Upon hearing of the powerful hurricane that devastated Haiti’s southern coast on October 4, many people’s thoughts turned to painful memories of the 2010 cholera epidemic. Just days later, a small team of Samaritan’s Purse doctors and nurses were driving along the storm-battered coast assessing needs and, specifically, cholera risk.
They could only go so far with fallen trees and high water levels cutting the road short. They were stopped just a mile shy of a town called Chardonnieres when they began a conversation along the side of the road with the mayor. He happened to be on his way to a meeting of mayors from the surrounding areas.
From this opportune meeting, the team was asked to start a cholera treatment clinic in the middle of town on an empty field next to the coast. The following day, the Samaritan’s Purse team set out to clear the field with local help. Soon, they realized they didn’t have all the right tools for the job.
While they sat in the only shade available on the field contemplating how to complete the task, a doctor noticed the two large, untouched shipping containers providing the shade. No one knew what was inside of them, but they were told they could have whatever it was.
When they opened the containers, an array of wheelbarrows, goggles, shovels, tarps, and a generator greeted them. The tools for clearing the field and treating cholera were all right there; it was clear that God wanted there to be a cholera treatment center in this exact location. Now they just had to wait for the cholera.
When I arrived in Chardonnieres at the beginning of cholera treatment center operations, there were several cases of cholera per day, but the numbers were usual for chronic cholera in Haiti. We were seeing an average of eight new cases per day. It seemed as though we weren’t going to experience an upsurge in cases due to the hurricane.
Fast forward to October 22. I awoke to the sounds of hurried and alarmed talking at 5:30 a.m. Patients were coming in rapidly—and they were all from the same village.
Travel up the mountain from Chardonnieres for about two laborious hours, and you reach a small community called Kamilat, mostly separated from the rest of the world. To go to school, children from Kamilat hike down the mountain to Chardonnieres every day. Now the town was being ravished by cholera. A few rallying leaders helped usher sick people down the mountain all through the night and into the following day.
That day, our cholera treatment center saw 70 cholera patients, almost exclusively from Kamilat. A small medical team hiked up the mountain and treated another 16 cholera cases on site. We began that day with one “ward” (an army tent outfitted with patient beds) and just four patients being nursed back to health. By that evening, we had five “wards” open and a sixth being prepared. For three days, our doctors and nurses worked around the clock in sweltering heat and with little sleep.
For several days, patients from Kamilat rushed to our doorstep for emergency treatment. Lifeless bodies became energized souls once again after just a few hours of care. Had our cholera treatment center not been there, or had it been further away, surely Kamilat would have experienced many deaths from a treatable disease. There is no telling how the disease could have spread in such a small community without any treatment.
In 2010, Samaritan’s Purse saw hundreds of cholera patients at their clinics every day. That outbreak was massive and overwhelming. I praise God that this time around, the outbreak was minor and didn’t spread. However, one may be tempted to ask why we went through the trouble of hauling out loads of medical supplies, moving medical staff, and setting up a cholera treatment center in a remote field for such a small response.
To me, it’s quite obvious. God loves the remote, unassuming mountain town of Kamilat so much that He perfectly positioned us on that beachside field in Chardonnieres at exactly the right time to save lives. I will never forget the week that God saved the little town of Kamilat.