By Michael K. Gillis, Esq.
It seems that fate, or perhaps divine intervention, brought me to Milot. I wanted to do something to give back, but I didn’t know what, and then I attended two luncheons just a few weeks apart. At the first, Senator Brownback was encouraging a room of Catholic lawyers to take an “impact trip” to a place where we could help the poorest of the poor. He assured us that we would return changed, better people for the experience. He was passionate, and I took his words to heart. The questions was then, where would I take such a trip, and that answer came about two weeks later when I heard Peter Kelly speak of CRUDEM. As I headed to the airport several months later on my way to Milot, both excited and nervous, one question remained: what could a trial lawyer with no medical background do to help patients in a hospital in Haiti?
I was met at the airport by Denise Kelly, an angel with a brogue who spent years of her life helping the people of Milot, a labor of love. She spoke about how Haitians’ come together and contribute what little they have to others who are even more needy than themselves, much like the poor woman whose donation of pennies meant more than many larger donations because she gave from her need, not her excess.
Like many, I wanted to dig in right away, but Denise urged me to experience the place and the people before tending to the work. This time allowed me to reflect upon the beauty of the people around me, beauty that cannot be realized if you are too busy being busy.
I first wandered through town marveling at the friendliness of the children who welcomed me with a “bonjou”.
I was struck by how these poorest of the poor were the happiest of children. When showed their image in a digital camera, they roared with laughter. Their joy is contagious.
Heading back to the compound, one boy, who smiled at me continuously as we continued down the road. He then puts his arm around me, while two of his friends grabbed each of my hands. These children were so pure, so loving, so giving, without pretense and thankful for what they have, however little it may be.
As night approached, the volunteers join around the complex with only books and conversation to occupy their time. The simplicity here is appealing, even therapeutic. The doctors and nurses seem relieved that after a long day in the hospital, there are no beepers, text messages, emails, or phone calls to which to respond. They sit on the porch appreciating each other. The high school kids are laughing hysterically playing a game of spoons. Life’s slow pace here is a welcome quiet. In less than a day in Haiti, the importance of peaceful, simple solitude is clear. The solitude leads to a heightened spirituality. In this quiet one hears the whispers of our Lord. No stress related illnesses here, a lesson we can take with us.
On Sunday, we attend a wonderful mass with a choir of forty and a six piece band. Even in Creole, the mass is moving. Faith and spirituality are a priority for the people here, as evidenced by their attire, turnout, participation in and reverence for the mass. While their material possessions are few, their faith is plentiful. After mass, we head to an orphanage in Cap Haitien. Often these orphans are brought to Milot for their medical needs. I held a young girl whose mother died shortly after her birth. She was stoic but would not let go. Holding her brought out emotions that I hadn’t anticipated as tears welled up in my eyes.
Haiti is full of experiences that cannot be put into words. I brought her to the other room where the older children live. It is lunch time, and as the food comes in, the more mobile kids eat first. Without any instruction, they then take food to more disabled children, many lying in adult size cribs. With a compassion and kindness that defies words, the mobile children quietly, humbly, and lovingly spoon feed their disabled friends, the least of their brothers. Helping those who need their help is instinctive for them. Those who have been abandoned by the poorest of the poor take time to care for those even less fortunate than themselves. The orphanage was a life changing event, and the religious brothers running it are living saints. The sign on the wall captures it best: serving the poor is the best opportunity to experience true happiness.
On my third day, I start work at the hospital. My tour, including extra time enjoying the infants in the maternity ward, highlights the work of the doctors and nurses who perform miracles daily with equipment we call archaic. I work in the pharmacy first counting vitamins, ten to a baggy, which pregnant women take home to help them with a healthy delivery. It is a simple task, but infant mortality rates are high.
What we take for granted is a luxury here. If this simple benefit of providing vitamins leads to the birth of a healthy child, our work here is a success.
Later I work in the Nutrition Center, where I remain for the rest of this trip. The mud from last night’s heavy rains prevents many from the countryside from getting to the center, despite the importance of feeding the children. One in three children is malnourished by age three, and one in ten will die of it or related illnesses by age 5. These children are priceless. They are perfectly content to spend the day just sitting on your lap. With another child, I spend hours just kicking a ball back and forth. I cannot perform a life saving operation, but I can tell from the smiles the joy they are getting from our company, having someone caring enough to spend time with them. Looking at the joy in their eyes, you easily see that they are made in God’s image, each worthy of our time, our effort, our love.
As Mother Teresa said, “small things done with great love bring joy and peace.” Never have I experience such joy, such peace.
As my trip comes to an end, I reflect. I came here to change their lives, but in reality, they changed mine. CRUDEM changed my life. Each trip back to Milot recharges my batteries and redirects me to what is really important in life. It gives me the energy to work with people here to host Taste of Haiti parties which raised awareness, and funds for the hospital. For the past three years, our parish has chosen CRUDEM as the recipient of our Lenten Mission. Parishioners throughout Lent drop off medical goods and make financial donations to CRUDEM. Their generosity is almost as incredible as the people of Haiti, but there is no substitute for the feelings, emotions, and lessons you learn from being in Milot.
There is a Haitian proverb that what the eye does not see, the heart cannot feel. What you see here touches your life forever. You can’t help but want to continuously help the people of Haiti. They stay in your prayers, in your heart. You will be compelled to further action and want to give more. People who take eat well, but people who give sleep well. Your work here will help you sleep well. God judges us on our hearts, and the people of Milot will touch your heart forever. Hôpital Sacré Coeur is a special place that changes lives and deserves our support. If you need an “impact trip”, you need look no further than Milot.
Michael Gillis is a partner in the law firm Gillis & Bikofsky, P.C., in Newton, MA, which he founded in 1988. He is a trial attorney specializing in civil litigation. He is a board member of the Catholic Lawyers Guild for the Archdiocese of Boston.