SALT LAKE CITY — Melody Pendleton almost had to choose between delivering a Haitian woman's baby — the reason she was in the earthquake-torn and cholera-ridden country — and saving herself from danger, as rioting broke out earlier this week.
Luckily the baby came before United Nations guards whisked the Orem native away from the volunteering she was there to do.
"Here I was in a country where rioters were randomly blocking streets by burning logs and vehicles and trash, protestors yelling about the presidential elections, an active cholera epidemic and the presence of the U.N. peacekeeping forces; and I was asking the U.N. to wait until a baby was delivered," Pendleton wrote home.
She said they ended up taking a dirt road to avoid the masses of people protesting in the streets.
Pendleton and three other Utah women, midwives and a physical therapist, were in Cap Haitian, on the north coast of Haiti. The were there to open the MamaBaby-Haiti midwifery, birthing and naturopathic pediatric care center to help educate and care for Haitian women and their babies. They arrived Nov. 4, thinking they'd be staying about three weeks. But that was cut short when a cholera epidemic spread throughout the nation, causing unrest from the lack of response from the local government.
More than 1,100 people have died from the infectious disease and according to the World Health Organization, the country can expect another 200,000 cases being reported in the next six months.
"We'd had wonderful experiences with these people, they're good people. And it's just that the government is corrupt," said Celeste Burr, an Orem representative with MamaBaby. "And it's not their fault. The government did this."
Both women said they were never afraid for their lives and they knew they would get out of the country alive, they just didn't know when. The women devised a plan and climbed into an ambulance, pretending to be treating a cholera patient, to get through the riotous streets safely.
"Because no one wants to be around the cholera," Burr said. "We loaded up the ambulance, we put coverings over the windows so they couldn't see us in the back, and Melody held an IV bag in the back window so people could see that we had a patient."
What should have been a four-hour drive ended up taking two days, but the women made it safely into the Dominican Republic, where they could get flights back to the U.S.
The birth clinic in Haiti was evacuated but volunteers of the Oregon-based organization plan to go back after the unrest settles, which is expected to happen after Haitian elections on Nov. 28.
The group wanted to open the clinic after so many volunteers took part in the aftermath of the January earthquake. One of their main concerns is for newborn babies and their mothers. MamaBaby-Haiti teaches classes and offers free care to help lower the maternal, fetal and neonatal mortality rate in Haiti, which is 18th highest in the world.
"The women don't think that they can breast-feed right after their babies are born and so babies die because they don't get anything for six or seven days," Pendleton said. "They need a lot of education there."
At one point, Pendleton spoke of two newly delivered women who left a clinic before their babies could be checked because they had no way to pay for the service. The new moms had also been concerned about an older woman who had passed away at the clinic the night before. Cleanliness and the way they utilize medications in the region are also big concerns for Pendleton and her group.
"Our staff and volunteers have fallen in love with the community near our center," MamaBaby organizers wrote on their website, www.MamaBabyHaiti.org. "We hope and pray that peace and calm will return to Haiti soon. Please send your good thought and prayers to our Haitian brothers and sisters."
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