Volunteering: The Most Generous Gift

By: Andrea Scott, Copy Editor at Nurse.com
A journalist, not an RN, Andrea has as heart for the sick and the orphaned. She has volunteered in the United States, China, Jamaica and Haiti.
Andrea Scott

Andrea Scott

When I left for a weeklong volunteer mission trip on December 15, 2012, my heart was heavy. Our nation was grappling with the tragedy of the day before in Newtown, Conn. But there was work to be done, so with a mourning spirit I unglued myself from the news and traveled with 25 other volunteers to spend the week before Christmas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Mission Youth is a Catholic group that takes high school and college students, and other volunteers such as myself, over to Haiti to serve for a week. We spent most of our time at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage and medical clinic for sick children. The Missionaries of Charity religious order was founded by Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India in 1950, and currently has outreach in 133 countries. They have multiple houses and extensive outreach in Haiti.

Staff nurses and visiting doctors took care of all the children’s medical needs, but with so many kids, more hands on deck are always appreciated. Our volunteers dug in to aid in changing diapers, feeding children, and rocking infants to sleep. A few with proper medical training assisted the other nurses in giving shots and IVs, and admitting children into the clinic.

I have ventured to Haiti once before to volunteer at an orphanage out in the mountains. Though I was amazed how much the country has cleaned up in the one year since my last visit; it is evident there are still problems, even on the third anniversary of the January 12, 2010 quake.

Scott with children in Haiti

Scott with children at Missionaries of Charity orphanage and medical clinic in Haiti

The stories of the orphans can give you an idea. A beautiful bustling baby, now two months old, was miraculously saved by a policeman from an abandoned house before wild dogs ate her. She was still wrapped in her umbilical cord and attached placenta when she was found in the corner of the deserted shack. A solemn one-year-old boy, prone to medical illness, was given to the orphanage after his 14-year-old mother unsuccessfully tried to abort him by taking multiple abortion pills. A boy a bit older asked me in French if I had parents. He was surprised when I said yes; both of his died in the 2010 earthquake.

Yes, there is still suffering in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; but even through the pain and sickness that I saw, a deep sense of joy and peace was present. I could see it on the faces of every single child. Even the sickest of babies in the clinic knew they were somewhere safe — their large eyes looked up full of trust and full of promise. They were being fed — a privilege that some were not blessed with at home. It amazed me when the smallest of children scarfed down a whole bowl of rice and beans. Even the weakest and the sickest kids would reach up to a complete stranger to be held and to be comforted. And though there was plenty of room, the toddlers always seemed to fight for a place on my lap.

The Sisters and volunteers — from Haiti and abroad — provide extraordinary outreach and support for the community. Lines of those asking for help always seem to form outside out the compound. Families of children released from the clinic are eligible for food donations for one year — provided the child comes for distribution so the Sisters know they are still being fed correctly. Thousands of families are fed through their hands.

In other parts of the city, our group got to visit the Missionaries of Charity at their wounds clinic, where they clean and wrap skin lesions, as well as their Home for the Dying, a hospice mostly filled with AIDS and tuberculosis patients.

There is something so human about not being cared for medically, but to be comforted and to be loved — this was my purpose for the week. I am not an RN, and my only medical background is the first aid and CPR certification I update each year, but I could still help in that setting. The greatest way I personally could serve was to give my smile, my arms, my love. It was such a simple gift, yet one so desperately desired.

As I rocked a two-month-old orphan close to my heart, I knew there was nothing more important that I could have been doing at that moment. There was no ugly sweater party, final shopping excursion, or frantic cleaning frenzy that could have better prepared me for the holidays. Giving my hands and giving my time turned out to be the most generous gift possible.

What this trip really gave me was a renewed sense hope, especially after the confusion and pain of the tragedy in Connecticut. There are volunteers, firemen, nurses out there — everyday heroes who want to and who most importantly will say yes to helping those in need around them, in whatever form that may be. They will say yes to the baby reaching up, yes to running into a burning home, yes to comforting a dying patient in the hospital. There are everyday heroes who want to and who will say yes, and say it love and compassion every single time.

Even amidst so much suffering it was a reminder that there is still so much hope for humanity; may it abound.

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