Friends of Haiti has been sending a medical team to Grand Boulage for years. Most recently, the group from Olympia, Washington made up the lion's share of volunteers to Grand Boulage. This group often included Family Medicine residents as well as seasoned doctors and nurses. Some providers had gone so frequently to Grand Boulage that they were providing some true continuity of care, as they had gotten to know the patients there quite well.
Grand Boulage is up in the mountains, about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Port Au Prince. It is a lovely area, with a cooler climate than down in the city.
About 3000 families live in Grand Boulage and the surrounding area. 70% of the children attend one of the two schools in town. Grand Boulage does not have paved roads or electricity, but many people have cell phones and the literacy rate has increased dramatically in the last 10 years. Most people go to get water from a local spring, and in the rainy season everybody collects rain water from their roofs. When the water system they have is working, people pay a very small contribution to get water from the kiosks.
Grand Boulage's biggest building is the community center. The view from the community center looks out over rolling hills and small farms. It is not a fancy building, but it keeps out the torrential rains that sometimes batter the area.
Friends of Haiti gets to use the community center when we are able to hold medical missions bringing our medications and supplies. The patients start lining up in the early morning, and we have see hundreds of patients daily while there. The patients come from all over the area. Many have chronic conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes. Kids get treated for worms. We offer vitamins to all the kids and pregnant women, and most patients leave with a supply of Tums, ibuprofen, soap, eye lubrication drops and other over the counter pharmaceutical supplies that they can’t get locally.
Volunteers work hard, but they get a lot out of the experience too. They get to see the beauty of this area and the spirit of the Haitian people. They get to watch the kids with their crazy games of soccer. A hike to the water source is often a part of the week. Volunteers generally leave feeling more aware of how unequal the world is, but also knowing that they want to return to Grand Boulage.