After an eight-hour ride by minibus, Dr. Pei Ann Kong crossed from the Dominican Republic into Haiti. It was February 2010, a month after the epic earthquake, and she couldn’t believe her eyes. “It was worse than I’d imagined,” she recalls. “The conditions were deplorable. The buildings, the roads, the people—everything was damaged.”
An internist with training in pediatrics, Kong didn’t speak French or Creole. She’d never seen a natural disaster and wasn’t trained in emergency medicine. But when the aid organization Tzu Chi USA sent out a call for medical volunteers, she answered. Kong stayed in Haiti for a week, seeing 80 patients a day with the help of a translator.
She and her colleagues at Crozer-Chester Medical Center paid for the medical supplies. Aside from earthquake injuries, Kong dealt with chronic, untreated diseases. “Most Haitians live in poverty without any kind of healthcare,” she says. “I saw advanced stages of diseases I’d never seen before. Things like rheumatoid arthritis, infections and malnutrition are treatable in America, but not in Haiti. The need for medical care was so great, and there was only so much I could do.”
She’s still trying. In 2011 and 2012, Kong embarked on a Tzu Chi USA medical mission to a remote village in La Romana, Dominican Republic, where conditions are almost as bad as in Haiti. “The demand for healthcare is critical and almost endless,” she says. “They need doctors.” So she goes.