Fortune couple heading back to Haiti

Paul Herridge
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Burin-based dentist Dr. Marcia Penwell has plenty of memories from her trip to Haiti two years ago.

While she was there in January 2012 as part of the Canadian International Dental Foundation’s (CIDF) outreach program, she and other members of her group spent a week working with the George Stines Foundation in and around Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital and largest city.

Penwell recalled waking up at 6 a.m. with a lineup of 40-50 people already waiting to be seen.

“The thing I remember most is how grateful people were. Obviously, it’s not fun getting dental work done, but these people were so appreciative.”

Although most the patients spoke limited English and communication was an issue, nearly all of them got up from the chair once they were done and offered a heartfelt “God bless you” or similar spiritual phrase of gratitude.

It made the trip worthwhile, she said.

“It was definitely different. We went to a school one day, to provide dental care to an area about 20 minutes outside of where we were staying, and we used lawn chairs and generators.”

Because of the cost of travel, Penwell said most Haitians live within a five-mile radius of their homes, rarely, if ever, venturing further afield.

“Even travelling 20 minutes outside, that was probably the first dentist that those people saw in 10 years.”

This Saturday, she and her husband, Frazer Smith, are both heading back to the Caribbean country of roughly 10 million inhabitants.

Smith, a carpenter, has also visited Haiti with Partners in Health though the CIDF.

He was part of a trio, which also included CIDF president Stewart Gillies and director Dave Badcock, who visited the country last May to install a modern dental clinic in Saint-Marc.

“We made the cabinets here, did all the base work here and then we did the fabrication down there.”

Haiti, already a poor nation, was struck by a catastrophic earthquake four years ago this month and has struggled mightily to recover.

Witnessing the poverty, he acknowledged, was quite an eye-opening experience.

“These people, they don’t even sleep in the houses anymore. They sleep in tents outside the houses because they’re afraid to go in. In case there’s another earthquake, they don’t want to be trapped inside.”

The day he arrived, a Haitian gentleman, who was to assist him on the project, asked for some shoes to replace his own disintegrating pair.

“When we got there, we didn’t realize it at the time, but there was no water. So we even went to work and we gave them water. We bought this big drum. Three or four of the guys who were helping us out there, they tied a line on it and pulled it on top of the roof, and the truck comes with reverse osmosis water and fills the tank for them.”

Though they’ve been through a hard time, Smith said Haitians have not lost their faith in God, as evidenced with phrases like “God is good” and “trust in God” commonplace on licence plates in the country.

“If someone can go through the turmoil that they went through and still believe in God, well that leads me to believe in God.”

The couple, who live in Fortune, will be travelling to Haiti together this time but working apart, again both through the CIDF.

Smith said he will go back to Saint-Marc for a few days to check in on the clinic and from there scout locations for another potential clinic.

Penwell, who will be heading back to the Port-au-Prince area, acknowledged, “It really does make you appreciate what you have here and how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful country.”


The Southern Gazette

Organizations: Partners in Health

Geographic location: Haiti, Saint-Marc, Caribbean Port-au-Prince

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