With thousands dead and suffering, what can we do?
Times are tough in Northern Michigan, with many worthy causes going
begging for lack of donations. But even over-tapped philanthropists and
hard-hearted skinflints will find it hard not to respond to the
humanitarian crisis in Haiti.
As the Express went to press last week, estimates were ranging into the
hundreds of thousands of dead on the Caribbean island, which ranks as the
poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. The 7.0-level earthquake is the
largest to hit the island in 240 years.
Even in the best of times (if that phrase can be used), Haiti dwells in a
state of chronic desperation, as observed by Traverse City ophthalmologist
Dr. Martin Arkin, M.D., 52, who led a medical mission to the island in
August 2008, and hopes to return there this March.
Its awful -- they have so little to begin with that any small problem
turns into a major one that disrupts what little systems they have to try
to survive, Dr. Arkin says.
Natural disasters are compounded by the ramshackle construction of homes
and other buildings. On Dr. Arkins 2008 trip, he arrived in the wake of
Hurricane Gustav which killed over 1,000 people. He found that homes were
washing off the side of deforested mountains in killer mudslides.
The construction there is pretty bad -- they sure dont have anything
like what were used to here, he says. Many of the poor live in wooden
shacks on the sides of the mountains and there are problems with
deforestation and erosion. With the hurricane, it just washed the houses
off the side of the slopes. Im not sure how the earthquake would affect
that, but it wouldnt seem safe to live in those houses even if they were
Dr. Arkins mission to the town of Fonde De Blanc -- which was set to
occur at Spring Break in March -- has been put on hold due to the
I was in the middle of shipping some supplies to the island and just got
a message to hold up because its pandemonium there, he says.
Hes still hopeful that he will get the go-ahead in the coming weeks.
Fortunately, Fonde De Blanc is far from the epicenter of the earthquake
and its hospital remains intact, although the roof of the towns school
collapsed with the students escaping with their lives.
As in his last mission, Dr. Arkin is working with St. Boniface Foundation,
a Catholic charity based in Massachusetts. He also ships his supplies to
Haiti through an organization called Food for the Poor.
One of Northern Michigans top specialists in corneal surgery, Dr. Arkin
ships his own eye surgery equipment and microscope to Haiti to conduct a
mountaintop eye clinic, removing cataracts and examining patients in a
place where there are few -- if any -- doctors. On his last trip, he
examined some 500 patients and performed 16 surgeries.
This time were sending a cataract-removing machine that was donated by a
national drug company. Its the only machine on the entire island. Were
also shipping medicine, eyeglasses and surgical supplies, he says.
Dr. Arkin has also conducted eye clinics in India, Cuba, Honduras and
Peru. This will be his second trip to Haiti.
But the earthquake could create problems for his upcoming mission: I know
that when the hurricane happened, they didnt even want to think about eye
care because theyre so overwhelmed by issues about food and basic
WHAT TO DO?
Dr. Arkin suggests that persons who wish to make a donation to help
earthquake relief in Haiti contact the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation,
which runs one of the only hospitals on the island and also operates a
Although the greatest need is obviously to meet the current crisis, the
organization offers the following information on its website
(www.haitihealth.org) on what a donation can provide:
$30 will provide three intravenous feedings for a sick child
$100 will provide a scholarship to primary school for one student for
$100 will provide dental care for 20 patients
$500 will pay for an emergency Cesarean Section for a woman at high risk
$1,500 will support one month of a physicians salary at St. Boniface
Hospital in Haiti
$2,500 will build a deep water well that will provide clean water to
hundreds of people
$4,500 will send a girl to Nursing School for one year by providing
tuition, school supplies, and room and board