Dear friends, Greetings from Haiti! I came back from a first inland outreach in the mountains (Artibonite Department). It’s the department where cholera broke out. The total count of cholera cases is now about 653,000 cases. I faced many challenges as a DM nurse needed urgent surgery for a tumor and an inland pastor friend was almost put in prison if I did not intervene. I myself became very ill in the mountains … but first of all I want to update you about the Bolivian mission work. I was there before Haiti and the work is going great after much paperwork and other struggles. Bolivian Amazone (Eastern) base: In Bolivia, I first went to the Chiquitania, a region in the tropical area not far from the border with Brazil in the Bolivian Amazon. I saw many needs there. It is also an ideal place where we can use our hospital truck as these are flat lands. A paved road has just been constructed from Santa Cruz de la Sierra towards Brazil (Puerto Suarez). We are planning to move our Amazon base hundreds of miles away from where we received the threats of drug related clans (Santa Ana de Yacuma). There are hundreds of villages around in need and a lot of work is awaiting there. Bolivian Guarani (Southern) base : I also went to Dr. Ino to help at the construction site of our southern medical mission base. We are legally ready to operate the clinic. We faced a huge water problem after having endured the rainy season. The roof of the clinic is flat because we planned to build one more level more in a second phase, if funds were available. This flat roof however was not built according to the rules with the result that large amounts of water poured through the walls which became moldy. We are able though to build a cheap roof for $2,000 over the flat roof to avoid any further damage. Great news however is that we will start medical work in this clinic in the month of May as the dry season has started there. The medical clinic will be operated by Dr. Ester, a DM doctor working with the Southern team. Also the home for Dr. Ino (our local director) and his family is almost finished by now. It was the wish of a Dutch organization (WWZ) to provide them with a house. Dr. Ino has been working with Doctors On Mission since 1996. Dr. Oscar is now at work in Paichu. This is in essence a victory for Doctors On Mission because the whole project was started and funded by Doctors On Mission, 7 years ago. Trying to hold on financially, we are thankful that we can keep our doctor there but that his salary will be paid by the Bolivian government. Dr. Oscar is still using a DM ambulance for clinic work in Paichu and especially to reach all the surrounding villages in the Guarani region; also to bring over patients to the city of Tarija for more specialized treatments or surgical procedures. The local population and health authorities gave us a “certificate” where they expressed their gratitude for our years of work there and the results achieved. This of course does not include all the spiritual help we have brought meanwhile in this zone. Bolivian Andes (Mid-West) base : Another great success in Bolivia is that we have managed to convert our offices at our Andes base in a medical center. Dr. Betsabe who has been leading the Andes team for many years has started the clinical work there. Haiti : I was in a hurry to reach Haiti to help a Pastor stay out of prison. He lives in one of the poorest regions I have ever seen. It was remarkable to hear this pastor say that – although he cannot pay this debt – he felt compelled to continue to feed 220 children every single day of the week! He found this to be more important. These children come every day from miles away out of the mountains to his church to have school and one meal (just one cup of rice a day!) They sing songs, pray and learn about the Word of God. In faith I started to pay off his debt and hope to get some help from outside. He has a 500 plus member church and got a debt of 100,000 Haitian Gourdes ($2,400). He needed to pay however an interest rate of 10,000 Gourdes each month! That’s a yearly interest rate of 120%! Seeing the Haitian team, I met a DM nurse who did not feel well. Upon examination it was clear for me that she had a rather big tumor as it could be felt by examination. I asked her why she didn’t have an ultrasound. Her answer was so simple: ‘Dr. Rik, you know, we help here voluntary. We need to live like the birds seeing what the day will bring to us.’ So, I sent her immediately for an ultrasound and it was confirmed that she indeed had a big tumor in her belly. I am confident, it is not malignant but of course surgery needed to be done and could only be done in their neighboring country: the Dominican Republic. In the meantime, I already needed to spend a lot of money and the surgery still needs to be done as she has now had examination after examination. We are following up and pray for a good result. We continued the medical work in Manceau in the mountains and could barely meet all the needs. As I already visited this place, I wanted to start a clinic there. A few months ago, I did not get time to go inside a building they called it their clinic. I knew there was nothing inside to look for. Now, I asked the doctors and nurses if they had put at least some lifesaving medication already. They asked me to please see the inside of the clinic. It became immediately clear that without some re-construction of this ‘clinic’ our goal to leave medicines with them will not work out. I myself got seriously ill as I ignored my own disease… a middle ear infection. I believe I got this through a bug that entered my left ear in the night