By Nadene Brunk, Founder and Executive Director of Midwives For Haiti


  1. Life for women in developing countries is incredibly hard. From finding water, making a fire, finding food and washing laundry, women who have no “time-saving devices” work hard all day just to keep their families fed and clean. They and their children are amazingly clean but the time it took to accomplish that is hours more than what it takes here in the U.S.  That means there is little time to read, to create art, to do more than try to survive.
  2. Laughter is plentiful in Haiti because relationships are the source of happiness.  When you do not have things, cannot shop when you are depressed, do not have more or less stuff than most of your neighbors, relationships are very important and make life rich.
  3. People die of totally preventable causes. In the U.S, the routine things that medical assistants do every day in our medical offices- that most people in developing countries never experience- are life-saving in Haiti. Having your blood pressure checked, your urine dipped, your symptoms listed, and your weight recorded can save your life.
  4. Education is the most valuable treasure a country can have. In Haiti, education is incredibly valued by children and adults. It is seen as the only hope for change. Children read under the only street light in their neighborhood or in the dim light that comes from a window at the back of a store. They walk miles to school and take great pride in their uniforms and books. To get their child into a school may be the greatest dream a parent has.
  5. Taxes and government can be very good things. Without a functioning government or a tax system, the roads are bad or do not exist, there is no clean water to drink, there is no garbage collection, there is no free education for the poor, there is no justice when someone steals from you. In the U.S., taxes and government do all of that for us and we do not value it enough.
  6. Death is common. In the U.S., we live in denial of death and this denial influences our relationships adversely. Because death is a common experience in Haiti, Haitians have stoicism and resilience and an ability to carry on with life after a tragedy that we seem to lack. They have the same pain from the loss of a child as we do here. The sadness remains in their eyes for years afterwards. But, they have accepted that death and life go hand-in-hand and it changes what they value and how they treasure each other.
  7. In Haiti, people still remember that they were slaves and they value their freedom. Here in the U.S. we have a sense we are living in our own time and have lost the realization that the world we live in is a result of all those who have gone before us, those who worked for hundreds of years to make our country.
  8. There are unpredictable barriers for every task you want to accomplish. To get anything done in Haiti, you have to have perseverance. For every organization that is succeeding in making good changes for Haitians, there are twenty that just gave up. A friend once gave me very valuable advice: “There are so many problems in Haiti that the only way you will succeed in solving one of them is to put blinders on to all the rest and concentrate on spending your lifetime solving just one of them.” The problem I picked was the need for skilled pregnancy and childbirth care for women. I often think even that has been too broad.
  9. The majority of midwives who volunteer in Haiti do so because midwifery is a calling for them. They are not there for the money, the fame, or the fun. They are there because they believe deeply that midwifery is a special gift to women all over the world that brings improved health and compassion. They know medical interventions can save lives but bringing compassionate care and dignity is even more important.
  10. Compassion is the universal language.  We may not understand the medical jargon or barely grasp the detailed explanation the doctor is giving us, but we intuitively know when someone really cares about us.  If they care, then we trust.  With unrushed attention and a caring touch, midwives speak a universal language of compassion to comfort their patients, whether they be American or Haitian.  Haitians recognize when someone is genuinely interested in helping them get well, get the best care, get to the bottom of the problem.  They are truly grateful for the loving care given to them. For some it is their first taste of compassionate health care.  I still get teary eyed when I think of the story told by one of our volunteers about the 16 year old soon-to-be-mother she helped through a birth.  That young woman told her she wished she had something to give her in return but she had nothing to offer but her thanks and the words, “you have been kinder to me than anyone has ever been in my life.”  Little did she know how her words were treasured.