The UZIT Experience of Bringing Hope to Haiti

By Keely Garfield

I am returning to Haiti, this time in the role of group leader for Urban Zen Integrative Therapy (UZIT), Clinical Rotation #5. As it turns out, we are an international cast of intrepids, hailing from Curacao, Argentina, Quebec, and London all by way of New York naturellement! This will prove crucial as between us many languages are spoken, but more fortunate is the “bonhomie” tendencies of my new friends and colleagues. Each night we shared good food (I salute the chefs who managed to turn coconut milk, a bottle of hot sauce, and rice into a killer curry!) and considerate conversation, which any way you stir the pot, makes us more human.

Approaching Toussaint Louverture International Airport, the woman sitting directly in front of me begins incanting loudly in Creole and French. She thanks the sky and the earth, she praises the mountains, and sings for dear life. Raising her hands, her fingers create notes in the air above her head. Her prayer is for protection for all of us. From the cockpit, the captain oblivious to the music coming from the cabin matter-of-factly tells us to prepare for landing. That I can do but having been here before, I know that beyond the citronella oil and power bars stashed in my bag, to try to prepare myself for what lies ahead is essentially futile. I come back to the moment exactly as it is and accept the woman’s benediction gladly.

There is so much to tell. Suffice to share just a few of the miracles. Many doors have been flung wide open for us since I was here as part of the UZIT leadership trip back in November 2011. In itself, this is an incredibly powerful testimonial to the efficacy and adaptability of the UZIT program, and its overwhelmingly positive reception in Haiti. In addition to our work at Saint Damien Pediatric Hospital, “Clincal #5” worked alongside the medical staff at St. Luc Hospital in the emergency room and elsewhere providing integrative therapies including in-bed and in-chair yoga, breath awareness, meditation, reiki, essential oils, and contemplative care to stroke patients, diabetics, and their families among others. We led integrative therapy sessions for the medical and maintenance staff both at St. Luc and Saint Damien, as well as offering individual sessions to doctors, administrators, volunteers and anyone else we could literally get our hands on! Another first for UZIT was teaching a Saturday morning yoga class to the children at Father Wasson Angels of Light Program Orphanage and School.

Individually, each member of the group did outstanding work above and beyond the call of duty so to speak. Janera Soerel initiated a successful fundraising campaign on behalf of one of the children at Saint Damien, and purchased a portable oxygen concentrator to allow the boy to be mobile. I will never forget Peterson’s face when he was able to visit with us outside in the sunshine. Eric Pettigrew generously served as a translator where needed and brought his knowledge of homeopathic medicine along just in case. Anytime Karina Muller was MIA, she was to be found playing with the children or giving impromtu Reiki treatments outside of “office” hours. We came to rely heavily on her smart phone’s “Wellness Timer” as a container for our group meditations held nightly on the roof of the hospital. Personally, I was thrilled to be able to visit and work with two young paraplegic women that I previously met at St. Luc Hospital and who had since been relocated to a new house.

Graciously, we were extended an open invitation to visit the abandoned babies room at Saint Damien. Without a doubt it is a terrible thing to contemplate but consider that many of these children were left here because their kin were unable to provide anything for them. After the Earthquake, their homes may have been destroyed, their jobs lost, maybe they themselves were victims of Cholera or were claimed by death. Maybe they themselves were children. Some of the babies have severe health issues that their families could not possibly deal with. Whatever the circumstances were that brought the babies here, they have been delivered, and they are very much alive and kicking! The nurses who sensitively attend to their every need are adorned in pepto bismal pink gowns providing the most obvious sign of gaiety its true. Nonetheless, the babies easily respond to us, returning our caresses with theirs, rejoining their voices to ours, running with us hand-in-hand, and laughing!

In the corner by the window is a child who cannot run and play. She is approximately three years old with cerebral palsy, impaired vision and a host of developmental delays. I was drawn to this girl back in November on my first visit when I would spy on her from the door but this time around I am beckoned into the world of her room. I stand beside her crib and try to see what she sees, hear what she hears, and feel what she feels. She is a dancer. I know because I am also a dancer and I recognize in her imperative, frantic movements the desire to express herself, to communicate even. She simulates a kind of running like a runner, drumming like a drummer, and rocking like a rocking chair on amphetamines. Medically speaking her movements would be described as spastic. In actuality, her choreography is sublime. Periodically, tired out from dancing, she rests. Now she is lying on her side with her back to me. I place my Reiki hand on her belly and sing to her. She makes a huge effort to crank her head towards the sound of my voice. There are the biggest eyes I have ever seen with eyelashes that curl for days. Now, she began to sing too in her way. Gurgles, and “ohh” sounds, and trills trip over each other as they spill out of her mouth.

She started laughing. What, I wondered, had tickled her? What’s so funny? Honey! Suddenly I became aware of the window next to her crib. The way the curtains billowed, the sunlight streaming in, and the shadows too. The play of light and the patterns it revealed on the wood slats of the crib. The rough texture of the sheet she lay on, and the noise of the other babies that kept her company. The rhythm of her heart beating when she drove her limbs that way. The moisture of the saliva escaping her lips, and the river of water cascading over her chin. I held her feet. I could tell she liked it. I rocked her in the cradle of her body. I could tell she liked that too. Ah, a different rhythm for a change. I said thank you to her for teaching me her dance. “I’ll come back and see you tomorrow.” I am not sure if she believed me but neither of us was prepared to abandon hope. Not now, not ever.

Photo Credit: Keely Garfield