Clarice KeatingWhen nurse practitioner Charmika Schuster arrived in Haiti in 2010, she was unprepared for what she would witness over the next few weeks.
Of the Catholic Sentinel
Her trip came almost a year after a 7.0 earthquake and aftershocks devastated the country. Disaster relief had subsided, but the needs of the people of the nation continued to be unfathomable.
“I had patients coming to me with no food and no water, and it’s not like I could send them to another resource to get those things,” Schuster, 35, said. “It was literally just me. I would say, ‘Come back at 5:30, and I’ll take you to the store with me.’” Every day, she would buy patients bags of beans of rice and containers of water with her own money.
One of those patients, a 24-year-old woman, showed up to ask for help for her 10-month-old baby. The infant was covered with skin infections and weighed only 11 pounds. Schuster tried to get the baby stabilized, and then offered to take the woman and her child back to their home.
“When I saw where she was living, my heart thumped,” the Oregon Health and Science University nurse practitioner said. “She was an orphan herself. She lived in a 3-by-6-foot hut. It reeked like feces, with no electricity and nothing to keep them warm at night. Nothing but a soiled mattress in the middle of it.”
This scene is not an unusual one in Haiti. As of July 2011, a year and a half after the quake that killed more than 300,000 people, the BBC reported that there are an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 people still living in tents. Much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed in the earthquake, and most has not been rebuilt. In fact, most of the rubble hasn’t even been removed.
“To me, that woman represented Haitians and Africans and people in all of these countries who don’t get talked about or acknowledged,” Schuster said.
This month, Schuster returns to Haiti for her third round of service. This time she’ll be better prepared to meet the needs of the people. Through her website, www.globalmustardseeds.com, Schuster is selling T-shirts for $20 to raise funds for medications, food and hygiene products for Haitian orphans and patients. They can be purchased online through PayPal. Schuster is also accepting medications (prescription and over-the-counter), vitamins, iron supplements, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, socks and underwear. These items can be mailed to Global Mustardseeds, 4536 SW Hamilton St., Portland, OR 97221.
Schuster, a parishioner at Immaculate Heart Church in North Portland, named the project for the Bible passage from Luke 13:17, “It is like a grain of mustardseed, which a man took and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”
Schuster grew up in Portland. She’s a St. Mary Academy graduate who went on to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she earned two degrees, one in health sciences management and one in nursing. She worked in different public health agencies, and then earned scholarships to OHSU to complete two master’s degrees, one as a family nurse practitioner and another in public health with a concentration on global health disparities.
Schuster’s dream is to create her own non-profit that will channel funds and assistance to Haiti and other nations in crisis, and allow medical personnel to set up mobile clinics. For now, she is working to team with The Charitable Partnership Foundation through their “incubator” program to borrow their 501c3 status until she can get her own organization up and running. This will allow donations to Global Mustardseeds to be written off for tax purposes.
Sometimes acquaintances ask Schuster why she spends all her money and days off working on this project.
“When you have a love for something, it’s not a burden to do it,” she said. “This is what I thrive on.”
Parishioners of Immaculate Heart have been supportive and generous, despite that many of them don’t make much money themselves.
Schuster also volunteers with the health ministry team at Mount Olivet Baptist Church, where she met web designer Aurora Lee, 35, in a bible study class. Lee was so moved by Schuster’s photos of the trip and her stories, she wanted to help, so she offered to build a website for Global Mustardseeds.
“Charmika is motivated to better the lives of these people in Haiti. They are still in an emergency situation,” Lee said. “She is all about sustainability, not only giving material goods and medicine, but also teaching people. She wants them to help themselves.”
During this trip, like the previous ones, Schuster will teach her Haitian patients first aid, basic hygiene and how to treat minor ailments.
“She doesn’t want people to be dependent on the outside world,” Lee said. “They can come to a point where they can help each other and live a sustainable life, where they don’t have to depend on outside agencies. “
One of Schuster’s close friends, Nefertiri Smarr, assists as best she can from her home in Philadelphia by working with her friend to brainstorm fundraising techniques and strategies to get donations and supplies to the people in Haiti.
Smarr, a commercial litigation lawyer, has been friends with Schuster since 1998 when they met at an internship for the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C.
“She has a huge heart,” Smarr said about her friend. “It’s her nature to want to take care of people and heal people. She has a very special place in her heart for people who are disadvantaged.”
Smarr believes Schuster’s spirituality and her relationship with God help elevate her to a place where she can respond to her calling.
“She also does volunteer work in shelters; she volunteers in soup kitchens, serving homeless people meals and cooking for them,” Smarr said. “She has a spirit of service and giving. It’s her nature.”
Sometimes the level of need in the world can make people feel overwhelmed. Schuster said, when she feels that way, she thinks of a Mother Teresa quote: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
“For every individual you touch, every life you change, you’ve made a difference for that person,” Schuster said. “You never know the influence you can have on others.” Schuster leaves for Haiti Feb. 17, but donations will be accepted on an ongoing basis. All funds support the people of Haiti.