By BRITTANY BULKELEY
The humanitarian aid effort has increased significantly over the last few years; even stars such as Angelina Jolie are getting into the act and finding a cause they can support. And here in Utah, doctors from the LDS Rehabilitation Hospital in Salt Lake City have not only been supporting a cause but have spearheaded the Healing Hands for Haiti organization.
In August of 1998, Dr. Jeff Randle of the LDS rehabilitation hospital and co-worker Susan Gleason took a group of 12 rehabilitation professionals and support personnel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for 10 days. The group volunteered its time, paid its way to Haiti and was able to raise over $70,000 in donations for their rehabilitation clinic.
“I’d never seen such poverty,” said Randle, who was one of the first seven missionaries to serve in Haiti from 1982-83. “Through such trying conditions the people had resilient spirits. They insisted on being happy, and I knew I wanted to go back and help. That’s part of the reason I became a doctor.”
The group enjoyed the trip enough to want to return the next year. By the summer of 1999 they had 40 volunteers; rehabilitation professionals, returned missionary translators and people with no training who just wanted to help.
“I would give speeches at conferences and people would get interested,” Randle said. “Once they saw how poor the people were, they wanted to help. ”
Randle wanted to give long lasting service, not just ten days every year. One of the goals of the group now is to educate the Haitian people so they can start helping themselves as well.
By 2000, Healing Hands for Haiti was able to send three separate teams and open its own clinic.
Many of the volunteers return from the trip and recruit their own team for the next year, and in 2003 they were able to send nine separate teams to the clinic, said Jan Groves, US operations manager. Each team leader works with Groves to coordinate directions for the next team.
“Each team pays their way and gets donations of medical, household and office supplies for the clinic,” Groves said. “When they are in need of specific supplies they inform the next team so they can bring what they’ll need.”
The teams come from many places; Utah, California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon and Canada, but they all communicate to keep the clinic running.
Matt Ray, a team leader from Bakersfield, Calif., and BYU alumni, has been with the organization for four years. Ray served a mission in Haiti as well and had been looking for an organization to go to Haiti with.
“I wanted to do something for Haiti rather than just go and have fun,” Ray said. After his first trip, Ray organized a team of his own with 17 occupational therapists and support members from California, Oregon and Canada.
Each trip consists of 15 to 30 people, and the group is now sending ten trips a year. Ray said this means a minimum of 180 people are going to Haiti.
The organization was just given a $2 million complex from a benefactor. On the complex is a guesthouse that can house over 30 people, a place for a rehabilitation hospital and a school for those being trained in Haiti.
Because Healing Hands for Haiti is a non-profit organization, the complex is leased to the organization for $1 a year for five years, after which time the complex will be considered paid in full.
While the group is growing, they are still looking for help in various ways. Kurt Bestor and Enoch Train are having a benefit concert for the organization on Feb. 25, 2004 in Salt Lake City. For more information on Healing Hands for Haiti or details on the upcoming benefit concert you can check out their Web site at www.healinghandsforhaiti.org.