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COPSA Haiti Nursing Institute and Laboratory

October 24, 2011

Today was my first day at the COPSA Haiti Nursing Institute and Laboratory.  COPSA is an acronym in French that translates into English as Haitian Professional Health Coordinators.

I had been advised to dress professionally, which in Haiti means long-sleeved dress shirt, slacks and closed-toed shoes with socks at a minimum, attire that I am not longer used to wearing.  I am sweltering.

Rue Pivert is teeming with people and motos, each trying to dodge the other.  I enter the compound through the high steel gate under the scrutiny of security staff.  Dr. Apollo had offered to drive me, but he was unexplainably delayed, so I took a moto taxi.  The front courtyard is crowded with students awaiting the arrival of staff.  The young women are all dressed in grey-blue skirts and jumpers over white blouses.  The young men wear white lab coats.  Characteristically of programs such as this one, the students are primarily female.  All but two of the young men will become lab technicians and pharmacists.  The idea of men working as nurses and nursing assistants is new to Haiti.

The Institute shares physical space with La Muse classical school, “L’Acadamie des Sciences et des Lettres,” using the facility after classes are done for the day.  The facility consists of a closed compound with an administration building at the front and two long classroom buildings facing each other across a promenade at the rear.  The administration building houses an office, a meeting room and washroom, as well as a roofed patio staff meeting area.  The school is typically Haitian—concrete block construction with no glass in the windows and no doors on the classrooms.

The bare concrete floor of the foyer is extremely roughly finished and littered with construction debris.  After a short time one of the students comes with a chair for me.  When Dr. Felix and Dr. Apollo arrive, I am introduced to two other doctors who will be assisting and together we set off to look over the campus.  Crews are sweeping out the classrooms and masons are putting ornamental concrete grilles into the gaping windows.  Others are refining the finish on the rough concrete of the staff meeting area.  As I watch them I am again amazed at the skill of Haiti’s masons.

The students all move into the largest classroom, but it proves too small to accommodate 200.  The group is split and some troop down to a room at the other end of the promenade.  The doctors and I enter the large classroom, and Dr. Apollo addresses the students, explaining a bit about the development of the program.   Dr. Felix adds to this, telling the students that I will be responsible for their clinical training. The other doctors introduce themselves, and then Dr. Apollo asks me to speak, offering to translate.

I start by telling them I hope it won’t be too long before I don’t need a translator to speak to them.  I explain that I took my training in a program that was in its infancy, much like this one.  I assure them they don’t need someone coming in from outside telling them how to do things in Haiti, that Haiti needs Haitian solutions.  I convey my hope they will benefit from my experience and my certainty I will learn a lot from them.  I proclaim that they are the future, and that when they graduate they will not only make a difference to healthcare, they will make a difference to Haiti.  Apparently I said the right things as the students applaud me.  We move on to speak to the rest of the students.

Dr. Felix then takes me to my office.  On the walls are the only indications that this is a medical facility—six-foot standard medical posters supplied by COPSA featuring various illustrations of anatomy.  Carpenters are installing a door frame and in a short time my office has a paneled pine door.

The only power comes from a pair of the Trojan deep cycle batteries that are ubiquitous here.  A power bar feeds electricity to the two desktop computers and an oscillating floor fan that provides some welcome relief from the heat.

I settle into the comfortable office chair behind the glass-topped steel desk that, facing the door, is the obvious focal point of the room.  It exudes power, and everyone who enters acknowledges it without knowing who I am.  To my left is a standard wooden desk, complete with computer, occupied by the secretary.  To my right, in the corner, is a small computer workstation with a large printer, where a young woman sits collecting course fees and issuing receipts.

It is strange sitting in an office behind a desk.  It is even stranger being behind the desk and having doctors sitting in front of it.  It is strange having a secretary checking to see if there is anything she can do for me.

A young man carries in a 5-gallon bottle of water, and another brings in a new water cooler.  Unfortunately there is not adequate electricity to power it.  Another man wires up a lighting receptacle and plugs it into the power bar and sets it atop the stacking file trays on my desk.  The fluorescent bulb glows garishly and its cold light casts stark shadows throughout the room.

The doctor and I talk a bit and he tells me the classes will be taught both in Creole and in French.  Translation will be provided as necessary.

I decide to take another look at the facility and Dr. Appolon asks if he can join me.  As we stroll he shares the vision that he and Dr. Felix have for the Institute.  Saint-Marc had no nursing school and that created a vacuum that had been filled by businessmen offering low quality courses for substantial fees.  So the doctors decided the city needed a quality facility that would teach to high standards.  It has taken some time, but it is finally being launched.

As I am chauffeured home in a COPSA vehicle, jostling over the rock piles and muddy ruts that masquerade as streets in Saint-Marc, I reflect on my afternoon.  I know in my heart that God has put me in the right place.  The doctors’ vision fits my thinking like a glove.  What they have put together is right for Haiti.  As I told the students, I am honoured to be a part of it.  I pray that the Lord will supply me with all I need, and I know that will be a lot, to do justice to the monumental task He has set before me.

It is a lavishing of precious resources, our precious ointment on the handicapped, the insane, the rejected and the dying that most clearly reveals the love of Christ in our times. It is this gratuitous caring, this unilateral declaration of love which proclaims the gospel more powerfully than bishops and theologians . . . More than anything I have discovered that the world is not divided into the sick and those who care for them, but that we are all wounded and that we all contain within our hearts that love which is for the healing of the nations.

Sheila Cassidy

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