Perry’s Lutheran mission brings health, hope to Haitian elders

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Leaving her home in an abandoned and unsafe structure, Madam Fernand is carefully placed by the transport team onto a mattress in the back of a pickup for her first-ever vehicle ride to the Jacmel Lutheran Home. Photo courtesy the Perry Lutheran Homes

Despite challenging circumstances while in Haiti, the Perry Lutheran Homes and Lutheran Family Service team, together with Ministry in Mission, were able to open and admit the first residents to the Jacmel Lutheran Home in Jacmel, Haiti, during the week of Jan. 9.

The eldercare home was designed to provide care for 10 of Jacmel’s most vulnerable elders.

A group of top nurses in Haiti spent two days with top nurses from Iowa, Melissa Gannon, Kelly Moore and Deb Koelln of the Perry Lutheran Homes, to learn hands-on how to care for elders.

Training was concluded with a presentation of certificates and a speech from the mayor of Jacmel, Pastor Marky Kessa. Two of the Haitian nurses, along with a cook and a housekeeper, will be employed at the eldercare home.

While the nurses were in training, our four pastors, Max Phillips, Steve Turner, Jim Lamb, and Mick Wolfram, spent time teaching Haitian seminarians and pastors about theology, the value of life and spiritual care for elders.

The remaining team members, Wanda Pritzel, Mollie Clark, Kim Laube and Holly Eldridge, unpacked 22 suitcases and worked to organize, label, plan and distribute over-the-counter medication, medical supplies, personal care items, clothing and shoes.

The next day was spent driving the streets of Jacmel and navigating the varied terrain in order to assess known elders who might be in need of admission to the eldercare home.

Inability to walk was one of the first criteria, and the lack of a reliable source of food was the second. During assessments, it was common to see these elders laying or sitting on the ground or on concrete, inside a small space they called home, with little or no belongings and no food and water.

All were in pain, hungry and lonely.

Yet surprisingly most were filled with joy. All of them were alive because of the kindness of a neighbor or stranger or family member who was able to bring them some food sometimes.

It appears that the StepUp movement of taking care of our elder citizens is already in action in Haiti, but the high levels of poverty make it a challenge to do so every single day.

“Although Jacmel, Haiti, is much different from Iowa and the United States, we also have elders that are living in pain, in fear, hungry, and are lonely,” said Melissa Gannon, chief operating officer and administrator of the Perry Lutheran Homes. “You don’t have to travel to find a mission opportunity. They exist all around us. There are hungry elders in your neighborhood. There are lonely elders that sit in the pews of our churches. There are elders without family living in our senior care communities.”

The promise of food was nearly all it took for these elder citizens of Haiti to trust a team of strangers, speaking a different language, to move them to a place they’ve never been to or heard of.

In a nation of nearly 11 million people, eldercare homes are a rare find in Haiti. In fact, it appears that only two others exist in the entire country. The need for more is dire.

The team also spent time preparing the eldercare home so that there would be running water and electricity, a luxury that so many live without.

The process of transporting residents from their current home to their new home was unlike anything ever seen in the U.S. The transport team consisted of a Haitian pastor and translator, Gannon and two Haitian nurses.

The elders were carried out of their homes and placed onto a small mattress in the bed of a pickup truck. An umbrella was held over them to protect them from the relentless sun. From there it was a rough ride through the unpaved streets to the Jacmel Lutheran Home.

Upon arrival, a flurry of action took place, including feeding, bathing, washing hair, nail care, skin care, medical care and spiritual care. This was led by Nurse Deb Koelln and Nurse Kelly Moore of the Perry Lutheran Homes, with all other team members assisting and continuing work on the eldercare home.

Each resident was given a prayer cross made by residents of the Perry Lutheran Homes. While on-site, five elders were admitted to the new home. Working as a nurse and caring for elders is all new for the Haitian staff, so a good routine will take some time to be established prior to admitting the next five residents.

The connection between the Perry Lutheran Homes and the Jacmel Lutheran Home will continue through ongoing staff training and connecting with residents through video-chat technology. In fact, the residents of the Perry Lutheran Homes were able to meet the elder residents and the young orphans in Haiti and take a virtual tour of both the Jacmel Lutheran Home and the orphanage through this technology.

A team of four, Wanda Pritzel, Mollie Clark, Kim Laube and Holly Eldridge, spent time teaching staff at the Lutheran orphanage next door about healthy child development, mental health care for traumatized children and the benefits of intergenerational interaction between the children and the elders.

The Perry Lutheran Homes and Acorns and Oaks childcare were held up as successful examples of an intergenerational program that provides numerous benefits to both elders and children.

“We hope the recent and ongoing ministry work in Jacmel, Haiti, will do three things,” said Max Phillips, CEO of the Perry Lutheran Homes and executive director of Lutheran Family Service. “The first is to inspire others to StepUp and take notice of elders around them that need companionship, food or help. The second is to invite those in our church and communities to support or travel to Haiti to help sustain the Jacmel Lutheran Home. The third is to inspire others to consider the needs of elders in Haiti and perhaps work to establish another eldercare home.”

Thanks to all who provided over-the-counter medications, medical supplies, personal care items, clothing and more, which were delivered to the Jacmel Lutheran Home and orphanage by the team. To see additional photos from the trip, please visit the Perry Lutheran Homes’ Facebook page.

Mollie A. Clark is the marketing director of the Perry Lutheran Homes.

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