1HAITI4_FINAL.JPGPhoto submitted by Jon Wagner

Jan Lundeen, a nurse and instructor at Carl Sandburg College, uses a stethoscope to examine a Haitian patient at the Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic. Lundeen’s trip this July with her husband, Wagner, was her second time volunteering at the clinic.

Healing in Haiti

Local college instructors witness strength of human spirit on island work trip

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Two local college instructors left the relative comforts of American life this summer to spend two weeks volunteering in the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Jan Lundeen, a nursing instructor at Carl Sandburg College, and her husband Jon Wagner, professor of anthropology at Knox College, left for Haiti on July 8. The couple volunteered with the Friends of the Children of Haiti organization, which provides medical care to Haitian residents out of a clinic in Cyvadier, Haiti. This was Lundeen's second year to volunteer with FOTCOH and Wagner's first trip.

Lundeen said her interest in trying something new inspired her to volunteer.


ERIC BEHRENS/GateHouse News Service

Hundreds of Haitians stood in line hours each day, waiting to be seen at the Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic. Wagner, said many walked for days then camped on the ground during the two-week clinic.

I was interested in branching out," she said. "I just looked them up on the Web, and started reading about the organization. I applied and went for the first time in May of 2006."

The organization and medical clinic were spearheaded by Richard and Barb Hammond, of the Peoria area, who first visited Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on a Caribbean cruise in the 1970s. The couple formed FOTCOH, and have joined with other volunteers for more than 20 years to provide medical care to Haitians. The Hammonds' efforts led to the building of the medical clinic in 1999. The medical center, which is affiliated with OSF St. Francis, hosts five two-week clinics each year, serving thousands of Haitians per clinic.

According to its Web site, FOTCOH is an all-volunteer organization that relies on private donations and fundraisers to cover operational expenses. The staff and mission volunteers donate their time, travel expenses and skills to make each clinic session possible.

Wagner and Lundeen joined a crew of three doctors, four nurses and other support staff, like Wagner, working with interpreters. A surgeon joined them during the second week of the clinic.

Photo submitted by Jon Wagner

Jon Wagner, anthropology professor at Knox College, distributes stickers, used as entrance passes, to Haitians standing in line at the Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic. Wagner spent two weeks volunteering at the clinic on the southern coast of Haiti.

The participants stayed in the clinic, Wagner said, in modest dorm rooms. The crew woke before dawn most days and worked throughout the day in 100 degree temperatures.

"Exhaustion was the only reason we could sleep at night, it was so hot," Wagner said.

While Lundeen spent her time caring for patients, Wagner stood outside the gates doing "crowd control." Each morning, hundreds of Haitians stood in line outside the clinic waiting to be seen. Wagner was tasked with checking the crowd for urgent cases and distributing stickers to those who were allowed to be treated. Only about half of those at the gates were treated each day. Wagner said their clinic group served 2,600 people in less than 14 days.

"Some people that come to the clinic have walked for days," Wagner said. "They camp outside and sleep on the ground."

Those coming to the clinic stand all day in the sun because shade is in short supply. But instead of complaining, the Haitians coming to the clinic spend their time waiting playing drums and singing.

"I hate that poor but happy stereotype, but they make the best of what they have," Wagner said. "You don't see any self-pity or entitlement."

Lundeen said most of the ailments facing the Haitians are easily treatable, like high blood pressure, diabetes or tropical infections, but medical care is basic and medication we may take for granted, like Tylenol, is hard to come by.

"Resources in the area are modest at best," Lundeen said.

Lundeen and Wagner left Haiti on July 22 having seen human suffering but also compassion and selflessness. Wagner described a young volunteer who spent 30 minutes using iodine cloths to wash the feet of an old man with diabetes.

"We feel so entitled here we get mad if we have to wait five minutes for a hamburger," Wagner said. "The patience of this young man was inspiring."

Both instructors said they would incorporate their experiences in Haiti into the classroom. Lundeen said she now has a deeper understanding of people.

"This reaffirms my belief that having a lot of things, a lot of stuff and resources, doesn't necessarily make people happier or better," she said. "There's an amazing amount of internal contentedness that they have under those conditions, it makes me realize that we can have and do have the courage to face insurmountable odds with dignity."

For Wagner, who with Lundeen has previously hosted academic trips with students to Africa and who has studied the Middle East, the trip inspired an interest in Haitian history and culture, which he says may creep into his curriculum at Knox.

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On the Web: www.fotcoh.org


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