A University of Georgia grad and pharmacist since 1974, Powell was part of a 10-member team that set up and opened a two-room medical clinic in a suburb of the devastated Haitian capital.
Dubbed Rapha Clinic - meaning “God the healer” - the facility will serve a hard-hit area where about 10,000 people still live in tents. The clinic is inside a school operated by a Haitian church, L’Eglise Evangelique Bethlehem (Bethlehem Church).
The 5,000-member church housed and fed the medical team in its orphanage, a concrete block structure that largely escaped damage, but has seen its population swell from 40 to 60 children since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The area is still without running water or electricity, and so is Rapha Clinic. Indoor temperatures reached 90 degrees, and water was carried in from distribution sites in buckets.
Despite the very basic nature of the clinic, the team of three doctors, three nurses, an EMT, group leader, pastor and Powell saw about 500 patients in four days. A Creole-speaking interpreter helped them communicate with the patients and with the two Haitian doctors and three nurses who will be the facility’s permanent staff. Many of the patients had infections related to the primitive living conditions, but the team’s surgeon performed some minor procedures, like removing a cyst from a woman’s back.
“In this country, we would not think of providing medical care in such a primitive setting, but we did it and they are still doing it,” Powell said.
His main responsibility was to set up a pharmacy in a room also used for reception and triage and to teach the Haitian nurses how to maintain it and dispense medicines.
“It was the same work I do here, but in a very different setting,” Powell said. “I put pills in a bag, with a smile and with love.”
The mission was sponsored by First United Methodist Church in Carrollton. Team leader was Martha Thurman, a former Troup County resident who taught at Hollis Hand Elementary School when her husband, the Rev. Jimmy Thurman, was pastor at First United Methodist Church in West Point. Now retired, Martha Thurman had been on previous medical missions and “really knew what to do,” Powell said.
The medical team was accompanied by the Rev. Michael Dunbar of Social Circle, a Methodist minister and longtime friend of Rigaud Antoine, the pastor of Bethlehem Church. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Antoine contacted Dunbar, pleading for help with food, water and health care. Hospitals in the area were either destroyed or severely damaged. The Carrollton mission was an outgrowth of that plea.
Powell learned of the proposed mission when he ran into Thurman at a denominational meeting and gave her his business card. He’d “felt a call” to go to Haiti shortly after the quake and believes God’s hand guided a chain of events that ultimately put him on a plane with 28 large bags of medicines, paid for with donations from the missions committee and friends at his church, LaGrange First United Methodist, plus a sizable donation from his employer, Corley Drugs.
Not a risk taker by nature, Powell found himself walking along streets flowing with open sewage, past mountains of rubble and buildings that looked at risk of imminent collapse. He saw mothers bathing children by the side of the road, rice being measured in rusty cans and abundant evidence of the crushing poverty that plagued Haiti even before the quake.
The language barrier limited conversations with locals, but Powell believes the crosses he and other team members wore around their necks made a point.
“I hope they understood we were there to show God’s love,” he said. “Just us walking through those streets was a witness that somebody in the world cares about them.”
He was disappointed to see few signs of rebuilding and little evidence that basic services, like utilities and water, were being restored. Heavy equipment was almost nonexistent, and government workers loaded rubble into dump trucks by hand.
Still, the resilience of the people was impressive, Powell said. The orphanage, for example, had managed to convert its stove to run on propane, and the children appeared well-fed and happy.
“They had a great system. The older children helped care for the younger ones. They appeared healthy and well adjusted,” he said.
News reports have said that billions in international aid pledged for quake recovery is being withheld until the Haitian government demonstrates an ability to use it effectively. In the meantime, Powell believes that small, church-sponsored missions, paired with local organizations like Bethlehem Church, can do “more with less.”
“You need somebody to provide housing and food, or else you’ll spend all your time looking for housing and food and not be able to work,” he said.
— Thurman and others are seeking more Methodist teams to support and resupply Rapha Clinic and to assist Bethlehem Church with construction needed to expand the orphanage and school.
Churches and groups interested in donating time and resources to future medical missions may contact Thurman at email@example.com. Those interested in construction help may contact Dunbar at First United Methodist Church at 261 S. Cherokee Road, Social Circle GA 30025 or (770) 464-3854. For more information on the Haiti mission see haitibethlehemproject.org.