A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12. Thousands of volunteers went to help that impoverished nation recover. Two nurses from Duluth were there this month and have just returned. WTIPs Jay Andersen spoke with one of them.
We’re speaking with Julie Zimmerman who, just this week, returned to Duluth from spending doing post-earthquake work in Haiti. Well, welcome back, Julie.
Zimmerman: Thanks, Jay.
What exactly were you doing to help in Haiti?
Zimmerman: We went down on a medical mission and provided medical care for patients post-earthquake.
And this was exactly where in Haiti?
Zimmerman: We were located in Port-au-Prince in the Delman area, but we went around to various clinics in the communities and a couple different hospitals and we went to one little village out of town.
Now, you are a registered nurse, right?
Zimmerman: Yes, I am.
And that’s with Saint Mary’s Duluth Clinic?
And who were you down there with?
Zimmerman: I went down there with a coworker, Tricia Mattson. We work together at SMDC, and then we formed a little medical group the two of us called “Peace-Love-Haiti.”
What were the conditions like that you saw down there?
Zimmerman: Well, the conditions there, people always ask me if they’re improving, but I don’t know because I didn’t really see before. It’s just crumbled building after crumbled building. There’s 1.5 million homeless people and most people live in tents or under tarps with no food or water or medical care.
What kinds of medical conditions did you experience?
Zimmerman: You know, we didn’t have the trauma, post-quake type things because people are healed up. There’s a lot of people missing limbs. We saw a lot of malnutrition, starvation, malaria, diseases that people get from living together in close quarters without proper sanitation and proper nutrition, which is awful because they are things that are easily prevented.
Are there medical facilities available?
Zimmerman: There’s a couple hospitals there that are permanent structures. They do require payment, so a lot of the people that we saw, maybe had never seen a doctor before in their life, or, if so, maybe it was many years previous to when they were there. There’s not a lot of structured anything in Haiti.
Were you down there during the rainy season?
Zimmerman: This is the rainy season. It’s kind of misleading, because when we think of the rainy season we think of northern Minnesota when it will rain for three days straight. The way that it works there is that it starts raining in the evening and it just downpours for several hours off and on. So, that really gets the filthy sewage moving around and causes a lot of problems as far as sanitation and disease goes.
Were you working with adults and kids or one more than the other?
Zimmerman: Yes, we were working with both. We based out of a place called Quisqueya Crisis Relief, and Quisqueya is really a school there that as soon as the earthquake happened, they found that their structures were still there and so they kind of formed an impromptu medical disbursement area. The army was also stationed there, so there were generators so that we had electricity, because there’s not really electricity in Port-au-Prince, and there’s not really gas to fuel generators there, either. But, we were fortunate to have this at our base camp, so we were pretty safe. But, somehow they got word from the other areas, they were able to communicate with different areas, tent cities and community clinics and let them know that groups would be coming out to work that day. So then we’d just hop in a crazy vehicle of some sort and be shipped off to an area to work for the day, and we’d have to bring all of our supplies with, all the medications, anything we’d need for suturing or would dressings, even water for people to take the medications with, because of course that’s not available there, either.
Well, Julie, what prompted you to do this?
Zimmerman: I’ve always wanted to do something like this. But, when I saw the footage of the earthquake, just thinking about all the people in that little area that lost their homes, I just, I couldn’t not do something.
Did you do this on your own?
Zimmerman: Yep, we got down there on our own. We fundraised, and the hospital donated a bunch of medications, and friends and family and people in the community donated to us. We made some t-shirts to sell.
Are there a lot of volunteers like yourselves down there?
Zimmerman: There were quite a few volunteers that we saw. There were teams from other areas, too. Like, Team Vermont, Team Orange County, and Team Aruba, oh, they were great, and they were just, more or less, not affiliated with anything, just people put together that wanted to volunteer and formed a group and went.
This was from the island of Aruba?
Zimmerman: The island of Aruba, they had a huge team, unforgettable team of people.
Of course, we all heard at the beginning, when the earthquake struck, that there were a lot of groups from the United States and other places down there, doing rescue. Were you aware of that continuing? Are there still a lot of groups down there working with these people?
Zimmerman: There’s a lot of NGOs in Haiti. The theme is that the government doesn’t really do a lot. There’s still a lot of groups down there trying to help, but it’s just that the problems are so huge. We didn’t see any evidence of the Red Cross or anything like that anywhere, but we did have some contact with the Jenkins-Penn Foundation, that’s the one that Sean Penn has. They’re doing a lot for people as far as trying to move them to like a camp, a refuge-type camp, further out of the city so they can do some farming and maybe not be so cramped and not get washed away with the rain.
How long were you there?
Zimmerman: For two weeks.
And do you think you’ll go back?
Zimmerman: I do think I’ll go back. I think we both want to. I’m not sure exactly where we’ll go, but I really want to get back there.
Julie Zimmerman just returned from Haiti where she was helping the people after a devastating earthquake that happened on the 12th of January of this year. Thanks for speaking with us, Julie.
Zimmerman: Thanks so much, Jay.