Hospital Albert Schweitzer/Sister Cities Essex Haiti

Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in rural Deschapelles, Haiti, founded in 1956 by Dr. Larimer Mellon and his wife, Gwen Mellon after reading about the humanitarian work of Albert Schweitzer in Africa, continues to be the one hospital in the area that provides medical care available 24/7. It charges a reasonable fee to patients, but no one is ever turned away for lack of funds.  Its in-hospital services offer internal medicine, general and trauma surgery, at-risk deliveries, pediatrics, neonatal care, and physical therapy. Unlike other hospitals, it has a laboratory, x-ray facilities and a pharmacy enabling patients to get their exams and receive meds on site, unique to Haiti.  It has Opthalmology and Dental services and Orthotics services. All full-time physicians are Haitian. Visiting physicians and health specialists come to Deschapelles to share their knowledge of more sophisticated but applicable health information and skills. The hospital serves as a referral hospital beyond its district for cases that are too complex for the other hospitals and clinics.  HAS has a Community Services division that reaches out into its 610 sq, mile district with a population of 300,000 people with outlying health and community development services.  4 Health Centers, with two in the more marginal mountainous areas and two nearer to the hospital provide prophylactic care, immunizations for children, health education, pre and post-natal care for pregnant women, and follow-up care for patients seen in the hospital.  It also provides a tree planting program as well as critical wells and water programs that provide potable water to the surrounding communities as well as help in building latrines.

There are two significant challenges that Hôpital Albert Schweitzer is facing. First, it is the only hospital In the area that provides care 24/7 and, every Friday, ambulances from the two hospitals (both about an hour away) arrive with their sickest patients who might not survive without a physician’s oversight, and neither hospital has physicians during the weekends. Second, the Ministry of Health has decreed that all women should give birth in a Health facility.  Because of active matron/midwife programs, most women give birth at home. Now, with this admonition from the government, women are showing up at the hospital doors in labor and cannot be turned away. Both of these challenges place additional demands on the physicians and nurses as well as bed space at HAS.  All of this is run on a budget from approximately $7,000,000 a year.

Sister Cities Essex Haiti was created in 2010 after the devastating earthquake, at the encouragement of the Selectmen of Essex to do something that was sustainable, long-lasting and would provide opportunities for establishing personal relationships between the people of Haiti and the Essex area. We realized that being a Sister City, and part of the Sister Cities International family, would best enable us to fill the mission.  We partner with our “Sister City” Deschapelles through an all-volunteer Organization Developpement Economique et Social (ODES). Our active programs for this past year include a music program, a tennis program, and programs affiliated with our wonderful Deschapelles Community Library.

All of our programs are focused on collaboration, respect for each other, and encouraging the participants to take advantage of learning experiences to become good people.  We have been fortunate to have been able to establish working relationships between the adults and children in our programs with people from Essex and beyond.

The Music Program has grown from being a program led by a local maestro augmented by occasional musicians from Essex,  to one that is now led by classically trained Haitian musicians from Port au Prince.  They have run an annual Band Camp for their fellow rural Haitian musicians to help them improve their skills.

The Tennis Program is fortunate to have three well-trained coaches who augmented their skills with a visit from a professional coach in January 2011. They continue to encourage all interested youth to participate. The more skilled tennis players compete in the Haitian Tennis Federation sponsored competitions in Port au Prince for ages 10 to 18. At the last tournament, of the 14 Deschapelles players, 8 came away with 7 of the 10 trophies.

The Deschapelles Community Library, a beautiful 3000 square foot library that contains over 4000 books in French and Kreyol, is our biggest project. It has children and adult areas as well as a computer area for training and academic research. Its large front room is used as an area to study in a mosquito-free environment as well as a place for educational and cultural programs. It has reading clubs, educational materials to investigate, poetry and theatre clubs, and a Robotics Club. They have biblio-école and biblio-santé outreach efforts where the librarians visit schools and health centers bringing books to peruse and encouraging students and moms and children to visit the library.  Recently they have welcomed adult graduates of a literacy program to continue to hone their reading skills at the library. All of this is run by our Library Administrator, one full time and two part-time librarians.  They held a week-long workshop for 10 potential volunteers for the library out of 20 applicants, training them on the many aspects of Library Science as well as the way to engage with the children and adults who come to use the library.  All these programs are run on a budget of about $35,000 a year.

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