Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Heart to Serve

by Suzie Johnson

I'd like to introduce you to a very special woman: Amy Hauser is a soft spoken physical therapist with a heart and desire for helping others. One day while waiting for a meeting to begin, I heard someone ask her about a recent trip she’d taken. Immediately struck by the love in her eyes and the passion in her voice, I sat transfixed as I listened to her tell of her two weeks spent in Haiti where she was able to work with patients who were injured in the devastating earthquake January 12, 2010. I knew right away that hers was a story I wanted to share with others.

Amy’s heart for Haiti developed long before the earthquake, after she read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. The book is about Paul Farmer, MD, and Partners In Health (known as Zanmi Lasante in Haiti), and their work with Third World problems. As Amy says, “Third World problems take special understanding, and Dr. Farmer certainly ‘gets it’.”

While keeping a close watch on a friend’s blog after the earthquake, Amy felt pulled to go and help. Her friend is an MD first-responder, and recommended the organization, Children of the Nations, as a good organization to go with. In April, Amy packed and left for Haiti, together with a group of other health professionals – physical therapists, nurses, and social workers. Their destination: Love A Child in Fond Parisian, Haiti.

Love A Child (LAC) is a unique orphanage, medical clinic, malnutrition clinic, school, and center to provide food for over five-thousand people a day. They are also the largest employer in Fond Parisian. Located on sixty-two walled-in secure acres, LAC is run by Sherry and Bobby Burnette. Amy describes them as “very forward thinking, generous people. Two of the coolest people you can find.”

A group called Harvard Humanitarian Initiative set up a field hospital on the front grounds. This is where Amy settled in for two weeks. The staff camped in tents, took showers with buckets of cold water in outdoor ‘stall’ showers. There were four to six patients per tent, as well as their families and caregivers. The patients slept on mattresses on the floor. Later, they received cots to put their mattress on. The patients were of all ages, and many were amputees, or had pelvic/hip, and upper and lower extremity fractures.

Most of Amy’s patients were adults, but she did treat a restavek (Haitian slave), who was also an amputee. The family who owned her were killed in the earthquake, so she was now free. Amy said there were several restavek children at the field hospital. Fortunately, there were also staff members who were there to try and unite families and keep the children safe. As Amy says, “Yes, slavery still exists in Haiti. Sometimes families, who are so destitute and starving, themselves, sell one of their young children, in hopes that somehow they (the child) at least won't starve and would be better off.”

Amy and Guillene

Lifetime connections were cemented for Amy while she was in Haiti, and she went back for a second time in September. Guillene was one of Amy’s patient’s. When leaving Haiti, Amy gave Guillene a few small gifts. She gave her a number of bottles of nail polish in hopes that she could earn some money with them. Then, she noticed Guillene had pierced ears but no earrings. Amy gave Guillene her earrings. To Amy they were no big deal. But to Guillene, and her husband, it was a very big deal. Guillene was overwhelmed, and her husband, Maxim, threw his hands in the air as he went into his tent. Amy was confused, but Jeff (one of her young translators) said Maxim was saying, “She is giving us everything!”

They were overwhelmed with Amy’s generosity. Amy was overwhelmed that a simple pair of earrings meant so much to them.

Amy also became close with Jeff (the young translator), and he is now one of her “adopted” sons (emotional, mutually, but not legally). Another of her “adopted” sons is Neptune. She teased him about the fact that she’s old enough to be his mom, and their relationship soon evolved into him adopting her as his second mom. He calls her Mom2. Both Jeff and Neptune keep in constant touch with Amy via the internet and text messages.

I asked Amy if there was anything she learned about herself through this journey. Here is her response: “How blessed I am. Not only with material things, but certainly blessed by friendships I’ve made with these incredible people, how much joy that giving gives me. I used to think it would be more effective to give money, that’s important, too, but they also need people. They need bodies doing things, and then they have the opportunity to share with others. It means so much to them, how much we have to offer.”

The Haitian people are selfless. Amy describes the people she met as kind, generous and faithful. They don’t complain. They live in tents and own nothing, and yet they don’t complain. They’re kind, generous, and faithful. They appreciate everything that is done for them. Amy saw someone slice a potato, their only potato, into pieces and share it with six other people.

After two trips to Haiti, Amy would like to go back. She said it was wonderful to work in this community of Haitians. “People from all walks of life, thrown together by adversity, have now become a community. There are artists, educated, non-educated, and everything in between. And LOTS of kids. With BIG hearts!”

"It is SOOO important / meaningful to the people of Haiti, when people who were there to help COME BACK again to help! They are so used to being abandoned by the world. I think individually and collectively. I was impressed at how much it meant to those I met, when I returned."

There are some things she’d like to take with her when she does. Along with flip-flops and Crocs (footwear are in great need), Amy would like to take beads and teach the women how to make jewelry so they can earn some money.

For those of us who can’t be there to physically help, I think the situation is truly beyond our comprehension. At least, it is for me. I can’t imagine not having shoes to wear, or splitting my only potato with six people.

There is so much more to say on this subject. I can only hope that in this small space I have been able to do justice to Amy and the incredible gift she’s giving to the Haitian people – the gift of herself.

Thank you, Amy!

Amy Hauser has been a physical therapist for 27 years. She and her husband live on a small farm in Washington State, where they raised there two children.

Some of us are able to give money, some of us are able to give of ourselves. Together, we can all make a difference. I hope you will take the opportunity to read about these different organizations, especially Love A Child and Sherry’s Journal.

Love A Child:
Sherry’s Journal:
Children of the Nations:
Partners in Health:

Photo copyright Amy Hauser 2010

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