while working in the Amazon region in Bolivia weeks before. I started however an antibiotic treatment but forgot about it due to all the travelling and work as the pain was tolerable. Then the worst happened… The first night in these isolated mountains, I started to develop a dangerous Mastoiditis (see Wikipedia) and could have screamed a whole night of the enormous pain it provoked. Untreated, such an infection can spread to surrounding structures, including the brain, causing serious complications. I put myself on several treatments, took many pain killers and antibiotics and – thank God – I was healed also through the prayers of several pastors that surrounded me. Anyway, I got a day off….but the team continued to work hard and we fulfilled our mission there. When we came back out of the hills, our 20 year old jeep – repaired from serious damage in the hurricane region – got stuck again as the brake fluid was flushing out of the left front wheel. But after a few hours, we were again on the road. We have many plans for this region to develop especially to save and heal the orphans along with children from unbelievably poor families. In a next update, I will tell more about our ongoing outreach to the hurricane region in the Southwest and also about the plans we have there who will be very similar with the plans we have for the mountain region. God bless you, Rik
Dear friends, Here again some news from the mission fields where Doctors on Mission is active … January 2013 was pretty intensive. I had promised our Pakistani team to travel there and participate in much needed medical evangelistic expeditions among the minority groups. There was also a big need to have a series of much needed meetings. But then, there was a real cruel ambush on a medical team in Karachi, S. Pakistan. Eight nurses were killed. Also this team did mobile medical activities and vaccinated children against poliomyelitis (polio). This brought our whole mission back under tension. It was however not real surprising news for us as we knew about other violent attacks of extremist groups. These had taken place last summer in the region where we work. Our own team had experienced the same kind of ambush in Nov. 2011. Then, in the summer of 2012, they fired at a vaccination team of the World Health Organization. The chief doctor, a foreign MD, was heavenly wounded. These groups – which I will not mention by name in this general letter – are accusing all the medical teams that we are trying to ‘sterilize’ the Muslim kids instead of vaccinating them. Obviously, this is a completely false statement. I had intense contact with our team members in order to have a more complete picture of the current situation in the region where we work. Around mid-January it became clear that it was not only too dangerous but also useless to even try to travel. The only 6 ‘white men’ who had tried to go help during the past months were put immediately back on the plane. This way, the minority groups, about 6 million people, do not have any access to receive the greatly needed healthcare. A very large number of them are children… The only thing I could do was start working online on a smaller scale trying to help at least with some very acute cases. Unfortunately there were not enough funds to organize real mobile medical outreaches. We received urgent calls to save the life of a 12-year-old Christian girl, Rimsha, who needed urgent surgery but any help came eventually too late. Then came a call for sponsorship of a life-saving surgery for Ramish, a 14 year old boy. We could send a gift but not pay all bills for his surgery. This week, we will know if Ramish will survive the surgery. So, we continue the work there with the means we have available. Today, early in the morning, I received an urgent message of a very good friend of mine named “Pastor Louis”. This pastor will need to enter in prison because he cannot pay anymore the mortgage made for his church. He has a church of about 800 members in one of the poorest areas in the mountainous Artibonite region (Manceau). Again I ask your prayers and support for this precious man of God. Furthermore, I was also busy with a lot of overdue administration, making final accounts for the year 2012 and trying to make the right budgets we hope to get together for the year 2013. As you read this letter, I will be in Bolivia to help further organize our new clinic in the South in order to let it operate in the best conditions. We will also perform a medical expedition. Also in Bolivia, we have much mechanical work with our already outdated Land Cruiser ambulances and hope to find the needed finances for it. Dear friends, we are very grateful for every gift we receive. We try to do what we can with the resources we have. We want to provide further life-saving medications and do the needed interventions for the people who need this in these impoverished regions. Many of these are children, widows and elderly people who – without our intervention – in many cases don’t even have access to get a Tylenol to alleviate their suffering. Know that all these people are also surrounded with the necessary spiritual care. On behalf of all Doctors on Mission team members, we want to thank you for your contributions and prayers. Know that all volunteers in the donor countries cooperate completely free. The employees in the third world have to do it with a local “survival salary”. Many of them are doctors and could earn a lot more, even in their own country. It is their passionate Christian faith that makes them endure to reach out to the needy of their own people. Be blessed! Rik and all DM team-members.
