Diaspora

After 9 missions to Haiti South Shore brothers 'can't wait to go back' – The Patriot Ledger

When brothers Brian, 60, and John Connolly, 55, volunteered to help a medical team in Haiti, they had no clue how dangerous and challenging it would be. Yet, after observing firsthand the resilience of the Haitian people, the Connollys said they are eager to return.  
Headquartered in Milton, The Saint Rock Haiti Foundation sends volunteers, who pay for their own travel, to help the Saint Rock community in Haiti. The foundation has built clean water systems and community gardens. It operates a health care clinic and addresses food insecurity. Brian and John have completed four and five trips to Haiti, respectively. 
The trips have been halted the past couple of years because of COVID, travel issues and a new requirement: kidnapping insurance.  
“It’s very dangerous. We were just out of the airport for about 10 minutes and people were trying to jump into the back of our truck, trying to take stuff. But once you get out of Port-au-Prince, the rural areas are safer,” said Brian, who lives in Braintree with his wife, Dean.  
Neither brother is a dentist, but at the clinic, Brian taught people basic oral hygiene while John assisted the dental team, who pulled teeth with no anesthesia and few painkillers.
“They only got Tylenol because I brought it,” said John, a real estate agent who lives with his family in Weymouth. 
During John’s first mission in 2013, Haiti was still recovering from the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 222,000 people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and other buildings. On Aug. 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southwestern Haiti, causing at least 2,248 deaths and injuring about 12,763 people.
John said nothing prepared him for what he saw in 2010.
“The magnitude of poverty is something you cannot explain,” John said. 
Once, a woman with cancer came into the clinic. 
“They were pulling live maggots out of her chest because her breast was rotting,” John said. “It was a raw, open wound and I ran out and got sick to my stomach.” 
During one trip, they traveled with three doctors and three nurses, and took suitcases loaded with supplies to Saint Rock’s medical clinic, where the volunteers worked in crowded spaces lacking adequate power.
John wondered how their security team could sit outside in 118-degree heat. He said one of them replied, “‘That’s the tuberculosis tent and flies are everywhere. If we get bit, then we get TB.” 
John added, “When you hear Haiti is one of the poorest countries, you have no idea.” 
Yet the Connollys remember the inner strength of the Haitian people.
“They are poor in materialistic things, but very rich in caring for each other, how you treat your fellow man and how appreciative they are,” Brian said.
The brothers were also touched by the people’s  generosity.
“I didn’t realize how poor they were,” Brian said. “When you’re on vacation, you’re passing through, you don’t connect with a village. I’ve seen poverty in other countries, but I’ve always returned to a luxurious hotel. Local people came three times a day to feed us, bringing us stew, or chicken or whatever they had from their gardens.” 
They witnessed many selfless acts by the Haitians and the Connollys spent an evening with an extraordinary woman and her children. 
“After the (2010) earthquake occurred, this woman went to the city and brought home 37 kids with her and raised them,” Brian said. “After dinner we passed out Barbie dolls, toys and clothes. They sang Haitian songs. We sang ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’” 
Brian said the family has since moved into a home built by the Saint  Rock Haiti Foundation. 
Brian is a South Shore-based health care consultant, and is active with building and outfitting medical offices. There are times when such offices close and equipment is discarded. He works with Build Health International, which ships medical equipment to poor  countries.
“It’s rewarding to know that people in Haiti are able to have access to health care,” he said.
Experiences there have enriched the Connollys and changed their lives forever. 
“It’s a gift that is given to me,” John said. “And I can’t wait to go back.” 
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Milton resident Suzette Martinez Standring writes Bright Side, a good news column featuring information on the South Shore and the people who live here. If you have an idea for a future column, reach her at suzmar@comcast.net. Also, visit www.readsuzette.com.
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