HARLINGEN/PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – Even in the best of circumstances, receiving vital medical care isn’t always as simple as paying a visit to a doctor’s office.
And for those living in third world countries, challenges posed by infrastructure, transportation, natural disasters, or general lack of accessible healthcare can make receiving that care even more difficult, if not impossible.
Heather Smith, a Nurse Practitioner with Orthopedic Specialty Associates at Valley Baptist, had the opportunity to alleviate some of those challenges recently by providing charitable healthcare during a weeklong trip to Haiti.
Smith made the trip to Port-au-Prince as part of a volunteer effort with Hope for Haiti’s Children, a faith-based program that operates with a goal of ensuring that sponsored children have access to medical care through the organization’s annual child care clinic.
“I volunteer with a team of 60 individuals with all different skills join together to host the clinic for more than 2,200 sponsored children in two weeks,” Smith said. “Besides physicians and nurses, we are blessed with optometry and audiology for the kids that struggle with vision and hearing deficits. Each child that is seen at the clinic will have their height/weight monitored, vision exam, and medical exam.”
Smith also said that as part of the clinic, children receive care packages to assist in daily life, in addition to toys and school supplies.
“All children receive a backpack filled with donations that are brought from the United State that include toiletry items like toothbrushes, wash cloths, and deodorant, in addition to school supplies like pens, pencils, rulers, erasers,” she said. “They also include fun stuff like yo-yos, dolls, sunglasses, dresses, ties, and more. We try to make every child feel loved.”
Smith, who has made nine trips to Haiti as part of the program, said that this year’s trip was more important than ever as Haiti has been rocked by a number of natural disasters in recent years. Despite those challenges, Smith said she has seen progress in the group’s efforts over the years.
“Even though Haiti has suffered earthquakes and hurricanes that cause devastating destruction, the people of Haiti remain resilient,” she said. “The children dream of becoming doctors, nurses, police officers, and teachers. I love seeing those dreams come true. Child sponsorship truly changes lives, and this is my motivation.”
While Smith is grateful for the opportunity to utilize her medical knowledge to help those in need, she hasn’t made her recent trips to Haiti alone. Andrew Smith, Heather’s son and a senior at the Harlingen School of Health Professions, has joined her on her last two trips to Haiti.
“I saw my mother going to Haiti for a few years before the first time I went,” said Andrew, who is in the school’s pharmacy technician certification program and has been accepted to the University of Houston for fall of 2020 with plans of becoming a pharmacist. “I always look forward to seeing the children of Haiti again, and they motivate me to go back. I see what they go through in Haiti and I want to make sure they are healthy and that they know that there are people that care about them.”
Heather Smith said that charitable efforts and helping others live happy, healthy lives are core tenets of the Smith household.
“I have raised my children to believe that true joy comes from serving others. I became a nurse practitioner so that I can help others,” she said. “Andrew wants to be a pharmacist so that he can help others. My husband is a firefighter. Helping others is our family motto.”