A USA Today headline and story about the devastation in Haiti from a massive earthquake launched Jessica Hardy of Asheville into action.
Hardy recently graduated from nursing school at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and was waiting to start her new job as a registered nurse at Mission Hospitals, so she knew she had some time. And the motivation was simple.
“The main reason I wanted to go is because this is exactly why I got into nursing,” Hardy says. “I want to provide health care in disaster areas, in third-world countries.”
So Hardy hooked about with an unaffiliated group of 14 other medical professionals who flew into the Dominican Republic and from there caught a Cessna flight into Port-au-Prince. From there, the Haitian military escorted them to their final destination — the coastal town of Leogane, about an hour outside of the city. Hardy says there wasn’t much time to comprehend what she was seeing: giant piles of broken concrete, leaning concrete slabs held up only by power lines, and shell-shocked people “just standing there, not know how to proceed.”
But In Leogane, the scope of the devastation started to take hold, says Hardy. Working alongside Japanese and Sri Lankan medical professionals, she says the relief workers set up an operating room and labor and delivery room. The group also created mobile medical units by using trucks and some local nursing students to go into outlying areas. There were broken bones, grisly wounds and death. Hardy says her team saw about 1,500 people a week at the Leogane center.
“Sometimes you help and you donate and you don’t have the opportunity to see where your efforts go,” Hardy says. “Here, we could honestly say we made a huge difference.” The Haitian people met the relief workers with “a lot of gratitude, a lot of hugs, a lot of hand-holding,” she says, “and a lot of tears.”
The around-the-clock schedule took its toll at the time, says Hardy, but the emotional impact didn’t hit until later. That’s when Hardy decided to keep trying to find ways to help. With the rainy season looming in Haiti, Hardy says it’s critical to get people out from under bed sheets propped up with sticks.
“With the rains and the winds, we’re looking at a second wave of death and disease,” she says. “We’ve put all this effort into saving lives, but there will continue to be illness. Sanitation is an issue, so bacterial infections could be out of control. Air quality is poor. So if these people are out in the wet and the wind, they just won’t have a chance. If we can provide them a way to get out of the weather, we can save their lives.”
Hardy says she’s asking people to dig through their garages and basements and consider donating old tents, tarps or other weather-resistant materials. She says the Nantahala Outdoor Center, REI, Black Dome, Craggie Brewing and Terra Nostra Decor have all confirmed that they will serve as drop-off points for anyone who has something to donate.
“I don’t have any expectations,” Hardy says. “One tent is going to help. One hundred tents is going to be great. This is a great community and people want to help.”
Hardy says she plans to create a Facebook page to help spread the word. To contact her, e-mail email@example.com.
Click here to see photos from Hardy’s trip. Be warned that some of the photos are graphic.