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Rotary Club leads Haiti relief efforts

By Staff | Jan 29, 2010

Dr. Robert Northrup stands in the little marketplace just outside the hospital grounds at Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti several years ago. He served as a board member of the hospital and specialized in international medicine. The hospital has served many earthquake victims.

The Shepherdstown Rotary Club has sent $8,100 to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti, and is offering to collect additional donations from local residents who may be seeking a secure way to send funds.

The money was raised in just four days, with $1,000 coming from Club funds and the rest donated by the Club’s 60 members.

The hospital is a medical center located about three hours north of Port au Prince. The 80-patient facility has been struggling to care for over 500 patients at a time since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island Jan. 12.

The hospital was undamaged by the recent earthquake, and like other rural hospitals outside the capital city has been overwhelmed by quake victims streaming out of the capital seeking medical help.

The Shepherdstown Rotary Club is well acquainted with the hospital.

Dr. Robert S. Northrup, one of the club’s members and a retired physician, served on the hospital’s board for many years. And over the past several years the club has provided funds to help the hospital conduct a child-immunization program and complete a well-drilling project.

During an interview this week at the Chronicle, Northrup described the challenges that Haiti faced even before the recent earthquake. He said the road leading from Port au Prince 40 miles to the hospital typically requires about three hours to navigate, and is one of the “better roads” in the country.

Infrastructure there is essentially non-existent. He noted the hospital provides its own electricity with generators and has an independent water supply.

To illustrate the impact of the destruction in Porte au Prince, Northrup offered a jarring scenario.

“If you imagine our country with Washington destroyed. No government. No communication. Many of the key people gone,” he said. “Suddenly, you have nothing to go on. All of it’s gone. What do you do?” Haitians, he said, are moving out into the smaller towns and rural areas, like Deschappelles.

“We’re all kind of wondering what’s going to be the next thing for this hospital, which clearly is going to make a difference in the country,” Northrup said, noting its director had laid off many workers as part of major cutbacks the day before the earthquake. They returned to work.

The hospital was founded 54 years ago by an American physician and his wife, who had been inspired by Albert Schweitzer’s work in Africa.

It is widely regarded as a model for health-care facilities in developing countries, and receives regular financial support from organizations and individuals around the world.

Northrup had ties to Haiti practically his entire career in the medical field. He started in east Pakistan in the late 1960s. For some 40 years he worked with schools and governments in developing countries around the world toward improvement of health systems to make sure they reached everybody and in an effective and proper way.

Northrup said a unique characteristic of the Hopital Albert Schweitzer is its wide reach into the community with special programs agriculture, sciences, development in addition to providing healthcare. It serves a region of about 150,000 people with medical care and an additional 150,000 with other outreach programs.

Shepherdstown Rotary Club President Doug Alexander encouraged area residents who are not sure how best to help Haiti to strongly consider a donation to the hospital. “This is a longstanding, solid medical facility that’s very carefully run and highly respected by the medical profession,” he said. “Donors can be assured that funds sent there will be put to good use immediately.”

Prospective donors can learn more about the hospital through its website at www.hashaiti.org.

Donations can be made directly to the hospital online through that website, or through the Shepherdstown Rotary Club. Either way, donations will be fully tax deductible.

Those who prefer to give through the Club should make checks payable to The Rotary Club of Shepherdstown Charitable Fund, Inc., with a notation that the funds are designated for “Schweitzer Hospital.” Checks can be sent to the Club at PO Box 603, Shepherdstown, WV 25443, dropped off at the United Bank in Shepherdstown care of Dale Homan, or given to any Shepherdstown Rotary Club member.