By Brian Curtis
Today I traveled on unpaved roads with three Master Public Health students and a Haitian doctor for 40 minutes to a school in the commune of Thomonde. The school was a typical Haitian building of thin lumber, tin roof, and a dirt floor. There were eight log benches to accompany the 30 or more students, and two large chalk boards with addition and subtraction problems being taught by a single teacher. The first thing I noticed was the huge range in the age within the single class. As others began to unpack the meds, I decided to begin examining the students. At first they were quiet, but they burst out in laughter when I oafishly attempted to demonstrate how I wanted one of them to breathe deeply so I could listen to his lungs. Each student was called one by one and questioned for symptoms primarily relating to malaria, parasites and fungal infections.
My initial observation of difference in age among the students was correct, but I was surprised to find how old some of the students really were. One girl in particular made an impression on me; as she approached in the typical reserved Haitian manner, I was sure she was no more than 12 years old. However, it turned out she was a malnourished 18 year old. We had almost seen every student when it began to rain. Since the roads are unpaved, we had to leave promptly. I began giving a small amount of food to each of the children and again they surprised me. I thought I was going in an order where I would not miss a child nor give the same child food twice. I came upon one whom I tried to hand food and he motioned to me that he had already received some, but the girl next to him had not. Such honesty and compassion can prevail in any environment, and I don’t think we should forget this. As I left I wondered, Were there any children that did not get food? And if there weren’t, would they have let me know?