seen first-hand the poverty of a Third World country that lies just a few hundred miles off Florida’s coast.
And now she is concerned about how her friends and fellow missionaries in northern Haiti are coping with the horrific earthquake that devastated the city of Port-au-Prince.
In the past decade, Perkinson has visited Haiti several times as a missionary with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, based in Frankfort, Ky. Her last visit was from Oct. 27 to Nov. 18; her next, set for March 31 to May 1, will be her first chance to see the devastation.
Fortunately, “everyone I know personally that was from there or had family there are OK,” Perkinson said in a phone interview Monday from her Bowling Green, Ky., home. She only knows of one acquaintance who lost a family member in the disaster.
Perkinson said she didn’t know about the Jan. 12 7.0-magnitude quake until she read postings by some of her friends in Haiti on Facebook. “I felt good, that if they were using Facebook, they were OK,” she said.
The mission, she said, is located about 100 to 150 miles from Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of the quake. She said she is told everything there is intact.
Perkinson said she was drawn to volunteer with the mission when her son, who works as a nurse, decided to go with the NWHC surgery team. “I went again the next year, and then [a second time] that same year.”
She said she usually cooks for the doctors, nurses and other personnel at the mission while she is there. She also helps with training new Haitian mothers about caring for their infants.
She said it would be difficult for an average American to understand how poor Haitians are. “Our very poorest here would be considered rich in Haiti.”
Often, a Haitian’s only possessions are straw mats to sleep on and cooking pots. The people scrounge for all the work they can get – there are very few jobs in Haiti.
“They work very, very, very hard,” Perkinson said, adding that they often begin lining up at the mission as early as 3 a.m., hoping to get hired to do laundry or help carry things. “They clamour for jobs.”
Their homes, usually, are built with sticks and mud. Some are concrete, but few are waterproof, she said. “Water flows through when it rains. Sometimes, women have to hold their babies when it’s raining to keep them safe” from the water running through their homes.
Haitian homes do not have indoor bathrooms or kitchens. “They cook outside using charcoal. And they can’t cook when it rains.”
Sometimes, they can’t feed their families for days during the rainy season. It’s one of many day-to-day hardships they face, she said.
Perkinson said she did not consider going to help at the mission in the aftermath of the quake. “If I thought I could really help, I would be there,” she said. “But, I don’t think there’s much for a 65-year-old woman to do.”
The organization sent a skeleton crew of surgeons and other staff to help at the mission clinic, at the request of the Haitian government, Perkinson said.
All the hospitals are full, and she said the mission doctors are dealing with people with weeks-old wounds that have seen, at most,rudimentary medical care, and on top of this, have survived the eight-to-10-hour bus ride up the mountain from the city.
She said the surgeons have reported treating everything from compound fractures to cuts and bruises. These are all made worse, though, for lack of anticeptic.
“They have been doing a lot of amputations,” because infection that could have been stopped with antiseptic early on has now traveled into bones and become impossible to treat, even with antibiotics, Perkinson said.
“I’m sure our prosthetics team will be very busy when they go back,” she said.
Because of the poor conditions, she said the doctors at the mission are a special breed. “They can’t be someone who wants everything his own way,” or who can’t make do without the essentials.
Perkinson said Trimble churches have contacted her to offer aid to the people in Haiti she serves.
At the moment, she said the best way to help is by donating cash to the American Red Cross, as shipping donated items is very difficult now.
Contact the Red Cross at (800) 733-2767 or online at www.redcross.org to donate or for more information.