Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Quiet Hero

By Tyler Marshall

Samuel Abelard is an unlikely hero, quietly lending a hand as Haitians rebuild the pieces of their broken lives.

The graying 54 year-old father of four simply showed up and began working at a mobile medical clinic after it was set up in two classrooms of a small Port-au-Prince teacher’s college following the Jan. 12th earthquake.

From the start, Mr. Abelard—as he is respectfully known to all—has effectively kept the clinic running. He is the pharmacist and the storekeeper, steadily keeping track of new medications and other donated supplies that come in, noting what gets used and alerting the medical staff when replacements are required.

International Medical Corps volunteer physicians and nurses who work at the clinic say the order he maintains increases efficiency and thus helps them see more of the hundreds of local residents from the working class Bolosse neighborhood who crowd outside each morning to get treatment.

But that’s just part of Mr. Abelhard’s contribution.

“He’s a leader,” summed up Diana Rickard, a physician from UCLA who recently completed a two-week stint at Bolosse. “The local nurses and other staff all look up to him and come to him for advice.”

Mr. Abelard notes that keeping the clinic’s small pharmacy organized isn’t all that different than storekeeping. He learned the basics of medicine as a boy from his father, who was a pharmacist for nearly 20 years. Rickard says he’s eager to build on that base.

Before the earthquake, he had a steady job as the storekeeper for a restaurant in the United Nations compound, but that all ended in a few terrifying minutes on the afternoon of Jan. 12th. The UN building collapsed and the restaurant went with it. Several miles way, the family home was badly damaged, too. Still, he considers himself lucky: His immediate family survived.

His wife suffered a fractured pelvis and now uses a walker to get around. The family now lives in one of the hundreds of tent settlements that have sprung up in Port-au-Prince during the weeks since the quake struck. Mr. Abelhard’s eldest daughter, the family’s only other wage earner, lost her job too when the school where she worked as a teacher collapsed.

Like so many Haitians, he lives today mainly on meager savings and emergency food distributions. Although he says his family depends on him for income and that he hopes one day to return to his job at the United Nations restaurant, he stressed that he plans to stay at the clinic as long as he can make a difference.

“People need me here,” he said, quietly. “This is where I belong now.”

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