Charlottesville Pediatrician Delivers Hope in Haiti
Pediatrician Ray Ford has been the doctor for generations of children in central Virginia. Now his work has taken him from delivering babies in Charlottesville to delivering hope in Haiti.
In retirement, Dr. Ford has found a second calling, one that takes him 1,300 miles south to Haiti. Get Dr. Ford talking about Haiti and he can't help but become emotional. It's that passion that takes him to a remote part of that country to make a difference in the lives of people who need it the most.
Dr. Ford says the calling was clear and simple. "The Haitians are incredible people. Their dignity, their spirit, it just amazes us when we come here. The energy of this place," he stated.
In Haiti, he and a team attend to the medical needs of Haitians. "Our docs have come over many years, observed the general health in this area which has gradually, definitely improving," he said.
Ford volunteers with the Haiti Mission. During a week-long clinic he tended to a child suffering from a severe case of anthrax on his face and helped a pair of 6-day-old twins whose mother died during childbirth.
“The clinic here in Grison-Garde is open all year-round. The Charlottesville-based medical team comes down here four times a year, seeing anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 Haitian patients in a single week,” he stated.
Dr. Eugene Maklin, who works at the Haitian clinic, says without the support of Dr. Ford and others many Haitians would never see a health professional in their lifetime.
“They help us a lot here and when the teams are here, I’m very happy because I get to see many people, many cases." Maklin said, "People appreciate that too. You can see that. We have a lot of people here."
But for Dr. Ford, the work on the ground in Haiti is far from done. "I’d say overall, things are a little bit better," he stated.
Dr. Ford's efforts don't stop with medicine. His own foundation, the Robert Ford Haitian Orphanage and School Foundation, built an orphanage and school in the small town but that school is now overcrowded.
What started out as wishful thinking more than a decade ago has turned into a real success story. Dr. Ford was so inspired during his medical volunteer work in Haiti that he decided to build an orphanage and a school.
At the behest of village elders, Dr. Ray Ford and his father built the orphanage and school in 2002. Twelve years later, the school needs an expansion. A Charlottesville group of builders wants to help but a fundraising gap has things on hold.
Right now the Ford School boasts an 80 percent school completion rate, which is impressive compared with other schools in Haiti with completion rates at 22 percent. Dr. Ford says it is a clear measure that the work is making an impact. "It has been a huge success," he stated.
Dr. Ford says they are victims of their own success; the school is now too small. Classrooms designed for 30 students now have double that. The school, thought to hold no more than 120 students, now has more than 700 enrolled. When classes get too full at the school in Grison-Garde, students have to go to the cafeteria to learn and study. It's not the best learning environment, but it's everyday life for students at the Robert Ford School.
"It’s very difficult. That's just not the way to learn. What you need is a reasonably comfortable environment where stress isn't built in to being compacted all day,” Dr. Ford said.
"We know that the orphans have grown up and it's time for them to have a larger school," said Kelly Eplee, executive director of the Building Goodness Foundation.
Construction will cost $245,000. An anonymous donor has put up half of the money as long as it's matched by other donations. The school still needs $70,000 before work can start.