Mattituck church, Rotary clubs lend a hand to Haiti

COURTESY PHOTO | A group of local Rotarians and church members are helping Haiti which was devastated by an earthquake last year.

One year after a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, a Mattituck Presbyterian Church group is visiting the Caribbean island offering medical and dental services and a dose of faith to residents. And local Rotarians will soon follow with more medical and technical experts in February.

Both groups have a long history of involvement with the poor island nation, bringing medical supplies and technologic expertise to Haitian villagers for many years. In the wake of the January 2010 earthquake these volunteers are bringing aid not just to strangers in need, but to the many close friends they have made through the years, according to Mattituck Rotary Club member George Solomon.

“It’s not just a money thing; it’s a hands-on thing,” Mr. Solomon said of the Haiti missions.

As the Rotarians prepare to leave for Haiti, they’re reaching out to the community for supplies. If you’re a doctor with supplies of antibiotics, antiviral drugs or other samples that remain sealed and current, Mr. Solomon would like to send those drugs to the clinic in Nan Sema. He also seeks unopened bottles of over-the-counter medicines, such as Advil, Tylenol and children’s Motrin. He stresses that none of the medications should be expired.

“If they’re not good enough for use in this country, they’re not good enough to be used in Haiti,” Mr. Solomon said.

To contribute supplies call Peter Englemann at 387-1189. Monetary donations are also welcome.

The contingent in Haiti now includes the Rev. George Gaffga of Mattituck Presbyterian Church, and dentists Tom Christianson, Greg and Beth Doroski, Howard Hansen and Mark DeSantis. Mr. Solomon’s contingent will include Rotary Club representatives from Greenport, Northport, Ronkonkoma, Islandia, Central Islip, Locust Valley, Freeport and Brentwood along with medical and technical personnel. Dr. Jeff Williams, who is also part of the contigent, just returned from a week of treating patients with eye problems.

A clinic Rotary helped supply in Nan Sema on the island of LaGonave, Haiti,  has been operating on limited and expensive diesel fuel to power its generators. At $5 per liter for fuel, the generators must be run sparingly, making it difficult to protect medicines that need refrigeration and limiting hours when medical procedures can be done. Thanks to the efforts of the Suffolk County Rotary clubs, the visiting experts will work with Haitians to create a solar powered system that the locals will be taught to service and maintain.

“This is a big thing,” Mr. Solomon said, stressing the importance of involving the Haitians in both building and maintaining the solar powered system. If outsiders built it and failed to involve and train the locals, it would simply deteriorate for lack of maintenance, he said.

Another critical piece of equipment the Rotarians will bring is a satellite dish that will open up communications for medical personnel. In outer villages, there are no telephone lines and cell phone service requires walking long distances to find reception. If a doctor needs to consult with colleagues back in the United States, [a phone link] is not readily available which can cost lives, Mr. Solomon said. The new dish will open communications and the Haitians will get 30 months of Internet access.

Mr. Solomon was involved in efforts to provide water for the people of Nan Sema. In the years since a water pump was built and wells dug, he has watched children who once spent 12 to 14 hours a day walking to fetch water, who are now able to bring water from nearby wells and then spend their days in classrooms, he said.

But since last year’s earthquake, so many residents have fled Port au Prince, where the worst damage occurred, the population on LaGonave has grown from 5,000 to about 20,000 people.

“It’s putting tremendous pressure on the island,” Mr. Solomon said. He estimated that LaGonave now has about 15 percent of all of Haiti’s population.

“My biggest thing is not to let these people down,” Mr. Solomon said. “When you see the children of Haiti, you want to make their lives a little bit easier,” he said. “I do it because it needs to be done,” he said about the seven or eight trips he has made to Haiti over the last several years.

“What we truly are doing is building countries and bridging continents,” Mr. Solomon said.

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