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Peter SchinellerJuly 05, 2010

Dr. Dianne Jean-Francois directs the work of the Catholic Medical Mission Board in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A resident of Port of Prince, she recently visited Washington, D.C., to speak at the annual conference of the Global Health Council. While there she spoke by phone with Peter Schineller, S.J., a member of the board of directors of the CMMB. What follows is an edited account of their conversation.

Dr. Jean-Francois is an amputee who uses a prostheses to walk. In the wake of the January earthquake, when many Haitians lost limbs, she has become a role model for many of her fellow citizens.

PS: Dr. Dianne, first of all, on behalf of the board of directors of the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), let me thank you for the tremendous work you are doing. It is now five months now since the earthquake. What is the mood at the conference and the mood in Haiti at this point? Is it optimistic? 

DJF: It is optimistic. We have had committee meetings with President Bill Clinton, and reports from the various leaders. We are hoping that by next month money will start flowing from the countries that pledged to assist Haiti. The cleaning of Port-au-Prince proceeds, and what is even better is that children are starting to go back to school. We are hoping that the leaders here will put their heads together and really work towards the rebuilding of Haiti.

What would you see as the major priority right now?  

DJF: The major priority right now is for human resources. There are a lot of people down there in Haiti and everybody is looking at capacity building, so we can provide health services and housing and take care of all the distressed people.

PS: Talk about CMMB for a moment. We have been down there for almost 100 years. Now we see a shifting of some of our usual service of supplying medicines and medical supplies to providing prostheses for the many amputees. Actually it is not a shift, but an adding on. How is that going?

It is going well. As you know, the mission of CMMB is to serve the poorest of the poor, those most in need. So it is not really an addition. This is what we have to do— provide services to the people and my special interest in those who need prostheses to help them recover and live a positive life again. And this is succeeding. It is not a burden on the work of CMMB in Haiti. Rather it shows and proves that we are there to serve the people.  

PS: Yes, indeed. Dr. Dianne, what would be the best thing that readers of America magazine, or the American people could do, as they read and hear of Haiti?

DJF: What is most important is to keep supporting Haiti, providing for the real needs of the people. Yesterday the Ministry of Health said that it received containers full of items that we do not need. In addition, it is important to keep the pledges made to the people of Haiti.    

PS: President Bill Clinton has been heavily involved in Haiti and he is visiting again this week. In spite of the earthquake, he remains an optimist on the long-term future of Haiti. Would you agree that we should be optimistic about the future?

DJF: Definitely, definitely, we should be optimistic. There is progress, there are so many things that are being done. The NGO’s are really very deeply involved and there is a strong desire to do good and move ahead, and so we can be optimistic.

PS: I take it that the faith of the people has made a difference. The Catholic Church and groups like the CMMB. Have you seen as much?

DJF: Yes, all the faith-based organizations have made a difference. You know our own CMMB legacy—our ability to ship medicines and medical equipment. Indeed, we have been an effective organization.

PS: Finally, a more personal question. Could you share with us your most difficult moment there, but also the most satisfying moment of your work there? 

DJF: The most difficult moment was when I found out that my uncle died in the earthquake. He was the man who raised me just like my father. That was very, very difficult. But at the same time there was one woman who was pregnant. She lost her two-year-old child who was playing when the earthquake struck. But we were able to take her to hospital in a cab within 24 hours after the earthquake. And there she safely delivered a new baby. It was very positive. I was really happy with that.

PS: Do you have any further words for our readers and audience?

DJF: I would say “thank you.” Thank you to all of them, who have been a great support for Haiti. Without your support, Haiti would certainly not be standing at all. I also ask that you keep us in your heart.  Pray for us and continue your support to help lift Haiti out of the situation we are in now.

PS: And your own plans? Will you be back in Haiti soon?

DJF: Yes, yes I will be going back on Sunday (June 20).

PS: Well again, thank you very much Dr Dianne. Your work, your life experience and expertise continue to be a great help and support for many. Keep up the great work, and prayers for a safe journey back to Haiti.

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