When Riverhead physician Bellamy Brook made his first trip to Haiti in 2014, he helped open a health clinic in a school building, located in a village that otherwise has little access to healthcare or education.
When he returns this month, the health clinic will be one of the few structures left standing in the village, which was devastated by Hurricane Matthew at the beginning of the month.
“We’re currently using it as a shelter, because a lot of people were displaced from their homes,” said Brook, who is the medical director of Peconic Landing.
It is the second time in six years that a natural disaster has inflicted widespread death and destruction on the island country, one of the poorest in the world. Hurricane Matthew struck just as Haitians were beginning to recover from a catastrophic earthquake in 2010, which left more than 100,000 dead and millions more affected.
“People are forced to create their own shelters out of metal, tin, cardboard, sheets – and they make cities out of them,” Brook said. “I know poverty here at home can be pretty bad, but what you see in Haiti is something you’ve never seen before.”
After the 2010 earthquake, local doctor Patricia Nicholas was inspired to build the school that houses the medical clinic and now the makeshift shelter. Nicholas, who was born in Haiti, created a non-profit called the Kindest Hearts Foundation and purchased land in the village of O’Rouck, where residents had little or no access to basic needs like running water, electricity and even food.
Her foundation funded the construction of a school there, which provides children with education, healthcare and two daily meals.
“The meals that the school provides for the children – they’re the only meals that they eat for the day,” Brook said.
The devastation following Hurricane Matthew has made life much more difficult for the residents of O’Rouck. The school’s cement building is one of the only structures that survived the storm’s destruction, and it has become a safe haven for residents displaced by the storm. Extreme flooding from the storm overflowed the village’s only source of drinking water – a freshwater river that has now been contaminated.
“All of the water that’s being used right now is bottled,” Brook said. “It’ll be some time before the river becomes drinkable again.”
Brook, along with eight other doctors, will make the trip to Haiti October 29 to provide medical relief to the residents of O’Rouck and the surrounding communities. “We will be providing injections, antibiotic therapy, IV hydration and treating whatever else is going to pop up,” Brook said.
They will also be delivering shipments of food and bottled water. “We’re going to be giving each family in the village a ration of rice and beans when we get there,” Brook said.
All of the doctors are volunteering their own time and supplies to help people affected by the hurricane. “As a doctor, your job is to help people, but it’s still a job and you get paid to do it,” Brook said. “Going to Haiti and helping people medically because I have the ability to do so, without getting paid, is truly very rewarding.”
Kindest Hearts is seeking monetary donations for the trip to help pay for the shipment of supplies. “We have 27 bags of supplies, and shipping is very expensive,” Brook said.
The organization will also be holding a Haiti hurricane relief benefit concert at the Jamesport Meeting House on November 19. Tickets will cost $50, with all proceeds going directly toward the school and toward the purchase of food, water and medical supplies. Kindest Hearts is also in the process of fundraising for a freshwater well in O’Rouck, so that the river is not the village’s only source of drinking water.
“No one who participates in Kindest Hearts takes any kind of income – it’s all based on volunteer work,” Brook said. “We really get to see a small amount of money go a long way.”
One example of that is a $25 monthly sponsorship that Kindest Hearts offers, which pays for a month of tuition, supplies, uniform, medical care and daily meals for one student. The school has more than 200 students, and many of them depend on such small monthly donations for their education, healthcare and nutrition.
“You don’t need a lot to do a lot,” Brook said.