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Haitian doctor and his wife working with SOLO & Geomed-Haiti

Couple hopes to open school & clinic in Port au Prince

During the practice-what-you’ve-learned part of the SOLO class, Dr. Jude St. Phard, left, and his wife Rachelle, right, use a ski pole as a splint for Chandra Ale’s “broken” leg while Tracy Rothstein holds the leg steady. (Sara Young-Knox/Mountain Ear Photo). (click for larger version)
June 10, 2010
It's the same park that will, a few years later, fill up with the tents of those displaced by the earthquake, but now, in the middle of the decade, it is a good place for him to concentrate on his studies. Since he began his schooling he has always been near or at the top of his class. While still in primary school he taught himself English, a skill that has helped him make connections with those who have made it possible for him to go to secondary school, and then, to Haiti's University of Notre Dame.

Now, several years later, on a very hot day in late May 2010, Dr. Jude St. Phard, the young man in the park, is sitting next to his wife, Rachelle, in a wilderness emergency medicine class at SOLO Wilderness Medical School in Madison with about 23 other students.

Dr. St. Phard is from Port au Prince, Haiti, and has been to New Hampshire before, but Rachelle hasn't. The two are staying in Madison with Emily Beaulieu, a nurse practitioner at Saco River Medical Group, and her husband, George Thomas.

"I'm here to support my wife," Dr. St. Phard says during a break. By profession, Rachelle is a kindergarten teacher, and Jude says she is interested in medicine, so they are teaming with SOLO to learn the courses and bring them back to Haiti.

In February, Beaulieu and Saco River's Dr. Frank Hubbell and Dr. Heidi Root, came down to Haiti and stayed with the doctor and his family. Hubbell and his wife, Lee Frizzell, are the founders/directors of SOLO, so the idea to have SOLO more actively involved in Haiti over the long-term was hatched during that medical mission trip.

They hope to do more than teach SOLO courses, though. For years, Beaulieu has participated in medical missions with doctors from Saco River, and with Root is part of a Geomed team. With Geomed-Haiti, the couple hopes to establish a clinic and a school in their Port au Prince neighborhood.

Dr. St. Phard is the Haitian director of Geomed, Beaulieu is the executive director, and Dr. Root is the medical director. Among those on the non-profit's board is Rev. Sean Dunker-Bendigo of the Madison Church. The mission statement on the organization's website, www.geomedhaitifounda tion.org, reads, "Helping Haitians provide sustainable healthcare and education within their local communities in Haiti. Serving orphans and street children and families."

Dr. St. Phard can relate to those children. Born in Cap Haitien, the country's second largest city, located in northern Haiti, his mother died when he was four. He never knew his father. In 1986, when he was eight years old, he moved to Port au Prince with his aunt, a widow, "Because," he explains, "things were bad for us."

Beaulieu met St. Phard in 2005 when she was on a medical mission trip to Haiti. He, in the middle of his university program, was the translator for her group.

"He did more than translate," Beaulieu says. He advised them on cultural and social aspects. "You have to really understand the fundamentals of culture to help," she comments during an interview with the St. Phards in her Madison home.

Beaulieu found out the young translator had money challenges, and set about to finance his education.  

"She helped me more and more," he says. "She told me, 'You don't have to worry about money, you have to worry about studying.'"

In Haiti, public education is poorly funded, and 90 percent of the primary schools are private or parochial. Only 65 percent of the children of school age attend, with only 20 percent of those age-eligible attending secondary school. It costs money to go to school, every step of the way, and for many Haitians that cost puts education out of reach.

Dr. St. Phard almost didn't get the chance to become what he is today, but as a nine-year-old he was playing in the streets when the wife of a local pastor approached him, asking if he went to school, and if not, would he like to. He answered no to the first question, yes to the second, and the pastor's wife told him, "Bring me your aunt."

The next afternoon, Jude was in school, along with his younger cousin. The pastor's wife funded his education. The school not only nourished his hungry brain, but his hungry belly, too, as he got to eat whatever food was leftover from the school's morning session.

He spent eight years at the Nenazon Church School, always scoring at the top of his class on government tests. One day, nearing the end of his primary school years, he was in church when he heard an American woman unsuccessfully trying to communicate in English to one of the Haitian parishioners. Jude stepped in to translate and found out the woman was with a Catholic group, and wanted to sponsor the secondary education of a young girl. Jude persuaded her to sponsor him, too, and he attended Jean Price Mars High School for seven years, always, he says, "at the top of my class."

