Haiti experience eye-opener for nurses

Posted: January 4, 2014

The Winchester Star

Nurses Judi Knickerbocker (left) and Kelly Halbert display a slide show from the Mission Starfish project they assisted in Haiti. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Two city nurses spent a week in November doing volunteer work in Haiti.

Although their duties included distributing medications and providing for the poor, they had no idea of what to expect before they left.

“Me, I’m an adventurous type,” said Judi Knickerbocker, 59. “I figured if we got over there, we’d find something to do.”

She and her friend Kelly Halbert, 43, found a lot to do, and they came home with a new outlook on life.

“If you don’t come back a changed person, there’s something wrong with you,” Halbert said. “It’s made me a better person and a mother.”

Halbert and Knickerbocker traveled as part of Mission Starfish Haiti, a project aimed at helping to educate and provide for those in need. They were unfamiliar with the organization, which encourages people to volunteer in the country, but they decided to give it a try.

Mission Starfish Haiti was founded by Silentor Esthil-Henderson, who was adopted at age 8 from Haiti by an American man.

Silentor, 26, grew up in the United States and attended college in Iowa. He returned to Haiti as an adult to help his people build a sustainable future and now operates a Christian school in Gonaives, a city of 300,000 about 80 miles north of the capital Port-au-Prince.

During their November trip, Knickerbocker and Halbert operated medical clinics for four days and distributed grocery items to families in need.

They saw malnourished children who couldn’t make tears, mothers who couldn’t breast-feed because they had worms and a woman who died from a hemorrhage.

“If they get sick, they die,” said Knickerbocker.

Dr. William Stiebel, a dentist in Stephens City, donated four boxes of toothbrushes to the cause, and the Walmart store off Northwestern Pike (U.S. 50) provided fabric at a discount rate for women in Gonaives to use in learning to sew.

Halbert said the children were happy and obtained enjoyment from something as simple as a water bottle, which they used as a soccer ball.

“When you go to Haiti, they are the sweetest, most loving, kindhearted children, and they have nothing,” Halbert said “To them, simplicity is what they know.”

Knickerbocker is returning to Haiti on Tuesday to further contribute to the cause. She plans to help de-worm the residents of Gonaives and to spend $1,000 of donated funds to buy grocery items for 42 families.

Halbert hopes to join her for another trip in April. She said individuals don’t need to be nurses, dentists or doctors to help.

“Don’t be afraid, because anyone can be a difference-maker.”

To donate or learn more about Mission Starfish Haiti, visit www.mshaiti.org. For additional information, contact Judi Knickerbocker at jknicker@hotmail.com.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com