Baraboo area Haiti medical mission celebrates 20th year
Medical missionaries to Haiti have delivered more than health care over the past two decades: They’ve provided hope.
This year the Haiti Medical Mission of Wisconsin is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Each year, several teams of volunteers from the Baraboo area visit a remote part of the poorest nation in the western hemisphere to offer much-needed medical care.
They also prove to the people of Thiotte their plight is recognized and worthy of response. “That’s all we want as human beings, to know that we matter,” said nurse Kathy Roberg.
She’s among several volunteers who have made more than 10 mission trips to Haiti. Teams of doctors, nurses and other volunteers perform surgeries, offer preventive care and provide health education.
The Haiti Medical Mission grew out of a parish twinning program that paired St. Cecelia’s of Wisconsin Dells with a church in Thiotte. St. Joseph’s in Baraboo later joined in the effort to provide basic medical care.
At the time, the community 50 miles from Port au Prince was served by a doctor who visited monthly and charged exorbitant rates. Missionaries from the Dells, Baraboo and the Sauk Prairie area began bringing medical supplies, spending weeks at a time providing care.
“It’s a miracle to them,” said Dr. John “Tony” DeGiovanni, a Sauk Prairie area surgeon who has made 17 trips to Haiti.
Over time, the mission added eye and dental care. In 2001 it won a grant to buy land for a clinic across the street from the church, and later added a secondary facility housing an obstetrics unit, pharmacy and eye clinic. The main clinic operates year-round, employing 25 Haitian staff. “We’re the only significant medical facility in that portion of Haiti,” DeGiovanni said.
Each year, the nonprofit generates $300,000 in cash and in-kind donations. Medical volunteers have donated care valued at more than $2 million.
They’ve done so at considerable cost. Most missionaries use vacation time to make the trip, and spend nearly $2,000 on travel and personal expenses. “It’s a very expensive gift,” Roberg said. “Everybody’s commitment is huge.”
The mission provides medication and supplies, and also pays for Jeep rental and interpreters’ fees. “It costs a lot of money to send a team,” said Dr. Maureen Murphy of Baraboo.
The mission helps support the clinic financially, and welcomes donations for that purpose. But providing hands-on help means more to the giver and receiver than sending a check. “The Haitians really treasure our presence there,” Murphy said.
Clinic staff and missionaries treat 8,000 patients and deliver 300 babies annually. Thanks to clinic staff making house calls, the 160,000 people living around Thiotte have a higher vaccination rate than some parts of the U.S.
“They have so little, and they are such happy and grateful people,” Roberg said.
There are still needs to be met. The area has inadequate sanitation and limited access to clean water. Driving the 50 miles from the capital to Thiotte along riverbeds takes four hours.
“If we get to the point we run out of money, it’s been a good run,” Murphy said. “We’ll do it as long as we can.”
Anyone looking to help can send a check or sign up for the next trip to Haiti. “We’ve had different people step up and give more than you thought anyone would be able to,” Murphy said. “We’ve given people hope.”