When the time came for him to take the next step, he asked the team leader of the Catholic sponsors if they would pay for him to go to college. The sponsors tried to raise $20 a month donations to make up the $5,000 a year college cost, but it was tough. That's when he met Beaulieu, and with her unwavering help was able to finish medical school and complete his internship.

As a new doctor, he works for free at a healthcare center. After a year of service, he can earn $100 a month at the facility. As a teacher, Rachelle was earning $125 a month. He jokes that when he learned of her career ambitions, he told her, "I've never seen a kindergarten teacher with a car."

It's been a long, challenging road for Dr. St. Phard to get to where he is today, and it takes the young physician two hours to tell his life story in Beaulieu and Thomas's living room in their home in Madison.

Near the end of the interview Rachelle goes upstairs, coming back down with a small album of wedding pictures. Rachelle is beautiful in her traditional white wedding gown, and her bridesmaids lovely in their red dresses. George Thomas, Emily's husband, was Jude's best man at the August 2008 ceremony. Emily was the first one to get through by phone to the St. Phards in the weeks after the earthquake.

Dr. St. Phard is a man of deep faith. "I'm a believer," he'd explained when talking about praying for the resources to go to college.

But whether it was his faith, or if he somehow sensed a tension building up in the earth beneath his feet, several weeks before Jan. 12 he had a dream he was in an earthquake. It shook him up so much that he'd downloaded a YouTube clip on what to do in an earthquake and had shared that information with Rachelle.

On January 12 Jude came home shortly after 4 p.m. from his work at a public health center. Out on the porch, he talked and prayed for about 40 minutes with a neighbor who stopped by, an 86-year-old man. A pregnant former schoolmate came by with some medical concerns and went into the living room with Rachelle.

When the house began to shake at 4:53 p.m., he heard Rachelle shout from the house, "Jude, earthquake!" and the couple took action, positioning themselves under the heavier framing of the house, like the doorways, and watching out for their two guests. As the living room chair slid back and forth across the floor, and a car outside bounced between buildings, Jude counted the seconds. He'd read that the major shock of most earthquakes lasts seven seconds. This one lasted more.

They could hear the screaming and crying of people in the houses and streets around them. Dust rose up from the ground and from the falling buildings, clouding the once familiar neighborhood in a gritty haze.

Recounting those moments and the days that followed, he uses one word, but repeats it three times. "Terrible, terrible, terrible," he says, shaking his head. Just down the end of his street, the site where a police station used to be is now an empty lot, swept clean of rubble and of the 300 policemen who used to work there.

"I don't know the color of death," he says, "but I know the face."

The earthquake flattened the National Palace, one story collapsing into the other like a ruined wedding cake. The image of the damaged palace flashed around the world, a symbol of the country's ineffective government.

With no advance disaster planning, no emergency medical services, it took the government three days to react. In Haiti, Rachelle adds, an ambulance is a pick-up truck.

When the three Saco River professionals came to Haiti in February, they had tents with them, prepared to sleep in the yard with the family, who didn't yet trust the earth and its aftershocks not to take the house down.

The Mt. Washington Valley residents were more optimistic about the future, and gave the tents to the family to sleep in, while they slept inside. St. Phard and his family, like many Haitians, had been sleeping in their backyard without cover. Word got around quickly that the medical team would be offering their services. When they woke up, Dr. St. Phard recounts, the yard was full of people.

The St. Phards are in New Hampshire for a couple of months, working with SOLO and Geomed-Haiti towards their long-term goal of a school and medical clinic.

Geomed hopes to develop a self-sustaining model, focusing on the immediate community and providing emergency medical and first aid classes, too. St. Phard says it is important to dispel myths, such as that diarrhea in young children is caused by teething, and arm the women with scientific facts to help them keep their families healthy.

"We can't help all of Haiti," Beaulieu says. "So we've adopted his neighborhood."

Dr. St. Phard welcomes the opportunity to help others, as others have helped him. He vividly remembers those days as a student, and says that the constant day-to-day struggle to survive in Haiti makes it hard for people to plan for tomorrow.

In Haiti, he says, "We don't see the future; we try to manage the present time." He wants to help change that, and in his own way, with his loving wife, Rachelle, and SOLO and Geomed, give others the resources to plan their future, and to make Haiti's future much better than its past.

Martin Lord Osman
Martin Lord & Osman
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