Shauna Welsh says Haiti was an experience she couldn’t afford to miss
My name is Shauna Welsh (29). I grew up in a small rural community called Summerford. I graduated nursing school seven years ago and started my master’s in advanced nursing practice two years ago. In the past seven years, I have had the pleasure to work as a Canadian travel nurse working in women’s health, emergency services and industrial occupational nursing.
I wasn’t even sure if nursing was the career I was supposed to choose until about one year after I graduated from nursing school. I was in an outpost first nation’s community where I delivered a 31-week infant. The baby had to stay with me for nearly 15 hours until we could fly him out. The mother came back to me months later to say thank you: “If you weren’t here helping my people, my son would not be here today.” From that day on I have never second-guessed my commitment to helping people.
I have been volunteering with Broken Earth since October 2013. My decision to take my first trip to Haiti came to me in the midst of a divorce. I felt that I needed to do something a little out of the box to help someone else and reset the negative energy in my life. I have said many times since I’ve returned from Haiti, that the Haitian population has contributed much more to my life then I feel I can ever get back to them. The resilience of the Haitian population is truly a miracle to witness and I feel blessed to have experienced this.
The first time I travelled to Haiti I went with a rural group. We did pediatric outreach clinics along the northern coastline. This group blended well together, it was comprised of emergency room physicians and nurses, family doctors and family practice residents.
To be honest, I tried not to have any expectations in mind prior to the trip. I just prepared for the elements of the land and familiarized myself with the culture. When travelling somewhere like Haiti, going with no expectations opens your mind to amazing experiences that you could never have foreseen. These experiences may not be good memories but they all make up what we do.
One of my favorite, most overwhelming experiences was arriving in the community of Bon Me Lembe. We arrived in a van and approximately one kilometer away the children started running behind our van. When we arrived at the guesthouse, we were surrounded by children all trying to push ahead just to touch us. Bending down and looking into those children’s eyes overwhelmed me with an emotion that I have never felt before. We are truly no different than this population only we were blessed to be born in Canada. With all the negative cards the Haitian population have been dealt over the years, they smile through it all and their eyes have gratitude and love. This is something that many nations can learn from.
I think I accomplished what I set out to do. I didn’t have a big vision. If I helped just for a short period of time that means I helped someone feel better when maybe they wouldn’t have if I wasn’t there. Empowerment is key for this country, giving them the confidence and resources to show them that they don’t need us to provide health care. They can help each other if given the chance.
I rotated daily between triaging children for the clinic. This meant working with the interpreters to gain a brief history on the child’s health status and any general health complaints. We also completed weights and a full set of vital signs and identified children with malnutrition and needed vaccinations.
On alternative days I completed blood pressure checks and glucose monitoring. This was a data collection process where I had the opportunity to educate patients on risk factors for hypertension and diabetes.
We also provided point of care HIV testing and Syphilis testing after a sexual education session every day. This was an excellent non-formal session that allowed people to ask sexual health questions in a comfortable environment.
Three lessons I’ve learned from volunteering with Team Broken Earth? One, do not underestimate the power of a smile and the touch of a hand. Both are universal languages. Two, the smallest gestures will carry you farthest. Three, be grateful for everything that you have, because today I can wake up and chose which shoes I’m going to wear.
When I first decided to go to Haiti, I thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience. I didn’t know if I could afford to do it again. After going to Haiti I now believe I can’t afford not to go back.