Haliburton County paramedic heading to Haiti
|By Jennifer Hughey - Contributing writer | May 5, 2016|
A medical mission to Haiti isn’t just a bucket list item for Jennifer Button, it's a cause close to her heart.
And the Haliburton paramedic gets her wish next week when she heads off on a medical mission as part of a nine-member team that will run clinics and train local staff in and around the town of Grand Goave.
The 33-year-old works full-time with Haliburton County Paramedic Services (HCPS) and part-time with Peterborough County paramedics, which is organizing the mission. It will include six paramedics, an emergency room physician from Lindsay, a police officer and an IT technician. It’s the third year a team from Peterborough has gone to Haiti, after previous trips took them to Honduras and Nicaragua.
“I'm the only participant in this year’s trip that lives in the county,” said Button, who has been a resident of Haliburton for 10 years, the same length of time she has been a paramedic.
She went to CTS College in Barrie and told The Highlander she fell in love with the Haliburton area when completing her co-op placement.
“[It was] the people and the small town life,” Button said. “I moved to Haliburton in 2006 after graduating from college. My family all still lives in the York Region area.” Button now lives with boyfriend Chris Iles, incoming fire Chief Mike Iles’ son, who is also a paramedic in Haliburton.
In the past, Peterborough County Paramedics – along with the charitable organization Hope Grows – built a medical clinic at the Hope Grows compound in Grand Goave, which is about an hour west of Port au Prince, the Haitian capital.
“What makes Grand Goave unique, is the diversity of its 117,000 inhabitants,” Button said. “More than 7,000 Haitians reside in the town … while the remaining 110,000 live in its seven mountainous areas.”
Mountain residents get very little support due to isolation and limited access, she said.
“Many of the population suffer and die from disease and ailments that could easily be treated and often cured,” Button said. These include malaria, scabies and lung disease or complications during childbirth.
Peterborough County paramedic Jennifer Farquharson participated for the first time last year and will be going again this year.
“When people ask me how my trip to Haiti in 2015 was, I find it difficult to summarize in a simple response,” Farquharson said. “The stark contrast between Haiti’s beauty and devastation is hard to reconcile with the world as we know it living in Canada.”
In 2015, Farquharson and other paramedics helped build a medical clinic and provided medical care through a faith-based charity called Hope Grows, which works to feed, clothe, shelter and educate. It has opened schools that educate more than 850 children and provides 1,000 meals weekly to the children in Grand Goave. Last year's mission treated more than 300 patients.
Peterborough County paramedic and group organizer Bill Martin said the clinic they helped build last year is now complete but that there is more work to be done.
“At this point in time, the clinic is nothing more than a building,” said Martin, a former pastor for Haliburton Emergency Medical Services.
Button said the people of Hope Grows create an itinerary for the team that will include clinic days at the compound, home visits to newborns, local elderly-care home visits, one day of travel into the mountainous region to teach first aid to school teachers.
But the opportunity to experience life in Haiti isn’t the only reason Button is going.
“I’ve wanted to participate in a medical mission trip for some time now. The opportunity to experience a culture and lifestyle unlike anything I've ever been exposed to really interests me. Knowing that I can help make a difference by using the skills, knowledge and resources that I'm lucky enough to have, is what motivates me.
County of Haliburton’s emergency services director Craig Jones said he and the team are extremely proud of Button.
“I personally applaud her commitment to humanity and this organization, Jones said. “Haiti will be lucky to experience her professionalism and compassion.”
Expenses are around $1,500 for one week and each participant is responsible for themselves. The group has organized multiple fundraising events, including an online auction, and volleyball tournament.
“The chance to make even just a small difference in the health of even one Haitian is what makes this trip important to me,” Button said.
Anyone wishing to donate to the Haiti Medical Mission can visit hopegrows.ca
JENNIFER HUGHEY is a contributing writer for The Highlander.