When Kameryn Kline graduated from Silliman Institute in 2007, she knew she wanted to be a nurse, but the former Clinton resident never dreamed she’d end up working alongside volunteers from all over the country in poverty-stricken Haiti.
Through her church, Feliciana Baptist, Kline met Jessi White Morris, of Zachary, and learned of the organization Respire Haiti.
Respire is the nonprofit founded in 2010 by Lafayette native Megan Boudreaux that began with a vision to help orphans and children in Gressier, a community about 20 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the Caribbean.
With so many children not in school and families struggling to provide for their kids, Megan moved to Gressier in 2011 and began helping the children and people of the community, Kline said.
Upon graduation from nursing school in 2011, Kline visited Morris who was teaching a kindergarten class for the organization.
“There I was performing eye exams on the children of Gressier,” Kline said. “It was difficult and a huge eye-opening experience. I’d never been exposed to anything like that. People don’t understand you, you don’t understand them. I couldn’t believe I actually went back a second time.”
Kline said she had a job working at Lane’s Cardiovascular Center in Zachary and loved the people she worked with, which made it difficult to leave, but being a nurse in America had its limitations and restrictions unlike being on the ground in Gressier, where Kline felt she was meeting a need and making a difference.
Boudreaux’s vision for Respire Haiti had always included educating and empowering the 50 percent of the children, orphans and child slaves, called restaveks, who weren’t attending school, but the medical component of Respire was fast-tracked after a child there died from a very simple procedure, Kline said.
“Megan knew then she wanted to give the children a safe place to be treated,” Kline said.
More comfortable on her second trip to Gressier, Kline realized the conditions in Gressier were happening to people all over the world.
“It was where I needed to be.”
On her third trip in 2013, a 6,500-square-foot medical clinic was about to begin construction, and Boudreaux convinced Kline to stay on and help run the clinic.
Today, Respire Haiti has a six-classroom primary school, four-classroom kindergarten, four-classroom secondary school, a kitchen, water cistern, a depot, eight-stall bathroom and medical clinic.
Kline lives in Gressier, volunteering as Respire’s main nurse and medical coordinator. She mostly sees and treats malnutrition cases, basic wound injuries and hygiene-related issues as well as educates the children about preventative health care.
“Many locals lack critical thinking skills, though there are technical schools everywhere and some amazing Haitian nurses who have risen above the norm,” Kline said. Raymondé Colin and Junie Eliphite are two of those nurses. They work alongside Kline at the Respire clinic. Kline and Eliphite delivered their first newborn in January. Kline sees anywhere from five to 25 patients daily, depending on the medical situation.
The work is exhausting, the temperatures extremely hot and the language barrier added to Kline’s exhaustion initially but now she speaks the Haitian language of Creole nearly fluently.
“It’s very exciting, so many things are happening there, and you know you’re making a change, a difference,” Kline said.
A few life-threatening medical emergencies have arisen that have required more than Kline’s nursing skills. One such case involved a 12-year-old girl, Caila, who was diagnosed with congenital scoliosis.
Kline said it took about seven months to get X-rays, results, obtain a medical visa, new birth certificate, passport, hours of paperwork completed, doctors on board and a participating hospital coordinated, as well as a host family in the U.S. to accept Caila before she could be treated.
“By that time, doctors at Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, who agreed to do the surgery voluntarily, were afraid Caila’s condition had worsened and that she’d be paralyzed before receiving the operation,” said Kline, who flew to Philadelphia to be by Caila’s side following the procedure.
Today, Caila walks with arm crutches and she and her mother live behind the Respire clinic in a make-shift apartment so Kline and the others can monitor her recovery. “She has blown us all away.”
Cases like Caila’s are the rarity, but they do exist. One young boy had a heart valve condition and another was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, but the efforts of Kline, Boudreaux, Respire Haiti and others helped get the boys the medical attention they needed in time to help save their lives.
“She’s our youngest, and we worry,” Kameryn’s mother, Sharon Kline, said. “It’s so hard to see her go back when she comes home for a visit. Of course, we’re very proud of her, and what she’s doing is amazing but she’s so humble about it.”
Kline returns to the U.S. every 90 days to renew her work visa. During her most recent trip to East Feliciana, March 11-23, she had to take care of paperwork for graduate school.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Sharon, cautious about getting her hopes up that her daughter will return home to stay.
Kline lives with another nurse from Nashville, a teacher who attended Ole Miss, one from San Antonio and a special education teacher from Zachary, Jamie Byrd, who moved to Gressier in January to teach a special needs class.
“Most kids with disabilities are not in school, so giving these children a place to learn helps educate, empower and encourage them,” Byrd said. “I’m so happy I’ve been blessed with this opportunity and to be a part of this wonderful organization.”
“I like living simply, and I’m part of the community now,” Kline said. “People know me when I walk down the street. It’s where I’m supposed to be right now. It’s where I’m needed.”
To learn more about Respire Haiti, visit respirehaiti.org.