By: Jennifer Grant
I’d just returned from Haiti a week before the hurricane and was still feeling deeply troubled by the poverty I witnessed there. And now: this. Here are ways we can all help our neighbors just a few hours outside of Miami.
When Hurricane Matthew made landfall in southwestern Haiti on Tuesday morning, it was the most severe storm to strike the country in more than 50 years. Haiti’s interim president calls Matthew’s effects “catastrophic.” Winds reached 145 miles per hour, thrashing homes, schools, and clinics. Flash floods caused bridges to collapse and drowned towns along the coast. The hurricane is the most devastating natural event to strike Haiti since an earthquake ravaged the country six years ago and left more than 230,000 people dead. The death toll, three days after the hurricane, is nearing 800, and that number continues to rise.
I had just returned from Haiti a week before the hurricane and was still feeling deeply troubled by the poverty I witnessed there. Now the pictures emerging from Haiti, post-hurricane, show unimaginable ruin. Thousands of homes have been demolished, their roofs blown off and mud floors submerged by murky water. Tens of thousands of people are displaced from their homes, and it’s estimated that at least 350,000 are in need of immediate help. People, who already had so little, have lost everything. I’d just seen a nation battered by poverty, natural disasters, and corrupt, unworkable governments, but one that bravely struggled to recover. And now: this.
I’d gone to Haiti with Hope Through Healing Hands, a Nashville-based global health organization founded after the earthquake in 2010. Because of my global health reporting and interest in the welfare of mothers and children at home and abroad, I was invited on a “learning tour” of health initiatives there. I traveled with a team that included Dr. Jenny Dyer, executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands. It was an inspiring trip. Although I was deeply troubled by the extreme need I witnessed, I left feeling hopeful. I saw communities drawing together, pooling their resources, and caring for one another. I heard mothers detail the improved health of their children. One young mother gratefully described the prenatal care she received from a newly-built clinic in a rural area. This mother, and the others I met, were—like all good moms—delighted by their children and highly motivated to keep them healthy and safe. I think of them post-hurricane and can only imagine what their lives look like now.
Dyer, who holds a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in history and critical theories of religion, lives with her husband and two young sons outside of Nashville. She currently teaches courses in global health policy and religion and global health at Vanderbilt. Dyer sees positive strides being made in Haiti, “slowly, but surely.” These include widespread vaccination of children, reduction of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and successful efforts to teach women about prenatal health as well as the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
In the wake of the recent disaster, I reconnected with Dyer and talked with her about her efforts to break the cycle of poverty in this tiny nation and to find out what inspires her in her work.
“Global health is a smart way to provide peace and stability to a nation,” Dyer said. “For years, our founder Senator Bill Frist, MD, watched how clinics were the heartbeat of villages in Sub-Saharan Africa. As health improved, schools and commerce would emerge to weave together a community of people seeking a future for their children. Foreign assistance for global health offers communities living in extreme poverty a foundation for a society to flourish and security to grow. And this is a good investment for the U.S. Some areas mired in poverty might otherwise become contexts for terrorism to thrive.”
“The Haitian people are proud and strong,” Dyer continues. “Yet they have had inordinate challenges with natural disasters and very poor governmental leadership. As you know, Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere with the highest rate of maternal and infant mortality. But it’s just a few hours outside of Miami. These, truly, are our neighbors.”
Dyer said her Christian faith motivates her to improve the health and economic status of women and communities around the world, including in Haiti. “We’re told not to merely say that we love each other, but to show the truth by our actions,” she said, echoing 1 John 3:18. “My faith compels me to advance humanitarian efforts for the most vulnerable populations around the world—in Africa, Southeast Asia, and to Latin America. In an increasingly globalized world, we have the possibility to save the lives of millions of our neighbors from extreme poverty … including in Haiti.”
Dyer said she hopes that the Haitian people will “recover swiftly” from the effects of the hurricane and that they will receive the continuum of care and education they need in terms of nutrition, clean water, vaccinations, and information on healthy pregnancy and childbirth. Hope Through Healing Hands will help support the hurricane relief efforts, and Dyer says she looks forward to leading another team to the country as soon as possible to help and to witness the continued success of good work there in women’s and children’s health. Hope Through Healing Hands has set up a Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund to raise funding that will be distributed among their trusted partners in Haiti, organizations I was honored to visit just last week. These include CARE, Project Medishare, and J/P HRO with whom Dyer closely works. Every penny will go to our neighbors in this time of need.
For more information, visit the Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund.
This article originally appeared on For Her.