Randy McCloy is a Gastroenterology physician in Memphis Tennessee. He also serves as a deacon at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion. Here is his reflection written shortly after returning from our recent trip.
December 2011: Who Are We After Haiti
The week following Thanksgiving, my son, Kellar, a fourth-year medical student, and I joined parishioners Sherye Fairbanks and her daughter, Tess, and John Mutin on a mission trip to Haiti. The group was organized by Dr. Susan Nelson and other members of the WestTennessee Haiti Partnership, including Deacon Drew Woodruff and Ruthie Lentz. The visit was to St. Vincent School for Handicapped Children, and the purpose was to offer the children and staff members as much as we could medically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our group totaled 18 people, and included another physician, aged 89, who saw patients every day; a doctor of physical therapy, who was very helpful to so many kids with physical deformities; at least two priests and one other deacon, as well as volunteers whose sole motivation was to help out wherever needed. Most of us felt we entered the country as relative strangers, but left there as very good friends. Three plane rides and a long bus trip from the airport made for a long first day of travel, and some of us likely were outside of our comfort zone, but no one complained and all adjusted to living conditions far inferior to U.S. standards.Some facts about Haiti: it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with 80% ofthe population living under the poverty line, and most Haitians living on under two dollars a day. There is an enormous gap between the few wealthy and the vast majority who are poor;1% of the population controls 50% of the country’s wealth. Health-wise, 50% of children have received no vaccinations; only 40% of Haitians have any access to basic health care; the incidence of tuberculosis and malaria is very high, and thousands die each year from these potentially curable diseases; 75% of households do not have running water. I could go on, but you get the picture, and that is enough grief for one day. About St. Vincent school: it was founded in 1945 by Sister Joan Margaret, and prior to the earthquake of January 2010, there were over 350 students. That number has been reduced to a little over 200 now, and most are boarded at the school. Many are orphans, some having just been dropped off at the school entrance by a parent unable to care for their child, feeling that this method of abandonment was better than watching the baby starve to death. These orphaned children are adopted by the school and cared for there, and are given the name“Vincent” as their family name. In fact, while he was there two years ago, Ollie Rencher baptized such an infant. The children of St. Vincent have infirmities including blindness, but many more are deaf, and many were born with severe developmental abnormalities: some are dwarfed, or have only partially developed extremities, often with only stumps for arms or legs. Many are confined to wheelchairs, or must uses crutches and/or prosthetic limbs to get around. The blind children are frequently led around by their deaf or otherwise physically disabled peers. In spite of their deformities and their enormous disadvantage in life, the children appear happy and content with their lives, some seemingly unaware of the serious hand they have been dealt. When we arrived, the children all greeted us in the schoolcourtyard, grinning and waving to us, and wanting to “high-five” anyone near them. The deaf ones tried to impress us with their sign language abilities, or wanted to know what our individual “sign” was, so they’d know how to address us. Many were just be content to hug our legs or sit in our laps. Complete strangers to them, we were immediately welcomed and accepted, even loved…like God’s love…unconditional. To look into the faces of these physically compromised but happy children is truly to see the image of Christ, and one cannot help but be overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions: sad and happy at the same time; frustrated at their plight in life, but eager to help them any way we can, for as long as we can. To have experienced the children of St. Vincent School is to have received a gift, a learning gift from God that calls us to look inward and be aware of what we have, and what values are necessary to sustain us. Seeing the innocence and joy in the eyes of these children cannot help but strengthen our own resolve to seek Christ in our own lives.
Who are we now, after visiting Haiti? Who am I, after seeing old women and children in ragged clothes, begging on the streets of Port-Au-Prince, because they are hungry?Or seeing young women walking around with baskets of fruit delicately balanced on their heads, hoping to sell enough to provide at least one meal a day for that day…and then start the survival process all over again the next day? Who am I after seeing the “tent cities”, which house a half million homeless persons, where the space in which they live has dirt floors, and may be the size of an American powder room? I personally am not the same person. I hope to be a person changed for the better, one who can love as these children love, can accept whatever changes God has in store for me, and to use them for growth and transformation. Who are you now, and who will you become when change occurs in your life?