Diaspora

Miami-based nonprofit’s fundraiser to expand medical clinic in Haiti – The Miami Times

Variably cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. Low 67F. Winds SW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 60%..
Variably cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. Low 67F. Winds SW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 60%.
Updated: March 24, 2022 @ 5:13 pm
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Angel Wings International board members Eric Gillman, Carl Drew, Tami Haliniewski, Muriel Clermont, Myrlande Affriany, Andy Jeanty and Taylor-Max Ricart (L-R)
Angel Wings Medical Clinic is bringing free healthcare to Haitians who are otherwise left to face the nation’s substandard medical system.
A dentist treats a patient at the Angel Wings Medical Clinic in the southern coastal town of Jacmel, Haiti.
Local residents sit in the waiting room at Angel Wings Medical Clinic.
A physician examines the health of a baby at Angel Wings Medical Clinic.
Eric Gillman sports a custom jersey promoting his fundraising initiative “Eric Rides for Hope.”
Eric Gillman prepares to set off on his cross-country bike ride from Miami to San Diego March 17.

Angel Wings International board members Eric Gillman, Carl Drew, Tami Haliniewski, Muriel Clermont, Myrlande Affriany, Andy Jeanty and Taylor-Max Ricart (L-R)
Angel Wings Medical Clinic is bringing free healthcare to Haitians who are otherwise left to face the nation’s substandard medical system.
As the political and economic crises in Haiti continue to worsen, it’s no wonder that migrants from the Caribbean nation are currently fleeing to South Florida in large waves. But in the coastal town of Jacmel lies a glimmer of hope, taking the form of a small medical clinic with a staff doing its best to alleviate a dire situation – but they, too, are in desperate need.
Angel Wings International currently employs more than 40 professionals who are bringing free health care to a small section of the western hemisphere’s poorest nation. Now, in the wake of growing demand, the clinic recently launched a major fundraiser that’s been coined “Eric Rides for Hope.” The name is inspired by board member Eric Gillman’s cross-country bike ride from Miami to San Diego to help raise awareness and gather funds for the clinic’s expansion.
A dentist treats a patient at the Angel Wings Medical Clinic in the southern coastal town of Jacmel, Haiti.
The clinic is looking to raise a total of $250,000, which will be used to expand the existing neonatal area, create a larger staff and add more rooms, including three for birthing.
“In Haiti, it’s almost like the people are forgotten,” said Myrlande Affriany, Angel Wings president. “But they’re people, too. They’re people and they’re hurting. They don’t have what we have here.”
An origin story of hope
In March 2004, Affriany, who was at the time living in Miami, visited Andy Jeanty’s Cutco for the first time to purchase some kitchen knives. Neither of the Haiti natives imagined that 13 years later they’d be partners in hope, together running a free medical clinic in their home country.
Providing medical assistance in Haiti has been a dream of Affriany’s ever since her mother opened up a feeding center in Jacmel that same year she became a customer of Jeanty’s. After a year of frequently visiting Christ Love Center, she noticed the kids weren’t putting on any weight.
A case manager nurse at Doctor’s Hospital in Coral Gables at the time, Affriany recruited some colleagues to travel to Jacmel and provide deworming medication and vitamins – a mission trip that would become the first of many. When she arrived, she says, there were more than 400 people waiting to be seen.
Local residents sit in the waiting room at Angel Wings Medical Clinic.
Over the next five years, Affriany would take more than 20 trips to Jacmel – located about 58 miles south of the Caribbean nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince – to set up tents and provide basic medical attention to those in need. All the while, Jeanty was supporting Affriany, who had quickly become a good friend, by frequently donating money and supplies.
After disaster struck the island nation in 2010 with the earthquake, Jeanty and his friend Carl Drew joined Affriany on one of her mission trips. Jeanty, with four languages under his belt, went primarily as a translator, while Drew was among the volunteers who were meant to help with tasks such as moving boxes and packing pills.
While there, a woman appeared late one night crying with a boy in her arms. He was in respiratory arrest about to die – and all of the doctors had already gone home. Affriany was the only medical worker on-site. Jeanty and Drew, both professionals in the knife-selling business, weren’t sure how to help.
A physician examines the health of a baby at Angel Wings Medical Clinic.
