While the world at large is still grappling to contain a deadly virus, WHO has identified Haiti as one of the nations that could face potential collapse of their already weakened health systems if the spread of COVID-19 is not mitigated. It is at this point our friends at Lumen Vitae, a non-profit funding education to K-12 grade and college students, formed a mission project called, “Pwojè Bon Vwazen” or “The Good Neighbor Project.”  To get a clear picture of it, Roshan Philip and Anthony Kunnumpurath spoke with Armelie Pierre and Jonathan Cayo, coordinators of the project in Haiti. Excerpts from the interview:

How is the situation with COVID-19 in Haiti?

 Jonathan: Currently, the numbers are increasing, almost by 150-200 daily. The Haitian government has implemented social distancing and is not allowing gatherings of more than 10 people. But there continues to be gatherings of more than 10 people. For example, the public market is still open where more than 100 people gather. But these places cannot be closed all of a sudden without a contingency plan because people need the markets to sustain their food for livelihood. Economically, we need a solution to allow people to stay at home, social distance and bring food to the table. At the moment, there is no substantial solution and without any real solution, people will continue to do what is needed to do to earn their livelihood.

What were your initial thoughts about Pwojè Bon Vwazen ?

Armelie: I thought it was a really good idea and felt that it was something needed for our community and Haiti. A vast majority of the people don’t have the accurate information about the disease; how it spreads and how to prevent it from spreading. So, if we have individuals trained with the correct information, we could easily deliver this message and help others in our community.

Jonathan: Even before Pwojè Bon Vwazen, Lumen Vitae Haiti team, (Jemps Jean, Evens Ducasse, Litza Joseph and Obed Giles) have been thinking about how we can help others during this time of COVID-19, especially the families of Lumen Vitae. As Armelie said, people don’t have the right information and are not able to understand the severity of the pandemic. So when we first heard about Pwojè Bon Vwazen and creating Community Health Workers (CHW), it was for us the best way to help the people to get the information about COVID-19.

What is Pwojè Bon Vwazen or The good neighbor project?  

Armelie: Pwojè Bon Vwazen, is a project by Jesus Youth Haiti and Lumen Vitae. In the project, we train six CHW on the basics of COVID-19 – the disease, how it spreads, and how we can stop the spread. After receiving the training, these community health workers will go to their own neighborhood and distribute items like masks, sanitizers, along with educating them on the spread and prevention of COVID-19. Overall, we want to have more people educated about the virus and we hope to keep people safe from the disease with the accurate information. We will also have three people trained to make masks locally in Haiti which our CHW will be distributing.

Who are CHW -community health workers? Why do we need them? 

Jonathan: Community health workers are individuals who receive training to help their own community about certain health issues. For our project, we have chosen to tackle COVID-19. The CHW after receiving appropriate training on a particular health issue, in our case COVID-19, goes out to their community to educate them about the issue. They will also provide necessary materials to prevent the spread of the virus, to the families and individuals they visit, including soap, masks and disinfectants. We also want our CHW to be part of our current health system and help people who need medical attention get the care they need. In Haiti, the physician to patient ratio is 0.25 per 1000 population. The WHO recommends a 1:1000 physician patient ratio for developing countries. Our CHW are not a replacement for a physician, but will help teach people about a particular condition which otherwise would not be possible and help them get the care they need.

Armelie:  The CHW will also be able to identify those with COVID-19 symptoms and help them get the care they need. In Haiti, a lot of people still don’t know the basic symptoms of the illness. Our CHW will help them understand this along with teaching them how to wash hands, how to put on masks, what to do if they have these symptoms etc.

Why is it important for community health workers to go to their own communities? 

Jonathan: The main reason they go to their own community is because the trust these communities have in them. One of the biggest problems in Haiti is that people don’t really trust the government or the health system that is in place because they think they are doing all of this just to make money. Some don’t even believe that COVID-19 is real. We understand that if it is someone that you trust,someone who has been with you for years and respected in the community tells you about the pandemic, people will accept it more and be more receptive. People are actively looking for information about the pandemic, but they don’t know who to listen to. If it’s someone from their own community who they know, they are willing to accept them more.

The work that you are doing is service oriented. Many people in this situation are looking to help themselves more than others. Was there things in your upbringing that helped form you with this mentality? What helped inspire this mentality?

 Jonathan: One thing that helped me for sure was my middle school and high school education at Louverture Cleary School at Port au Prince, Haiti. One of the main philosophies of the school is, “Whatever you receive for free, you give it for free.” I received my education for free from this school. I understand what is going on right now with COVID-19, and I have a responsibility to help others in my community to receive this information and help prevent this illness from affecting my fellow countrymen.

Armelie: In my family, my mother has always taught us to share and help those in need. And also the education I received at Louverture Cleary School helped me to understand what it means to live and be part of a community. Social services and helping others was a big part of our formation at school. We not only understood this, but were actually able to live this out in our school as we were assigned different tasks to mentor younger children, be part of cleaning our own school, washing the dishes etc. With COVID-19, we understand that this pandemic can affect our entire community and so now it’s our turn as young people who know about this disease, to help others and our community from being affected by this virus.

What are your dreams for Pwojè Bon Vwazen and what do you hope to achieve for your country with this project ?

Armelie: At the end of this project, I hope that we have more people educated about COVID-19 and less people affected by it. I hope that we are able to provide the communities and families we are targeting with adequate supplies to keep them and their family safe. I know our CHW will do a great job and help Pwojè Bon Vwazen achieve its goals. I also hope that as our CHW educates families, these families will now be examples to their communities on how they prevented COVID-19 from affecting them.

Jonathan: I want to help people know what to do if they get COVID-19. In Haiti, because of close living proximities, it may be hard to avoid getting infected. Once they are infected, people don’t know what to do. If  they have the necessary information and if we are able to provide the right supplies needed like masks, soaps and disinfectants, they may prevent others from getting infected.

COVID-19 is spreading mainly because people don’t have the right information. We have six Community Health Workers. We hope that when one CHW educates an entire family, that family can educate other families and so on and thus, we can share the information faster. Maybe our CHW can also stay beyond COVID-19, because there are numerous health issues which we feel our Community Health Workers can address if they receive the right training in the future.

Armelie Pierre initially encountered the movement by working as a translator with the Haiti Healing mission and now is an active member of Jesus Youth in Haiti participating in youth groups and faith formation. Jonathan Cayo works for Lumen Vitae and coordinates their education projects in Haiti.


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