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No mountain too high for UNICEF in Haiti

2010-02-07

acquot, Haiti, 8 February 2010 - High atop the mountains outside Port-au-Prince sits the Fraternité Notre Dame mission of Jacquot in the Aux Cadets region of Haiti. The mission provides medical care and education free of charge for children and families living in the surrounding mountain villages.

I first heard about the Fraternité Notre Dame mission several days ago when sisters Marie Benedicte and Marie Christine came to the UNICEF camp at the MINUSTAH logistics base in search of additional medical and school supplies to support their work in the mountains. Today, I visited the mission to learn more about the work they do and to see how UNICEF could help.

Traveling to the Fraternité Notre Dame is not easy. After following the dry banks of the River Grise for about an hour outside the Port-au-Prince city limits, the journey takes a bumpy turn as travelers must traverse a very precarious dirt road that snakes its way up the mountain range passing sheer drops on either side. After nearly an hour of white knuckle driving, the Fraternité Notre Dame mission materializes at the crest of a rounded mountaintop about 1,000 meters above sea level.

Prior to the January 12 earthquake, the idyllic setting was home to the mission’s small church, community school and medical clinic. After the disaster, only the church was left standing.

Founded fifteen years ago by Reverend Bishop Jean Marie, the mission has been providing educational and medical services to about 8,000 people from the surrounding communities ever since. The school serves about 270 students aged 5 to 18, and the free medical clinic and dispensary serve about 80 patients a day, approximately half of whom are children.

The people living in these mountain communities are so poor that if the mission did not exist, they would have no access to basic education and healthcare. Sisters Marie Benedicte and Marie Christine explain that many of the patients treated at the mission are suffering from long-standing illnesses or injuries that have gone untreated because most of the surrounding population cannot even afford to pay for food, let alone medical care.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Canada 2010
Shelter provided by UNICEF now being used to house temporary clinic for Fraternité Notre Dame mission.

Since the earthquake, the situation facing many people in the area has only gotten worse. “People here have always been poor,” says Sister Marie Christine. “But now, they have lost their homes and what little they did have in the earthquake.”

Sister Mary Benedicte, a trained medical doctor, says that many people living in the mountains who were severely injured in the earthquake have not gone to the hospital for proper medical attention. “These people are coming from all over the mountains to see us for injuries they received weeks ago in the earthquake, but could not afford to have treated at the hospitals in the city,” explains Sister Marie Benedicte. “They have heard that we provide free treatment, and now, they are coming in droves.”

Sister Marie Benedicte told me of a seven or eight-year-old boy from a nearby village who suffered a broken femur in the earthquake. His family did not seek medical attention because they could not afford it. It was not until they found about the mission that they sought help – more than three weeks later.

Another young boy was brought to see Sister Marie Benedicte yesterday with a badly swollen tongue covered in ulcers. His father said that the boy had been like this for more than two months, but he did not have the money to pay a doctor to treat the child.

Sisters Marie Christine and Marie Benedicte and Father Louis Marie are providing invaluable services to roughly 8,000 people living in the Aux Cadets region, but their capacity has been severely limited by financial constraints and structural damage from the earthquake. Complicating matters is that much of the international relief effort has focused primarily on densely populated Port-au-Prince, leaving people in other earthquake affected areas like Aux Cadets with inadequate support.

UNICEF Senior Health Advisor Dr. Anne Golaz has been liaising with Sisters Marie Benedicte and Marie Christine over the past few days about the medical needs of the population around the mission. “The Fraternité Notre Dame is providing a vital service for thousands of children and families in the area who otherwise would go without,” says Dr. Golaz.

Dr. Golaz and the UNICEF team are now working with the Fraternité Notre Dame to provide the mission with the supplies they need to continue educational and medical services for the local population. These include large tents to house the new school, dispensary and medical clinic, school materials, and lifesaving medical supplies like obstetric gynecologic kits, oral rehydration salts and iron supplements.

Later this week, UNICEF will use a helicopter to deliver the shipment of supplies to the Fraternité Notre Dame high above the River Grise. When it comes to children and families, there literally is no mountain UNICEF will not climb to ensure they have the supplies and care they need to survive.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.