Haiti is one of my favorite places on earth because, despite the difficulties it has endured, this country is full of overwhelming joy and resilience. Haiti is most commonly associated with corruption, extreme poverty and destructive hurricanes, yet there is so much more to be understood and appreciated about the people and culture of this country. It is a place where people exude gratitude and where I have personally felt welcomed with open arms and open hearts. Located 700 miles from Miami and 3,358 miles from Ashland, Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea with the Dominican Republic.

As a Soroptimist international of Ashland (SIA) member, I was encouraged to request $400 of funding from our Health Committee to support my second health care trip to Haiti in the fall of 2016. Such trips are consistent with our Soroptimist mission to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment (locally and around the world).

I traveled to Haiti with a group of four registered nurses, three physical therapists and one nurse practitioner from a small town in Georgia. A good friend, whose family has been living and working in Haiti for the past 10 years, introduced me to the Georgia team. This group has been visiting Haiti several times a year since 2004 with the goal of educating and providing basic health care. They have established strong personal connections in the Gonaives community, a port city of about 200,000 people, about 60 miles north of the capital of Port-au-Prince. As I serve alongside the Haitian clinic workers and interact with patients and community members, I am fortunate the credibility of the Georgia team has been extended to me. After just one visit, I was hooked! I absolutely love Gonaives and working with an organization focused on implementing a vision set by and for the Haitians.

After my mom, Eileen Elder, an experienced occupational therapist, decided to join me on my 2016 trip, she secured a matching donation from her Soroptimist Club in Loomis, California. With $800 to spend, we went to Costco and bought our supplies to be used or distributed at the Klinik Jubilee. Haitians and one permanent American nurse, who have contributed to its success and widespread acceptance in the community, staff this clinic. The supplies requested by the clinic staff usually include baby formula, antibacterial ointment, TUMS and prenatal vitamins, which we cram into to large backpacks for easy transit into the country. There is always a great need for supplies and education related to prenatal and infant care in the community.

We were all set to depart in early October 2016, when a severe hurricane hit Haiti and unsafe conditions put an end to our plans; there was nothing we could do but wait.

After waiting and worrying for months, we finally set out for our 10-day visit to Haiti on April 8. Our visit focused on supporting and working alongside the established network of midwives in the Gonaives community. Conversations and classes were held to promote techniques designed to decrease the infant mortality rate and to improve women’s health. My mom also worked with stroke patients and other mobility issues.

While we were in Haiti, we were transported on the back of motorcycles (motos) clinging to the backs of our drivers. Riding around town with the rest of the community in matching dusty clothing was my favorite part of the day. Gonaives is a strong community and somehow, as visiting health care workers, we feel fully accepted and valued, despite the language barrier. This is primarily thanks to our excellent interpreters!

The wonderful sense of community in Haiti, along with the sustainable structure of Klinik Jubilee, is what keeps me returning to Haiti. I plan to make another trip this fall. It seems Haiti is always evolving with resiliency and joy and I am most grateful to be able to experience it and make a contribution.

Soroptimist International has over 80,000 members in 127 countries and territories. Soroptimist International of Ashland has 50 members and is open to new members. Weekly meetings are held from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays at a local restaurant. For more information, call President Robbin Pearce at 541-326-6597 or visit www.soroptimisrv.org/siashland.org

—Madeline Elder recently graduated from Southern Oregon University. She is a member of the Soroptimist International of Ashland Public Awareness Committee.