Twice a year, Sionfonds takes a team of medical volunteers to Haiti to work with Haitian staff and volunteers. The medical trips are a critical part of our efforts to support school children, their families and the surrounding communities. Our first priority on these trips is to provide care in the four communities where we have schools: Cavaillon, Laveneau, Masson, and Kenscoff. These schools are in remote areas where medical care is difficult to obtain. On the positive side, we are going to areas where our services are much needed and few other agencies go. The down side is it can take some time to get there! Reaching the school in Masson requires an hour hike up a mountain, but all our past volunteers say it is the best part of the trip.
One of the most rewarding experiences for many volunteers is the chance to work closely with our Haitian staff and students. Sionfonds employs program coordinators, drivers, cooks and assistants. We also have medical and nursing students who come to gain experience and learn from our volunteer medical providers. During the course of the week, we spend a great deal of time traveling, working and eating together which provides a great opportunity to share stories, perspectives and have fun. While our primary purpose is to provide medical care, if the opportunity arises, we will make a stop at the beach to picnic or swim.
Our clinics are “mobile” clinics which means we hold them in schools, churches or other locations that are not designed to be a medical facility. There is always a high demand for our services resulting in large crowds. This requires a great deal of on-the-spot organization. Traffic and road conditions in Haiti are unpredictable, so we need people who are flexible, team players.
What does the medical trip involve?
When you join Sionfonds medical team, all of your transportation, lodging, and meals (see below for more details on food) will be provided. All volunteers will meet in the morning in the Miami airport to be on the same flight into Haiti where we are met by Sionfonds Haitian staff. Our exact itinerary varies, but usually we drive for three hours or so to our first site. On each of the following days, you can expect to spend approximately 6 hours holding clinic and a few hours driving to or from one location to another. We generally do not hold clinic on Sunday and spend that day resting and traveling. There is not a great deal of free time or any time devoted to “sight seeing,” but usually by the time we leave Haiti, our volunteers have seen more of the country than most foreigners ever see.
What will we eat?
Sionfonds will arrange for breakfast and dinner throughout the trip. Haitian food is similar to other Caribbean cuisine and sometimes mildly spicy but generally enjoyable for most Americans. We will be eating in hotels and restaurants as well as having food prepared by Sionfonds Haitian staff. We always have plenty of bottled water on hand. Generally we eat breakfast at our lodging and dinner back at our hotel or in a restaurant. During the day when we are holding clinics, we provide a simple lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and ask that volunteers bring their own bars, nuts etc. to have on hand for snacks.
How is the trip funded?
Because Sionfonds is a small and all volunteer organization, we rely on our volunteers to be an integral part of making each trip happen. When you are accepted for a medical trip, you will be responsible for your airfare to and from Haiti as well as raising $1,500 to cover the cost of medication, school supplies, Haitian staff salaries and food and lodging for the group. Sionfonds will set up an account for you on Network for Good that you can use to raise funds and track your donations (like people do for walk-a-thons or marathons). We will also assist you with sample emails and fundraiser ideas.
Some people like to raise funds to cover these costs; others prefer to simply make a donation themselves. Either way, you can be confident that all of these funds will go directly to schools and medical programs in Haiti.
Is it safe to go to Haiti?
During the past 20 years, Haiti has experienced a great deal of social and political upheaval. There have been periods of violence and unrest followed by relative calm. Foreigners are rarely targeted but some incidents have occurred over the years. When our medical team is in Haiti, it is Sionfonds top priority to ensure the safety of the team. For this reason, we always travel as a group and do not allow volunteers to go out on their own. We pay close attention to the advice of our Haitian staff and avoid any areas they feel are less safe. It is essential that all volunteers follow Sionfonds security rules, even if they seem unnecessary.
What about illness?
We are careful about the food we eat and always have lots of hand sanitizer available. We drink only bottled water which is readily available in Haiti. We advise all volunteers to take malaria medication and obtain all immunizations recommended by the CDC for Haiti. The most common health problems volunteers encounter is travelers’ diarrhea that is easily treated with Cipro or anti-diarrheals.
Be sure and check out our medical trip page on this website for more information and plenty of photos from past trips.