Karine Godbout, a U of T nursing student, volunteered in Haitian hospitals in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. (Photo courtesy of K. Godbout)

Reflections on the Haitian earthquake two years later

Nursing student says coursework adds context to experience on the ground

When Karine Godbout arrived in for a mission in Léogâne, Haiti, two months after the devastating 2010 earthquake hit the city, what she saw left a lasting impression.

“I was really scared when they told me I was going to Haiti because I didnt’ know if I’d be able to handle the rubble and devastation,” said Godbout, now a master’s degree candidate at the University of Toronto's Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing.  “I was quite surprised, though, at my own reaction to the devastation. I wasn’t focusing on the rubble but more on the life that was going on in front of the rubble.  People were selling clothes and fruit. I was happy to see that people were organizing themselves and there was hope there.”

Godbout was stationed  in Haiti for three months as part of a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team. She was part of the in-patient department.

“We had about 60 patients -- probably 45 adults with the rest being pediatric patients,” said Godbout.   “We moved hospitals three times; we were in the churchyard of a church that was destroyed by the quake. Then we moved to a second hospital built with tents outdoors. One of the challenges was to locate isolation units and pediatricians in this massive tent hospital.” 

Logistical and medical personnel were also contending with a lack of regular electricity and with the unavailability of X-rays and other tests, which meant sending ill people elsewhere.

 There was also a great deal of fear among the Haitian population.

“Because people were suddenly not living in their homes anymore, and were living in refugee camps, they were afraid to go back to their houses for fear of an aftershock,” she said.

 As a student in nursing, Godbout continues to be a volunteer with the MSF office in Toronto. She says her coursework has equipped her better to deal with experiences like Haiti.

“The course I took on culture and relations helped me understand some of the emotions that I was going through in Haiti,” said Godbout.  “I remember crying when I saw a patient die of tetanus. That was shocking to see, but I didn’t have the words to say why I was crying at that time.

“I was also sad to see so much social injustice. It made me feel more conscious of our privileges here and what we need to do to decrease the social injustice.”

 She says there’s still a long way to go for things to get better for those living in Haiti a year after the quake.
“I don’t think the situation in Haiti is better -- but that’s just an opinion. I’m not really objective on the situation. It’s going to take a long time to reconstruct the country.  The garbage is not collected and the sewage system isn’t proper -- how can you ensure health if you don’t have proper basic sanitation in the city?

“They would need a proactive government that is able to invest money in proper health prevention and health promotion.”


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