Terry Clark, of Clark Pest Control, expected the worst when he ventured to Haiti earlier this month to offer ideas on how to help curb the nation's rodent and insect infestation.
He expected to see bodies in the streets, unsanitary conditions and abject poverty. Somehow, he underestimated what he was in for.
The vice president of the Lodi-based pest control company spent three days in Haiti observing the devastation. He toured hospitals, makeshift dumps and tent cities. A member of the National Pest Management Association, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting public health, Clark was one of 14 people in the group the Haitian government called on to help with the nation's pest problems. He left for Haiti on May 6 and returned earlier this week. He posted pictures and made regular updates to blog.clarkpest.com, the official blog of the company.
During his trip, he witnessed goats and pigs eating garbage 50 feet behind a hospital, rats dominating city streets at night, and countless pools of standing water breeding disease-carrying mosquitos.
While he was there, the poor sanitation and seeming indifference to the situation appalled him.
"It's truly a disturbing place to visit," he said. "What was most disturbing was apparent lack of action."
There were no earthmovers, excavators or dump trucks helping clear rubble or rebuild, Clark said. The most action he saw was three men with a combination of a jackhammer and sledgehammer who were clearing rebar and other metals for scrap.
The lack of progress in the months following the January earthquake rattled him.
"The minister of environment was throwing garbage on hospital grounds while talking to us," he said.
The windows of the pediatric ward at one hospital he toured had no screens to prevent mosquitos from landing on the patients. The gaps under the hospital doors enabled rats to scurry throughout the ward. Nurses regularly fended off the rats while attending to patients.
Medical waste such as discarded needles and surgical equipment litter the floor, he said.
Clark observed all the unsanitary conditions and made notes on ways to improve it. He made 19 pages of notes on sanitation and six pages on training for pest management.
The intention of the National Pest Management Association is to slowly improve Haiti, building by building and block by block.
The University Hospital of Haiti is Clark's highest priority, he said. He and other members of the group have set up a pledge program that people in the pest management industry and individuals can contribute to.
Their goal is to take the unsanitary hospital and help make it conform to modern health standards. Clark and his associates want to improve conditions for dealing with sewage, water flow, general sanitation and hygiene.
"We are trying to raise the bar," he said.
Clark admits there are hurdles to cross. Not only are there roadblocks when it comes to dealing with the government, Clark said making sure the money raised isn't wasted will be an issue as well.
"The bad news is, somebody has to go back and make sure the money is spent well," Clark said, indicating plans to head to Haiti in the near future. "One or more of us will have to go and check every month. My family is not excited about that."
They have good reason to be wary of Clark traveling there again. Upon returning to California, Clark became violently ill and had to be hospitalized. He was feeling fine when he arrived in Miami from Haiti before flying to Long Beach, he said. It was in California that he started becoming ill and developed a fever.
"I've never felt that poorly," he said. "I've had E. coli and it didn't affect me like that."
Clark's fever went away the next day, but his bouts of vomiting and diarrhea continued. Upon returning to town, he was treated at Lodi Memorial Hospital and received intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
How you can help HaitiOne way Clark and members of the nonprofit National Pest Management Foundation are trying to improve Haiti is by raising funds for the beleaguered country. Besides volunteering its time, the organization has started a fund to assist the nation curbing its pest problems. The information for the fund is listed below:
National Pest Management Foundation, Pledge Protecting Public Health in Haiti
10460 North St.
Fairfax, VA 22030
Tax identification number: 22-6070835
While unsure of what he contracted, Clark said it likely had to do with the dust he and his associates were breathing or some bacteria in the ice in a drink he had.
His cultures don't come back from the lab until next week, he said, so he won't know exactly what he contracted before then.
Clark was hardly the only one who came down with an illness. Nine of the 14 members of the crew became ill, he said. While his sickness wasn't an enjoyable experience, Clark said he knew it could've been worse.
"One member of our team took nine liters of fluid," he said. "I had to take three. I can only imagine how bad it was for him."
He knows he has an uphill battle, but Clark isn't backing off. He readily admits it will take years, decades or even generations to improve the conditions in Haiti, but it's something he feels he must attempt.
"This is a chance to help a lot of people," he said.