Dear friends, If you are considering an end-of-year gift to our Ministry, for tax purposes it will need to be postmarked by Monday, the 31st, or you can donate through our website. A return to Haiti at the end of 2012 could not have been avoided with Hurricane Sandy bringing devastation and despair in the southwestern regions of this nation. With the remaining economic and social consequences of hundreds of thousands of dead and injured people by the earthquake, along with more than half a million people still living in tents, Haiti has now 629,300 people affected by the cholera outbreak. Since October, 2012, we have been working with our team with very limited funds doing whatever possible to reach the unreached. Now, we need to reinforce our medical efforts as cholera cases—due to Hurricance Sandy—and a sharp drop in donor support are erasing the large gains won against the epidemic in the past 2 years. As of December 12th, hospitalizations (9,200/month) and deaths (160/month) have roughly tripled since Hurricane Sandy struck the island, causing more deaths than the hurricane took in all countries combined! As you will observe, it took great difficulty to reach the most affected regions in Flamand and the surrounding areas. Yes, we need more help to have proper transportation too! I personally witnessed many families in despair who lost their house and fishermen who lost their old self-carved wooden canoes & handmade fishing nets. Worst was an almost complete destruction of their crops. Corn, bananas, sugar cane, etc.. are no longer there. It deprives the locals from the very food they depend on and can lead them into starvation. This, together with the already existent extreme poverty, cholera plague, lack of any vaccination and—as a consequence, many deadly childhood diseases—makes this country one of the worst places I have ever witnessed. My dear friends, your help is greatly needed to move on with this mission. Your gifts can be given through our website http://www.doctorsonmission.org/take-action/. A physical address is on the same page for those who want to send a check. I (Dr. Rik) don’t want to boast about what Doctors On Mission has been doing the last year. A brief scroll down on our Facebook page: ‘Mission Doctors’ will remind you… I did not do this alone. It was thanks to your help and to the help of many doctors, nurses and pastors from these countries. The year 2012 began with finishing the facial surgeries on Haitian kids in Belgium who then were further followed up in the Haiti inland. The results were awesome as you have been able to witness. On our YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqSvx2fVk-w), I was talking about the literally awesome transformation of an 11 year old girl. Celaine was for years hidden in her mountain hut because of her ‘monster’ face. Now, she is studying and wants to become a nurse and become part of our organization. The same happened with Alidieu. You can see the before and after pictures of these two Haitian kids. I was able to follow up and went twice to Bolivia this past year. As you have read in my previous newsletter, the work is going very well there. We had many major outreaches and could open a new health care center in the South of Bolivia last October. There, we are working with the Guaranees, Taywanek and Inca descendents. Pakistan became nearly impossible as our medical team had been ambushed and our local director was kidnapped last summer. Also now, we face additional danger there, especially after the recent attacks and killings of 8 nurses in different vaccination campaigns. I am writing this letter from my hospital bed. After arriving in Belgium on Christmas Eve, I was taken to the emergency room due to acute abdominal pains. Thanks to God and good pain management, I feel better now. But I can imagine what it must be to die within 24 hours due to acute abdominal pains and have no medication whatsoever to even ease these pains or treat and save the lives of these precious souls with simple IV’s and AB’s. It must be horrible… This monster disease takes away the life of tens of thousands and causes hundreds of thousands to be in acute pain right now. Most are small children. Many are our little brothers and sisters in Christ. My dear friend, can you imagine that with only $70 a month you can enable us to treat 10 emergency cases every month? This means that you can support the lives of more than 100 people a year (70-80% are children and many of them orphans). Do you realize that you can make a huge difference by helping us with your support? Please, help us to take a good fresh start in 2013 to reach in the upcoming year 100,000 souls. Thank you and God bless you all! Rik & all Doctors On Mission teams.
