As Linda Jacobson peeks inside her travel suitcase, she sifts through bags filled with travel-sized toothpaste bottles, tissues and other health care necessities.
And she’ll definitely need to bring loads of goods on her trip — 16 suitcases full, in fact — because the majority will go to those who need it: villagers recently hit by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.
Jacobson will travel with an Everett-based Christian aid nonprofit called Among the Reeds to the Caribbean nation with three other South Enders: Marti Bauer, Mary Jane Lungren and Kevin Lungren. The group heads south on Tuesday to set up clinics to aid Haitians dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Jacobson, a retired nurse, and Mary Jane Lungren, a dentist at Saratoga Dental in Langley, will provide their health care skills to lines of Haitians while Bauer and Kevin Lungren will offer added help where needed.
“This trip was planned about six months ago, but it has changed because of the hurricane,” Jacobson said. “We’re expanding the walk-in clinics that we’ll be doing, and we estimate we’ll treat 1,500 people in about three or four days of clinic.”
Volunteers with Among the Reeds, 12 in total, will collaborate with Haitian nursing students to offer free clinics in various towns that surround the capital, Port Au Prince. The small team will take patients’ blood pressure, screen them for diabetes, treat people with minor illnesses as well as aid Haitians suffering from cholera, which is breaking out again following the hurricane. The group is donating emergency materials in the wake of the devastation, including tarps, food, clean water and antibiotics. They will also work with local hospitals to refer patients if needed.
It is the first time Among the Reeds will take a dentist on its annual aid trip. The organization has met with Haitian dentists to set up a clinic together due to demand for dental work in past trips.
But it won’t just be dental professionals treating patients. Volunteers like Kevin Lungren will also lend his hands to the effort.
“When she went into dental school 30 years ago, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could go on dental tours where I’m your assistant?’” Lungren said. “I try to do what my wife says anyway, but now we get to work face to face and I can do whatever she says.”
Others on South Whidbey have also contributed to the Haitian aid trip. Mary Jane Lungren said her employer at Saratoga Dental, Dr. Braden Giswold, donated a large amount of supplies to the clinics, and Trinity Lutheran Church donated 210 pairs of reading glasses to meet the demands of Haitians who can’t read without glasses. Additionally, the money raised by Among the Reeds over the year isn’t going toward travel expenses, which the volunteers are paying for out of pocket, but toward schools and sponsoring Haitian children to attend school.
Jacobson and her husband, retired diabetes educator Donald Miller, are regulars on aid excursions. Although Miller isn’t tagging along this time around, the two have gone to Haiti a handful of times, as well as trips to China and El Salvador. Yet it’s Haiti they have built a close bond with.
“I love the Haitian culture because the people are so warm,” Jacobson said.
“I gain a lot from going to Haiti, because even though Haitians don’t have a lot of resources, their culture is very joyous and they are proud people,” Miller said. “They’re able to do that with much less of the material and marketed society that we have, and it’s always refreshing to see from our perspective.”
For Jacobson, traveling with aid convoys is a more fulfilling experience than traveling as a tourist. She said travelers see the humanity of the places they go to when mingling with the locals, and locals typically respond with open arms. But it’s not the thrill of traveling that brings her on these excursions.
It’s about providing health care to those who need it.
“It’s important to do this, because we may be able to identify infections, diabetes and other conditions and see if the patients need to see a healthcare professional in Haiti,” Jacobson said. “We’re only there for a short period of time, and it can make you feel horrible since you won’t be there to continue helping after you’ve built this bond.”
For Bauer, who will offer her help wherever needed, the trip is less about the medical aspect of things. In her eyes, it’s a way to fulfill her religious duty to help others.
“I think God planted the seed in my head that these children, regardless of where they are, need help,” Bauer said. “We’re going to be God’s hands; we’re going to be doing his service.”