0213DOMINICANaudListen as Jack Wehmiller of North Hall gives an emotional account of helping a Haitian woman at a hospital in the Dominican Republic.
Jack Wehmiller heard that she could sing, so he asked the young Haitian woman, through an interpreter, for a song.
Miguelina Site, who had lost part of her left leg and right arm to the Jan. 12 earthquake, smiled.
“She raised her left hand, the only hand she had (remaining), into the air, closed her eyes ... and sang like an angel,” Wehmiller said. “I only understood one word, because the whole song was in Creole, and the word was ‘Hallelujah.’ ”
The North Hall man, talking about the experience in an interview Wednesday at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, said the experience “set the mood” for the rest of his trip to the Dominican Republic to help refugees from neighboring Haiti.
“This was a person who had a tremendous amount of physical damage to herself, she was in a place that was uncomfortable to her because it was not her home, she had lost other family members and certainly friends.
“And yet, she was capable of not losing her faith during the worst of times.”
Wehmiller, an active First Baptist member, visited the Dominican Republic from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4, spending one day in Haiti, as a representative of Rivers of the World, a Dawsonville-based Christian ministry.
He decided to travel to the country after learning that most of the aid was going to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and bypassing the Dominican Republic, where he suspected many refugees might be headed.
Wehmiller, a retired businessman, met up with a Baptist missionary in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital, before heading to Barahona, where Rivers of the World had built a medical clinic, church and freshwater system.
Wehmiller went first to a hospital, where his suspicions about refugees flooding in “were immediately confirmed.”
“There were, in one wing, 11 Haitian women on gurneys in the hallway waiting for surgery,” he said.
Wehmiller then went to Barahona and visited hospitals that were even more overwhelmed by earthquake victims.
“These aren’t the best of hospitals under any circumstance, and with this tremendous influx of people, we realized there was a lot of aid we could do there,” he said.
“We identified where fresh water, juice and other things were needed in a couple of hospitals in Barahona, and we went back into town and we bought supplies for them.”
Wehmiller said that neither he nor the missionary accompanying him had any medical skills.
“We were just there to encourage and help in any way we could,” he said.
In those efforts, he met Site, who had been injured on her way to the market, a trip she took every day.
“Thirty seconds changed her life forever,” Wehmiller said.
He later went into Haiti with the missionary and a translator, arriving in Port-au-Prince with tarpaulins they had bought in Barahona.
“We began to go to the major part of the disaster area ... and we found they had brought bulldozers in and shoved everything that was debris to the side (of roads),” Wehmiller said.
“We found a less crowded area and began to pass the tarps out to people,” he said.
Wehmiller went to the airport in Port-au-Prince and encountered a “mass of activity.”
“It was an encouraging thing to see all those doctors and nurses selflessly working to save lives and care for people who needed help,” he said.
Wehmiller returned to Barahona and later returned to the hospital were Site and others were receiving treatment.
“I was the guy who held the flashlight to give good light to the removal of stitches,” he said.
He later met Yuliette Delva, who was injured when cement blocks fell on her foot. Several toes had to be amputated.
“When they began to remove the stitches from her foot, her eyes got as big as saucers because it was so painful,” Wehmiller said. “I sat down beside her on the bed and put my arms around her (during the procedure).
“She then put her arm around me and held onto my waist to give her some comfort, and then she relaxed.”
Delva told an interpreter that Wehmiller made her feel comfortable. “He’s much like my father,” she said.
“I looked at her and smiled. … She said in broken English, ‘Would it be OK if I called you Daddy?’”
“I said if that will make you comfortable, that’s fine with me.”
At the end of the day, he walked by her room and they saw each other.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Thank you, Daddy. I love you.’ She mouthed the words, but it was pretty clear what she was saying.”
He replied in Creole, the language of Haitians, “Jesus loves you.”
“I came back (from the trip) changed,” Wehmiller said.
“When you are in the midst of the battle itself, you realize that you need to take that next step, if you possibly can, to give the less fortunate more than just of your resources or little bit of your time.
“I was changed where I was taken to that next level of willingness to participate and to help.”
Wehmiller said he believes the Haitians he saw have a spirit of never giving up.
“Many of these people had nothing more than the clothing on their back, but the one thing I noticed that a large percentage of them had was their Bible,” he said.
“When you see someone holding their Bible with both of their hands in our church, it’s wonderful to see.
“When you see someone holding their Bible with their only hand they have left, and they can still be like Miguelina and sing, it was a reminder of what incredible blessings we have.”