Dear friends, Greetings from Bolivia! I’m here now to follow-up on administration, finances, treaties with the Ministry of Health, etc. I’m also here to officially open our clinic on our Southern Bolivian medical mission base and to conduct a medical expedition with the Guaranie and Gayanec Indians in southern Bolivia. As reported at the end of the previous newsletter, we are now conducting medical expeditions in the Andes (State of Chuquisaca), in the lower tropical parts of Bolivia (State of Santa Cruz) and also in the Chaco or Guarani region (State of Tarija) in Southern Bolivia. Our expedition was organized to reach the multiple Guarani villages and the Guenayec region around Villa Montes. Our Santa Cruz team met our Tarija team to help with the implementation of this mission. The coordination went flawlessly. The Santa Cruz ambulance met the Tarija ambulance and ‘pick-up’ jeep in Zapaterambia and Yuati. The Santa Cruz team was led by our coordinator-driver Sandro Iglesias who was accompanied by his brother Dr. Julio Iglesias and another brother, Fernando, who is a dentist. Also our nurse Evelyne was present. The Tarija ambulance was conducted by Dr. Oscar, Dentist Bico, Dentist Edith and our guide Pastor Romulo. Pastor Romulo, my Quetchua (Inca) guide for more than 22 years has still a very warm heart for this mission. He has 4 children. The last was born 8 weeks ago and is called Rik Caleb. I just got great news from him coming from The Netherlands. The church that he and his uncle leads was completely destroyed by an earthquake last month. A Dutch physician from Holland and his wife will give a large, generous gift to rebuild this church. Although the earthquake had a force of only 6.4, the adobe bricks – made with mud and hay – were of no defense against the ‘thundering’ of the earth. Our dentists Fernando, Bico and Edith are greatly needed in this region as they are often the first dentists who ever visit these regions. Also, many children have no understanding of oral hygiene. Our teams always take the prevention of diseases and dental problems as a priority. Back to the expedition… I and Dr. Ino joined the team after a one day delay because of the paperwork we had to do first. A major effort was made to assist the many needs of these ethnic people groups. At the same time, they made house calls to those patients who are unable to move. This is necessary because it was scorching hot (113 degrees Farenheit) in this desert area. This is a different heat than Haiti where moist winds from the ocean made life a bit more tolerable, although temperatures in Haiti can be still higher. All the medical work in these conditions made me very tired and …. when I looked outside to cool down a little bit, I actually fell asleep. The team – however – continued the work diligently … until they became hungry. My companions managed to awake me… My eyes went wide open when I saw a huge fish that was brought to me from the only major river (Rio Pilcomayo) that goes through this region coming from the Andes towards Paraguay. We returned tired to our medical mission based in Tarija. This was not always easy as no signs are present. Even our guide Pastor Romulo actually lost his way and needed to turn the ambulance to find the right track again. During the many hours of traveling they told me about the Chaco war 80 years ago. Paraguay started this war with Bolivia in 1932 and penetrated deep into the Bolivian inland toward Villamontes, 5 hours southward of Santa Cruz. All Bolivian men were then summoned to battle with the army forces of Paraguay. Tens of thousands of Quetchua (Inca) Indians who normally live at high altitudes in the Andes were forced to fight in appalling conditions in the heat of the Chaco desert. The war was called ‘La guerra del sed’ or ‘The War of thirst’ because of the arid scorching hot region of about 100,000 square miles. The battle was fierce and Paraguay – already hundreds of miles within Bolivian territory – needed to start to withdraw again after 3 years of battle. When the Paraguayan Government observed this, they quickly made a peace treaty with the government of Bolivia in La Paz. The Bolivian government was not really aware of the recent evolution of the war and signed the agreement. The result was that Paraguay had still conquered a considerable piece of land at the moment they were withdrawing. The good news for Bolivia… The rich oil fields recently discovered are all located in the Bolivian Chaco and not in Paraguay. Despite the many blockages because of a problem at the mines in Potosi, a defective tire (see photo) and a shortage of gasoline, we finally got back in Tarija after first saying ‘goodbye’ to our Santa Cruz team. After our outreach, it became time to officially open our Base Clinic in Tarija. This happened with the usual official inauguration with many thanks to the people who have given for this purpose. Through Belgian gifts we could buy the land and started to build in faith. Then, the construction was completed thanks to contributions from two organizations from The Netherlands. Unfortunately, the construction fund is now empty and we cannot continue to finish Dr. Ino’s house. It is our wish to bless this doctor who has faithfully served us for 17 years, along with his family. Dr. Ino is the local director of DM-Bolivia. While still in Bolivia, I started preparations for medical expeditions with DM Haiti. Many pictures were rolling in my Laptop showing the great havoc and flooding that Hurricane Sandy had done in Haiti. This is very serious because it is on top of the already prevailing poverty, severe post-earthquake events and cholera epidemic. The damage done by the hurricane is bad in Haiti because of the already poor construction quality. Dear friends, we have now completed the overview about our finances for the year and we are facing severe losses due to our monthly operational medical costs in Bolivia, Haiti and Pakistan. The reserve fund has therefore dropped to an absolute low. If you wish to meet the daily operating expenses of DM support, we ask you to see our Video “The DM-Challenge“. You can always write me at [email protected] if you are considering supporting DM and you have specific questions. Updates and pictures about our work can be followed through our Facebook page ‘Mission Doctors’. Please partner with us and make the difference for tens of thousands of children and adults who otherwise would not receive any health care! Without your help, they remain deprived from any help. Make yourself part of this great work! Thanks and greetings! Rik and all DM staff.