Angelo Rose is an attorney and musician from Rochester, NY. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he wrote a song to raise funds for St. Damien Hospital there. He released a second song last year in response to Hurricane Matthew: www.haitisrain.org. He recently visited St. Damien in January 2017, and below is his reflection. Click here to make a gift and support the life-saving work of St. Damien Hospital today!
Le gen lanmou, gen doule'
Somewhat ironically, I will start this brief reflection where physically my journey to Haiti ended…
Dazed and tired, I shuffled into my Ft. Lauderdale hotel and took my first shower in days. There, under the warm embrace of pulsing jets, I was overcome: The thundering guilt of having a home, a bed, clean water to bathe in and my God, the seemingly infinite power to turn the faucet to quench my thirst were collectively just too much to own. Haiti suffers at the most base levels of existence and until I experienced it first hand, its devastation remained an abstract truth. Now, there is not a day I don’t recall a face, or silently chant, “Thank you” when I drink a glass of water or sit down for dinner. It is the difference between watching a video clip of someone on a roller coaster and actually sitting in the first car of an old, wooden Skyliner as it claps along tired rails. I knew, however, that ride was going to end for me, that I would fly out and leave behind the countless children I met, the selfless people giving so much to change the norm there. They remain, twisting and turning in markedly inadequate shelter and structure, exposed to the raging elements of nature and consequence of desperation. Children and adults alike are in critical need of nutrition, education and water. The country as a whole flounders in political corruption, unknowns and hypocrisies. The weight of it all was too much and I collapsed to the perfectly tiled shower floor. Sobbing and shaking, I tried to make sense of it all…
Le gen lanmou, gen doule’
When our small group landed in Port au Prince, it was readily apparent that Haiti was strung together by the thinnest of threads. Amidst the chaos, fractured housing and penetrating unknowns, St. Damien Children’s Hospital is an oasis. The doctors, nurses, employees, volunteers and Fathers Rick Frechette and Enzo Del Brocco, tirelessly devote each day to saving lives. The hospital is a clean, incredibly well run sanctuary for an endless sea of children in dire need of medical care. Father Rick and Phadool, the Human Resources Director at St. Damien, provided a vast amount of information during daily visits to the hospital. Clean, potable water is infinitely sparse. Quality medicines are desperately needed at St. Damien, as are funds to acquire vital medical equipment.
I was awed by doctors and nurses who repeatedly, selflessly and unconditionally gave all they had. Each morning, mothers line up outside the gates to seek ambulatory medical care for their babies. As this group patiently waits to be seen, the more serious cases are evaluated and treated on the other side of St. Damien. Mothers of children who are required to have lengthy stays are relegated to sleeping in upright metal chairs or on a concrete floor underneath their cribs. Jacqueline Gautier, National Director of St. Damien, confirmed that hospital grade reclining chairs are among the vital equipment needed. The children I met radiated with love, for in the arms of St. Damien they were fed, given medicine and genuine opportunity to heal. Though I am now several weeks removed from my trip, the penetrating eyes of hope travel thousands of miles daily to visit me. A musician often moonlighting as a trial attorney, admittedly I had limited medical skills to offer. This glaring deficiency seemed to matter very little at St. Damien. What the children sought from me, I could aptly provide. Often it was simply a smile, or a hug, or a fingertip-to-fingertip touch that calmed and soothed. The doctors superbly managed the medical needs and I was at-home simply being there for anything else. My ego was consumed. Gone were daily worries about email and developing trends in recent case law. The next life-or-death argument concerning which divorcee would get the engraved soap dish took its proper place in oblivion.
Le gen lanmou, gen doule'
Adjacent to the hospital is the beautiful and rustic Chapel of St. Philomena, where a daily morning mass is assembled. I discovered that most of these early masses are tragically, in fact, vigils for children who died in the preceding days. The first such mass I attended was before the bodies of seven children, wrapped in light-blue paper and gently placed in reusable cardboard coffins. Of the four caskets laid before us, three contained not one, but two tiny bodies. I was overcome. Life and death in Haiti are perpetually at odds and sometimes there is simply nothing that can be done. That reality, amidst some of the finest medical professionals the world has to offer, was immeasurably painful. And yet, as mass concluded, the small congregation (often comprised of the aforementioned doctors, nurses, employees, volunteers and Phadool) breathed life into an old Creole Hymn and ferried the coffins from the Chapel to an awaiting flatbed. The bodies were then transported to a spot beyond the hospital for cremation. No family members were there to say goodbye, but there was little doubt about the reverberating weight of each loss. These daily masses are a divine opportunity to reflect upon the immense need in Haiti, the tragedy of such profound poverty and the senseless deaths of innocent children. I saw no greater demonstration of love than during the masses, where the forgotten are remembered and hearts are torn open in the remembrance of the gift and fragility of life.
Le gen lanmou, gen doule’
When there is love, there is pain.