Demier: Supporting Health Care in rural Haiti

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Demier is a small subsistence farming community of about 400 families spread out in a remote mountainous area about 26 miles west of Dumay. There is no formal infrastructure other than a network of walking paths up and down the mountains connecting the homes, church and one school. It’s a three-hour hike up the mountains from a trailhead that’s accessible only by a 45 minute motorbike ride from the closest city, Leogane. There is no electricity or sewage system and water is available only from captured rainfall and small streams.

In 2000, Richard Hood, a Healing Art Missions board member and faculty at Denison University at the time, led a HAM mission to Demier on a whim to explore a remote mountainous community in Haiti. The day before Richard and the team of Denison student’s arrival, a two year-old had died of diarrhea in Demier. A group of community leaders gathered to meet with the team soon after their arrival and made a compelling argument asking for HAM’s assistance to improve the health of the community to help avoid such future tragedies. The leaders specified their primary needs for support, which included access to clean water, health clinics and latrines. Immediately upon Richard’s return to Dumay, he and Dr. Tracee developed a plan to immediately provide point-of-use, in-home water purification systems HAM could purchase from Gift of Water, another non-profit organization in the area of Dumay that manufactured the units. This would require the hiring and training of a Demier local to be a water technician to support and service the units as well as provide clean water education to the community. One of the community leaders Richard had met with was Ferdinand Louis Juste, who had already been trained as a community health worker at the Hospital St. Croix in Leogone and was the perfect pick to become H.A.M.’s employee and primary contact in Demier.

Over the next four years, H.A.M. continued to send Gift of Water systems to Demier, purchased a building to be used as a medical center, shipped medicines and medical supplies to Ferdinand, held annual medical clinics there, and funded the building of 10 latrines in the community. Constructions of the latrines were a particularly challenging projects as all the cement and cinder blocks required for construction had to be carried up the mountain by hand or mules. In addition to Ferdinand, HAM also hired and trained his brother, Calixte, as a water technician to help service the purification systems, which were now spread out throughout the wide mountainous region.

In late 2004, a violent a coup d'état took place in Haiti and it became too dangerous for H.A.M. teams to continue to visit the area, though Ferdinand and Calixte continued to be paid as water technicians. In 2008, the entire Gift of Water program collapsed and contact with Demier was lost.

Dr. Tracee received a letter from Ferdinand in early 2011, the first contact made since 2008. The letter stated that the cholera epidemic that followed the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12th, 2010, had reached Demier and the community was in desperate need of clean water. Coincidentally, at that same time the Gift of Water program had resurrected in the U.S. and new parts for the systems could be obtained. H.A.M. immediately restarted the program in Demier, reinstating both Ferdinand and Calixte on payroll and getting the system replacement parts to Ferdinand. It was also discovered that because of funding cuts, Hospital St. Croix had ceased paying Ferdinand for his services as a community health worker, though they continued to supply him with vaccines and some medical supplies. H.A.M. has been so impressed with Ferdinand’s dedication to the health of his community that we have committed to paying his salary as community health worker in addition to water technician. H.A.M. has introduced 43 new Gift of Water systems into the community since reconnecting with Demier, and has sent two teams to the community holding health and vaccine clinics. Because of Ferdinand’s dedication and commitment to his community, H.A.M. remains committed to continuing support of health care in the Demier community.