02.04.10

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Vermont Nurses Volunteering in Haiti

MR. LEAHY.  Mr. President, on January 22nd, I spoke in this chamber about the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th, and the unprecedented devastation it caused.  We now know that an estimated three million people have been affected, including some 700,000 people displaced from Port-au-Prince and living under plastic or other makeshift shelter, and as many as 200,000 may have died.  Tens of thousands have suffered injuries, including many whose limbs were amputated.   Hundreds of thousands of children have lost one or both parents.  The scale of human suffering is impossible to quantify. 

Thousands of commercial buildings, two hundred thousand homes, the presidential palace, the National Cathedral, as well as the parliament buildings, government ministries and the U.N. headquarters were heavily damaged or destroyed.  Roads, ports, and communication infrastructures have also suffered extensive damage.  Ninety percent of the schools in Port-au-Prince were destroyed.  The recovery and rebuilding of Haiti will take years and the ongoing support of the international community working side-by-side with the Haitian people. 

The generosity of the American people, as well as people from many other countries, has been extraordinary.  Many millions of dollars have been raised from private individuals, including school children.  There have been countless tons of donations of food, clothing, medicines, and other supplies.  It is especially heartening to see the commitment and dedication of the volunteers who, soon after receiving word of the earthquake, began packing to travel to Haiti to help in any way they could.  

One such group is the Vermont Haiti Relief Team, which includes members of the Vermont Haiti Project and the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.  They recently traveled to Haiti to help with the recovery, and I have heard and read their stories and seen the photographs they have sent back.  As a Vermonter, and as an American, I could not be more proud of them and the lifesaving work they are doing.   

On January 20th, eleven volunteer doctors, nurses, and other health professionals from Vermont arrived in Jimani, Dominican Republic.  Jimani is a remote border town where some of the injured were taken immediately after the earthquake and where many more have arrived since.  The Vermont health workers joined with other doctors and nurses to care for hundreds of patients at the hospital.  They coordinated helicopter and ambulance transports; established wound clinics to evaluate and treat injuries; cared for over 250 amputees; and worked tirelessly to meet the needs of the victims and their families.

This is life saving work.  It is also life changing work.  These Vermonters are not only saving Haitian lives.  They will return to Vermont having endured, improvised and made a difference through the experience of a life time.  They were confronted with hundreds of injured people and just a handful of medical personnel and no supplies.  They worked around the clock with volunteers from Haiti, Dominican Republic and many other countries.  Electricity was sporadic.  Death surrounded them.  But many of the injured survived, thanks to the care of these Vermonters.  

The team also traveled to Fond Parisien, Haiti, where a clinic was established.  They worked with Haitians and other relief organizations to create a wound clinic and a hospital for hundreds of displaced persons.

After two weeks of working in difficult conditions, the first team of Vermonters is coming home.  They are exhausted physically and emotionally, but they are proud of the help they provided to their Haitian patients and of being able to represent Vermont in the relief effort.  A second team has arrived in Haiti and has already begun working.  The Vermont Haiti Relief Team hopes to continue to send volunteers for two-week rotations to support the hospital in Jimani and the clinic in Fond Parisien for the next three to six months.

I and my wife Marcelle, who worked for years as a registered nurse, have been extremely impressed with the commitment of these Vermont volunteers.  I thank them for their hard work and dedication, and for their selfless example.

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