A letter from Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean region, on home leave
“I didn’t know why God wanted this school here.” That’s what the Dean of the Nursing School said when I talked with her this fall in Haiti. Hilda Alcindor lived in the U.S. for 30 years, part of the Haitian diaspora. She is a registered nurse and a former officer in the US military. She was doing just fine with her life in the US, when God called her through a medical doctor and member of First Presbyterian, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dr. Young was convinced that a nursing school was what God wanted in Haiti. He had been coming to Haiti for years, working out of Hôpital Ste. Croix in Léogâne, and had witnessed the shortage of quality nursing care. Through a partnership that included the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti (a long-time partner of the PCUSA’s World Mission), the Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF), which raises money for Presbyterian medical mission, and individuals and congregations of the PC(USA), a dream became a reality in 2005—the only four-year, baccalaureate-degree nursing program in Haiti and with Dean Hilda at its head.
It was on January 24, 2010, when a 7.0 earthquake hit the town of Léogâne, 16 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince. The nursing school is in the town limits of Léogâne, and within 20 minutes of the quake, people started arriving in the schoolyard. “The students were very frightened,” she recalled. It was horrific—such a large earthquake followed by at least 52 aftershocks, but the school building held up with only minor cosmetic damage. The school yard eventually became a tent city of 5000 people, many of whom were injured in the quake. Hilda told her students, “We have patients!” so they quickly organized themselves to do what they were training to do—provide nursing care.
Dean Hilda and the students worked alone throughout that first week to care for the injured. The MBF had staff and volunteers on the ground by the seventh day, and others began arriving to help: from Holland and Switzerland, from Japan. The student dormitory became a hospital where 600 surgeries were performed in those first few weeks.
Hilda now says she knows why God wanted this nursing school there. They were in the right place at the time of greatest need, and with the skills to help. The school has already graduated 70 students and this fall began the first Master’s level nursing program in Haiti, with a class of 20 students. It is through the ongoing partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, the Medical Benevolence Foundation, Presbyterian congregations, and the hard work and vision of the Haitian people that the school was built, staffed and continues to train nurses. Hilda is convinced that Haitians who live abroad, and who have skills and experience to share, are a large part of the solution of building lasting changes in the Haitian economy and political system, in education and health care. And we, as Presbyterians, have had the privilege of working alongside our Haitian partners to make the dream of quality nursing care a reality.
As we work in partnership, God is able to take the gifts of each of us and multiply them as blessings to many. In this season of celebrating God's greatest gift to us, I celebrate the ways in which so many share their gifts with one another, in the Caribbean and around the world, and for the many gifts I have received from you this year: gifts of prayer and encouragement and financial support. World Mission has a matching grant challenge going on now, so every individual gift before the end of the year will double in value and impact. The challenge amount will go into the general mission personnel support account to help me and others like me have sufficient funds for sending and support. Please prayerfully consider a gift now and in the coming year.
May you, your family and congregation be richly blessed in this holy season, open to receiving God's gift of love and peace and joy.