Midwives for Haiti
Taking learning beyond the classroom
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 03:10
Hannah Lonstein remembers looking out the window of an aircraft at nothing but tents and dirt, questioning her sanity, wondering why she left the comfort of her home in America. Lonstein, along with five of her peers, was about to embark on a life-changing journey, living among the poverty and sickness that occurs in a third-world country.
This past summer, University of New Hampshire nursing students Lonstein, Jenna Nardone, Erika Harrison, Rachael Croce, Stacie Hale and clinical instructor Maribeth Quinn traveled to Haiti, where they spent eight days together working as student teachers and assisting midwives in the villages of Haiti.
Quinn has been the faculty member that travels with student volunteers each year since 2010. She graduated from the UNH nursing program in 1982, and has since worked as a labor nurse, midwife and now teaches at UNH and in Haiti, through Midwives For Haiti.
Although the students are all part of the UNH nursing program, their trip was not affiliated with the university.
In addition to their required clinical and practicum experience, many students choose to supplement their education with nursing assistant jobs, volunteer work, etc. After completing their ‘Maternal and Newborn Nursing’ clinical rotation, where Quinn served as their instructor, Lonstein, Nardone, Harrison, Croce and Hale decided that Midwives for Haiti would be a real-life nursing experience that would be invaluable to their nursing education.
Midwives For Haiti was developed for the purpose of teaching “Haitian men and women the midwifery skills that make them skilled birth attendants,” according to midwifesforhaiti.org. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that as many as one in 28 Haitian mothers die in childbirth. Midwives For Haiti has played a crucial part in providing aid to combat this tragedy as volunteers teach others how to properly care for mothers and babies. Nursing students at UNH have always had the opportunity to contribute to this cause.
Nardone explained how they made the decision to go in the first place.
“We trusted Maribeth a lot, and it was comforting that it was all of our first time in a third world country,” Nardone said.
“We knew it would be an experience that wouldn’t be able to be had anywhere else,” Harrison said.
Quinn explained how Haiti is not on the approved list for student travel, so there was no credit or funding that the girls could have received, and the decision to go was solely volunteer-based.
Croce spoke about the stereotypes Haiti has in America, and how they perceived their surroundings as they arrived.
“I traveled to Italy one time, and I actually felt safer in Haiti than I did in Italy. There are so many negative connotations that are associated with Haiti, but when we got there we realized that the stereotypes weren’t true,” Croce said.
“We definitely stood out. Our translator would tell us that they would say some funny things about us. We felt a lot of people staring at us, but it was just because we were different,” Lonstein said.
The girls stayed in a house that was reserved for midwife volunteers and students. A large gate, complete with guards for their safety, surrounded the home.
“It was actually really luxurious,” Lonstein said.
During their stay, the group enjoyed home-cooked meals, laundered clothing and housekeeping, all made possible by the staff that is employed through the organization. The volunteers would also be driven back and forth from the hospitals at night.
“It’s no different from other places in the world, you don’t walk by yourself at night,” Quinn said.
Nardone said that whenever they were going to a clinic, the only way of getting there besides walking was having the “taxi drivers” bring you on their motorized scooters.
“I guess you just trust people there, which is something I didn’t really expect to be able to do,” Lonstein said.
The Midwives for Haiti program had formed an alliance with an orphanage in town, so everyone in the community knew what these women were doing there.
“It’s just their nature to be non-violent and friendly,” Quinn said. “The people in the town are just smiling, and saying hello.”
In Haiti, it is the norm that whatever you may possess, you will share with others. The girls talked about how they would bring snacks into town and observe that the receiver of the food would share it with everyone around, even if it were a miniscule amount.