Nonetheless, together they were able to save the boy’s life from what ended up being an asthma attack. No one in his family knew he had the condition, let alone how to treat it. A year later the volunteers returned to Jacmel, where they found the boy, Lele, with a smile on his face, running around and playing soccer with his friends.
But on that very night that Lele almost lost his life, Drew began to think about the gravity of what had just occurred. The tents weren’t cutting it, he thought. They needed a clinic.
A seed begins to grow
After discussing it with Jeanty, who initially accused Drew of being in way over his head, the two brought the idea to Affriany, who, coincidentally, having dreamt of this for quite some time, was ready with her very own building model.
But there was a long road to come. Initially having predicted they’d need around $50,000 to build the clinic, they were shocked when they later calculated total costs had come out to more than $500,000.
The trio, however, pulled through, and was able to officially open the clinic to the public in 2017, exactly seven years after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake destroyed much of Haiti. Since then, it has gone from seeing 35 patients a week to anywhere from 70-100 patients a day.
“Everything starts with a seed, and then you let the seed grow,” said Drew. “You don’t know how much water it’s going to take, how many times you’re going to have to move it around, but it starts with that, and you just keep feeding it and that’s what’s gotten us here today.”
Eric Gillman sports a custom jersey promoting his fundraising initiative “Eric Rides for Hope.”
About a year after the clinic opened, Affriany permanently moved to Haiti to run it. She arrives every day around 7 or 8 a.m. and leaves around 10 or 11 p.m. It’s tough, she says, and it’s only getting tougher.
“COVID definitely compounded the issues that we’re having because a lot of people lost their jobs,” Affriany said. “The support that we had before is not as much, and the country itself is a very difficult place to be right now.”
She quickly realized that what started off as a dream of hers – to run a full-scale hospital in Haiti – is now an urgent need. It’s bigger than her, she says, and the clinic needs to be bigger as well.
That’s where people like Gillman come in. He set off on his 3,000-mile journey during a March 17 fundraising event at Palmetto Bay Park, along with his girlfriend, Fawn Lievengood, who will be driving alongside him the entire time. They plan to arrive at the Pacific Coast May 7, making major stops in New Orleans; Austin, Texas; and Phoenix along the way.
Eric Gillman prepares to set off on his cross-country bike ride from Miami to San Diego March 17.
During his two-month-long cross-country bike ride, Gillman will be raising awareness and encouraging people to donate, but that’s not all. He hopes to inspire people to help others, even beyond the residents of Haiti and the patients of Angel Wings International. His message is that anyone can do anything, as long as they just find a good enough reason to – what he calls “a big enough why.”
Changing lives
Gillman himself has accomplished great feats, having overcome the obesity he experienced as a teenager. Now, he often uses his body as a vehicle for change, with similar fundraising goals already in his past, including his 2014 and 2016 initiatives “Eric Runs for Hope” and “Eric Fights for Hope,” which both took place while the clinic was being built – a process in which he also took part, even with no prior construction experience.
“If you have the ability to help, then in my opinion you have the responsibility to help,” he said.
At the fundraiser launch event last week, board members and volunteers came together to share stories of their times in Haiti. Gillman remembered when a man appeared at the clinic barefoot after having walked 15 miles just to retrieve some soap and disinfectant. Affriany told of women who arrived from the mountains with ruptured uteruses caused by being in labor for far too long. Taylor-Max Ricart, director of advocacy, shared the story of a time a boy, with whom he had just run around and played with despite being unable to exchange a single word, took a lone cracker out of his pocket and split it in half to share.
Yet throughout all of the stories told, one common theme prevailed: that although each and every one of them went to Haiti with the preconception that they’d be helping and changing the lives of the patients with whom they came in contact, it was the patients who ended up changing the lives of the volunteers.
“Every day I look at the big picture and what we’re doing for the people that are there that are hurting day to day, and that’s what keeps me driven,” Affriany said. “I know I’m at the right place. I know I’m at the right place because it doesn’t feel like work.”
To donate or volunteer locally or in Haiti, visit AngelWingsInternational.org.
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