Another local team heads to Haiti

Three team members will return on Feb. 23, while the remaining seven will stay through March 1.


COLLEGE PLACE - A second team of aid workers from the region is now en route to Haiti, where members will spend 10-14 days helping earthquake victims.

"I guess I kind of have a missionary mind and I wanted to reach out and help people for a long time and that is what I am trying to do," registered nurse and team member Sherry Wiedemann said. Then she added, "The people in Haiti need a lot of help. And they need to know we care."

On Friday night, the Second Hope Ministries International Haiti relief team gathered at the College Place home of team leader Ronald Tilley, owner and administrator of Quail Run Retirement Community, for a briefing.

"You want to really protect yourself because once you get sick, once you get diarrhea, you lose water; you get dehydrated so fast. Then we will have to take care of you," Second Hope Ministries International President Dr. Ron Fleck said. He urged team members to take precautions, like taking Doxycycline malaria tablets during and after their trip.

Fleck, who was the team leader for the first local relief team that spent almost a week in Haiti last month, is in the role of co-coordinator and mentor for the second trip. Throughout the night he called on his experience as a physician serving in developing nations to give advice to the team, which for the most part is comprised of novices in working in disaster settings.

"I have never done any kind of disaster, so this is going to be a whole different kind of experience," Wiedemann said.

"Stay together ... Use your billfold and money belt cautiously ... Really be careful because I will tell you those people are desperate ... Don't go barefoot in Haiti. There is hookworm down there. Nasty hookworm that can cause you to go anemic. And they are hard to get rid of," Fleck warned.

As the litany of warnings went on - watch out for pickpockets, don't make eye contact with overbearing cabbies, drink only bottled water, don't eat uncooked foods - members understood they would most likely face some form of conflict during their trip. But they also felt the rewards were worth it.

"I've never done anything like this before," said Kris Darby, an EMT and deputy chief of EMS for Columbia Country Fire District No. 3. "I think all this will be exciting, and it will be a life-changing experience. And I am really looking forward to that."

None of the team members will be paid for their work, and most are using vacation pay to support their families while they are gone. In some cases, team members have paid a portion of their airfare.

Darby added, "We had the big fire, the Complex fire in 2006. And people from all over the world, Australia, New Zealand ... came to little old Dayton to help us fight the biggest fire in the nation ... This is kind of my way to say thank you for those who helped us."

Unlike the first local relief team, which was primarily made up of physicians, the Second Hope Ministries International team is comprised of a single physician, general surgeon Dr. Gerald Welker. In addition to Welker, Wiedemann, Darby and Tilley, other team members include Keith Canwell of College Place, who is an administrator of the local Medical Teams International dental van; Alissa Alma of Salem, a recent Walla Walla University elementary education graduate; retired dentist Ted Flaiz, 89, of Hermiston, who is the oldest member of the team and one of the most experienced, having provided dental services to the poor in some 25 countries; Marc Goff of College Place, a recent graduate of the Walla Walla Community College EMT program; Chris Howard of Walla Walla, a social worker for 30 years and now with Walla Walla Hospice; and Jean Byrne of Walla Walla, a physical therapist for 22 years.

Byrne said she felt apprehensive about not being able to take her equipment.

"They are big. Walkers, wheelchairs, stuff like that. At least that is not happening on this trip ... I am going to be working with a lot of amputations, but I don't even know if they even have any crutches to use," Byrne said.

What is making it on the trip are boxes of medical supplies, many donated by Providence St. Mary Medical Center, which also donated $6,500 in supplies for the first Haiti relief trip.

Each member would check in two bags of supplies and carry on the bare essentials. And many of those items won't make it back.

"I would take one pair of shoes. But if you have any extra clothes (afterward), I would just leave them," Fleck said, and he described how one returning aid work had inadvertently left behind a single shoe. But that shoe is now a prized possession for several amputees.

"Five or six people are using that one shoe, they are starting to ambulate them. That just shows you how desperate they are," Fleck said.

The Second Hope Ministries International Haiti relief team left Saturday for Sea-Tac. The plan was to sleep Saturday night at a church near the airport to save funds for the $1,500 round-trip airfare.

The team members were to leave Sea-Tac early this morning and is expected to arrive around 11:30 p.m. in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, where they will spend the night.

On Monday, after picking up several gallons of bleach for disinfectant and other supplies, the team will rent a van for a six-hour drive to Port-au-Prince.

Three team members will return on Feb. 23, while the remaining seven will stay through March 1.

"Take care of yourself," Fleck told the team, and emphasized the importance of sleep. "Your adrenaline will start flowing and when your adrenaline is flowing you will have trouble going to sleep. You will want to stay up and talk all night ... try to get some sleep."

But the anxious team members were already facing that problem.

"I was up to 1:30 to 2 p.m. last night," Wiedemann said.

While in Haiti, Fleck also advised team members not to "overempathize," even though they would face the sights of crushed children, the smell of decaying bodies and other harsh scenes.

"Whatever it is, don't say, ‘What if that was my wife? What if that was my kid? What if that was me?' If you do, then you are done. You might as well go home for the day," Fleck said.

Byrne added, that although she has served as a physical therapist in India, she realizes her trip to Haiti will be unlike anything she has experienced.

"I think it's the unknown that is exciting. And it won't all be horrible. There will be some absolutely amazing things."

To learn more about Second Hope Ministries International, contact the organization via e-mail at

Third trip to Haiti possible


of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

COLLEGE PLACE - The second team of local Haiti relief workers has yet to land, and already there are hopes that Second Hope Ministries International will be able to send a third team.

Funding is a big hurdle, but volunteers are plentiful, noted President Dr. Ron Fleck, who said there were many people disappointed they were not picked for the second relief team.

He added that should a third team be created, the goal will switch from administering aid to teaching.

"We are primarily interested in training primary trainers, to teach local people how to do this," Fleck said.

According to Fleck, the cost to send the second relief team of 10 people will be around $20,000, but so far only half the funds have come in.

"It is amazing, the whole community has gotten behind it. People were even giving me money this morning (Saturday). But we are not worried, we know we will get it all," he said.

Since a Union-Bulletin article ran on Jan. 30 detailing the first relief trip's work, Fleck said numerous people have donated to the organization, and he thanked all the supporters.

Donations can be made to Second Hope Ministries International through a trust fund at Blue Mountain Credit Union, 520 S. College Ave. The organization can be contacted via e-mail at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment