To Haiti With No Hesitation
Moved by the devastation and desperation after the earthquake, a Ra’anana doctor takes action.
By Morey Altman
It was his teenage son Daniel who first asked, “So are you going?”
Watching reports on the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti with his family, Dr. Harvey Belik was moved by what he saw. He had seen the aftermath of the Tsunami in Indonesia when he was there as a volunteer in 2005, and he thought of the long-term rehabilitation that would be necessary in Haiti. While IsraAid and other international groups were concentrating on emergency care, there would be thousands of patients requiring everything from childcare to psychological counselling for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) while shattered Haiti slowly rebuilt.
A well-known family physician in Ra’anana, Dr. Belik served as Medical Director of Maccabi Health Service until two years ago, but now concentrates on his private practice. He and his wife Loretta made aliyah from Australia in 1988.
Belik contacted several groups in Israel and received a positive response from Natan: the Israeli Coalition for International Humanitarian Aid (Natan I-Relief), which was named in memory of legendary Israeli activist Abie Nathan (1927-2008). Within days of the earthquake Natan I-Relief organized a program “to deliver life-saving materials and to launch a monthly humanitarian aid delegation comprising of Israeli volunteers providing medicine, trauma care, child care and social and community rehabilitation.” The first delegation left just three days after the earthquake. The second delegation was scheduled to leave on January 22. That gave Belik only two days to prepare. And he knew the trip would be no picnic. A long flight to the Dominican Republic, an uncertain bus ride from Santa Domingo to Port-au Prince and no idea what conditions they’d be operating in. In retrospect, jokes Belik, “it was pretty gutsy of me.”
The Natan I-Relief delegation was led by social worker Dr. Moshe Farchi, head of trauma at Tel Hai Academic College and consisted of one medical doctor (Belik), Nurse Tamara Dolgin and a psychologist and social worker. They were met in Santo Domingo by Alexander de la Rosa, the Dominican Republic’s Ambassador to Israel, a friendly, Hebrew speaker who happened to be home at the time.
Back row (from left to right) Sister Marie, Dr. Harvey Belik, Magay (interpreter), Dr. Moshe Farchi, Dr. Eitan Shachar, Nurse Tamara Dolgin
The bus ride took 18 hours – the bus broke down twice – before it approached the battered Haitian capital. “It was like a war zone,” says Belik. “As we got nearer, we began to see rubble. One building was up, another down. The smell of death still lingered.”
A charity group hooked them up with a beleaguered Catholic retreat center in the heavily damaged neighbourhood of Sainte Marie. When they arrived at the center they found a 70-year-old German nurse, Sister Marie, working alone in desperate conditions. She would continue to run the show, with the Natan I-Relief team tending to the gathering patients. She introduced them to visitors of the camp as her ‘miracles from Israel, sent by Abraham and Moses.’
They focused on family medicine, treating infections, broken bones and malnutrition while coping with sporadic electricity, water shortages, hungry mosquitoes and the heat. Despite the conditions, the team, which debriefed every night to share experiences and plan ahead, set out to build a model community and address wide-ranging health concerns, especially the prevention of contagious diseases. There was a general awareness that while their stay may be short, it would be possible to promote well-being activities that would continue to serve that Haitians long after the Israelis left.
They also worked to open a school for the neighbourhood children, whose own school had collapsed killing two students. Belik, a strong proponent of Jewish education, and founder and board member of Ra’anana’s Tali and Meitarim Schools, recognized the importance of restoring some normalcy in the lives of the traumatized children. Working with local teachers, the Israeli team helped set up makeshift classrooms, using donated IDF tents, around the center and even in the adjacent cemetery for 400 local kids. They also advised the teachers, many of whom had also suffered in the quake, on strategies to help the children better cope with what they had experienced.
“It was personally very fulfilling,” says Belik. “I had tremendous support from home and really felt like my family was with me the whole time. It was also nice to be able to show a human side of Israel. We were there to help, but I’m happy the positive PR was a by-product.” Dr. Belik, who is also a Major and medical officer in the IDF, says it was “an amazing feeling to see the Israeli group in action.”
He was particularly inspired by the strength and dignity of the Haitians. “They were incredibly resilient,” says Belik. “There were thousands of refugees with next-to-nothing, but they would come to us well-groomed, singing prayers. But culturally, we were very different. Some might ask, ‘Why care about Haiti? We have nothing in common other than being people.’ But that is everything.”
Throughout 2010, the Natan coalition will send eleven more delegations to assist with the multidisciplinary rehabilitation needed in Haiti. Individuals and organizations that are willing to mobilize and help are asked to directly contact Natan's representatives: Nathan.firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheques can be sent to Brit Olam's offices: P.O.Box 53316, Tel Aviv, 61533
Direct donations can be made to Brit Olam's bank account: Israel Discount Bank Ltd (11), Branch No. 105, Tel Aviv University. Account No. 27470.