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Working on the construction of the hospital MSF

Column My Christmas in a Haitian hospital

Kilkenny man Richard Delaney will be dressing up as Santa this year – in an under-construction hospital in Port-au-Prince. He writes about his experiences.

Richard Delaney of Kilkenny is a logistician working for Médecins sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 12 January 2010, which killed an estimated 222,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

Here Richard writes for about his work in Haiti – and his Christmas in the field.

THIS IS MY first mission with MSF and I’m a logistician, which basically means I help keep things running. Usually logisticians are responsible for restoring or maintaining hospital structures, organizing transport of vaccines and medicines, ensuring the power supply is regular, among a variety of other tasks.

Here in Port-au-Prince I am supervising & continuing construction of MSF’s new hospital in Drouillard. There was an urgent need for a new hospital in this area of Haiti’s capital because after the earthquake many of the city’s medical services were destroyed. The hospital is up and running with patients arriving daily.

Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year so my daily routine won’t change much, as Sunday is my day off here. We are planning a little Christmas present-exchange event to mark Christmas Day – more a symbolic gesture than the usual feet up by the fire (or in front of a fan here in hot Haiti!). On Christmas Day I am dressing up as Santa to bring some food and drink to the patients and staff. So I’ll get the chance to see some of the patient’s smile – not a bad way to spend Christmas!

‘My family have mixed feelings about me being away’

I will be in touch with my family on Christmas Day by phone, especially the younger members of my family. My family have mixed feelings about me being away at Christmas but I’m sure they are used to my travelling by now. The younger members find it hard to understand why I frequently go away for long periods of time. I’m sure when they are older, we will discuss it together and they will understand. It’s important to me that I have a purpose in being away. Here in Haiti I have a purpose.

This first mission with MSF is a good experience for me as a recent university graduate. Many of the Haitian staff I am working with had their education cut short by the earthquake in 2010. Some don’t even sign their name – simply with an X.

There are some tough cases among the patients. Every day when I walk around the hospital I see patients with injuries. I spent a day in the burns unit block where they were changing dressings on the patients. I had never seen a burns victim before, only after they’ve healed. Seeing what a pot of hot water can do to a young kid is scary. The screams of the kids when the nurses carefully remove the old dressing did bring a tear to my eye. So anything that can make life a bit easier for either the patient or the medical staff is what I spend my days doing.

For the Haitian people the holiday season is an important time of the year. On Christmas Day, families are reunited to celebrate and eat a meal together. Christmas Eve is more of a public celebration with activities ongoing in the streets. On Christmas Day I’ll not be doing any construction work, just keeping an eye on things but of course the medical staff will be busy as usual. So I’ll help out where I can on Christmas Day (like dressing up as Santa). So in this small way we can give something non-medical to the patients and hospital staff.

When asked what keeps me motivated to keep going, I’d say it’s knowing that at the end someone will have benefitted from my actions. I think motivation is a very personal thing: it must be in the blood.

You can learn more about the work MSF does abroad at

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