As a child, Simone Adelugba listened to the national band play in a park in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Today, the park is a massive tent city, with tarps and sheets enveloping the now skeleton-of-a-stage.
“This used to be a very beautiful area,” says Adelugba, looking out the window of the car. “Now I can barely even recognize it.”
Adelugba has not been back to Haiti for 15 years, but when the 7.0-earthquake hit her home country, she did not hesitate to sign up as a volunteer nurse for International Medical Corps. “It was the right thing to do,” she says. “That’s what nurses do.”
A nurse for 22 years, Adelugba left behind a husband and four children in Maryland to rush into Haiti and begin providing medical care to those in need. “When I came in, I was in shock,” she says. “It was not the place I grew up. It was devastating, heartbreaking. The first day I had tears in my eyes.”
In her two weeks in Haiti, Adelugba has seen immense heartbreak, but one of the most difficult was the nursing school, where an estimated 145 nursing students were buried in the rubble, just seconds away from the University Hospital where she is providing around-the-clock care with the International Medical Corps team.
As she prepares to return home, Adelugba knows that amid all the tragedy her work saved lives. “I saw one lady who took a long time to get to the hospital,” she recalls. “She had an enormous blister on one foot and sores on the other. She did could not stand to walk to the hospital in her shoes because the pain was so great.”
Adelugba cleaned and dressed her wounds and, with time, it healed. “In the beginning, her daughter had to help her climb a flight of stairs, very slowly,” she says. “Now she can climb up the stairs by herself and travels to the clinic on her own. “She looked at me and said, “You saved me life.’”
Another woman came to Adelugba with an infant who was discovered crying as she lay beside her dead mother in the street. After treating the baby for a skin disorder, Adelugba asked the woman caring for the baby how she was feeding him. “She said with a spoon,” says Adelugba. “She did not have bottle for the baby. I knew I was not supposed to, but I bought her a bottle. You cannot hear those things and turn the other way.”
Adelugba hopes to return with International Medical Corps in March to continue her work. In the meantime, she remains confident that her home country will recover.
“When you talk to the Haitian people and see the hope in their faces, it gives you strength,” she says. “That hope in their faces is what tells you that they’ll be ok.”