(AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Jack Kurtz)
As chairwoman of the local Zonta Club's international committee, Cheryl Mothes has spent years studying the lives of women around the world and sharing that information with her fellow Zontians. This spring, a group of Cape Girardeau Zonta members will travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to help pregnant women and new mothers in a country still reeling from the January earthquake and a cholera outbreak.
"When members of our club began expressing desires to actually go to a Third World country and volunteer, we started searching," Mothes said. She and Raelenna Ferguson found Heartline Ministries, which focuses on improving the economic, health and educational conditions of women in Haiti. Heartline's Women's Clinic assists in deliveries, offers prenatal programs and teaches post-partum, sewing and literacy classes. When Mothes and Ferguson shared that the clinic turns away up to 80 women each day because it can only care for 20 -- and that Haiti has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere -- Zonta took a vote and began to act.
"Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere," added Ferguson, a Cape Girardeau real estate agent and a mother of four. "It's hard to imagine that in just a three-hour plane ride from Miami, you can experience this type of extreme poverty."
Heartline volunteer duties include delivering babies, administrative work, light construction, assisting in sewing and literacy classes and visiting local orphanages. Zonta volunteers will also bring birthing and newborn kits for the clinic to distribute to women who are turned away from the clinic. Each birthing kit comes with a plastic trash bag to deliver on, a scalpel blade, string for the umbilical cord, dressings and a pair of gloves. Newborn kits have cloth diapers, undershirts, receiving blankets, washcloths, baby wipes and sleepers.
"The kits are very, very basic, as these women literally have nothing," Ferguson said.
Zonta is already collecting money and items for the kits, and each volunteer will carry a number of kits into Haiti.
"Mail delivery in any Third World country is difficult; add the recent earthquake in Haiti and it is almost impossible to mail or ship any items into the country," Ferguson said. "The packages would most likely be stolen in order to sell the components. The only true way to ensure that the supplies get to Heartline Women's Clinic is to personally take them in our luggage."
According to Mothes, five Zontians are signed up for the trip, set for March 21 to 26, and the ideal Heartline group size is six. Interest is high among club members, and Mothes is already anticipating future volunteer trips.
"It may not seem like you can do a lot in six days, but it will make an everlasting difference in the lives of the women and children we will serve, and open our hearts and eyes to a life and culture beyond ourselves," Ferguson said.
The group eventually hopes to fund a two-room post-partum area where women will receive medical care after birth, learn to breast-feed, and rest and bond with their new babies.
As for the cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 1,100 Haitians since early fall, Mothes does not believe Zonta volunteers will be in any danger. Heartline picks volunteers up from the airport, houses them in the Heartline Guest House, provides meals and accompanies them to and from the volunteer sites. It's very safe, Mothes said, but Zonta will come prepared with antibiotics and antimalarials just in case.
"Cholera has a terrible sound to it, but our exposure will be limited," she said. "The reality is that hydration with clean water and inexpensive antibiotics will treat it very effectively, and sadly, much of Haiti has access to neither."
Many of the birthing and newborn kit items have already been donated, Mothes said, but the club still needs extra-large plastic trash bags and any items for the newborn kits. To donate items, drop them off at Ruopp and Ruopp Dentistry, 1818 Broadway in Cape Girardeau, or Mothes' Edward Jones office, 2820 E. Jackson Blvd. in Jackson. Monetary donations are tax-deductible, and checks can be made payable to Heartline Ministries.
1818 Broadway, Cape Girardeau MO
2820 E. Jackson Blvd., Jackson MO