I first embedded as a photojournalist with NYAGI during the organization’s second medical trip to Nepal in 2017. I had the opportunity to get out to the more remote villages and captured some poignant images for the nascent Boulder, Colorado-based humanitarian non-profit. Two years later, I was back on assignment with NYAGI, this time in Haiti, one of the world’s most challenged countries. Now a burgeoning NGO, NYAGI is hyper-focused on an innovative teaching approach to basic diagnostic ultrasound skills with the goal of improving global health and saving lives in the remote, rural, and resource-limited corners of the world. Dr. Cliff Gronseth, NYAGI’s wildly charismatic and energetic founder, is obsessively motivated by the fact that every two minutes, somewhere in the world, a mother dies of simple complications related to childbirth—most of which could be avoided if they were diagnosed.
Dr. Gronseth has developed a targeted, two-part approach to teaching ultrasound: (1) Intensive, accelerated hands-on skills work with (2) ongoing educational resources for continued self-learning. NYAGI targets the underserved regions throughout the developing world and stands for ‘Now You Are The Group’s Interest’, but more abstractly—and purposefully cross-culturally—represents that man, woman, or child living off-the-road and without reasonable access to effective healthcare. Ultrasound is an available technology that’s safe, affordable, and portable. It is effective at diagnosing everything from complications related to pregnancy to injuries from motorcycle accidents, but it can also be hard to learn. For the Haiti trip, NYAGI worked with the USAID-funded Project Santé and 43 doctors, nurses, midwives, and other healthcare professionals to quickly bring them up to speed. The local clinicians participated in a weeklong course on using 20 new ultrasound machines destined for their various clinics in the rural areas and beyond outside Port-au-Prince.
This was my first trip to Haiti. While I’ve been to over 30 countries on nearly 100 international assignments, most in the developing tropics, Haiti was still a shock. There’s little infrastructure or institution to fall back on if anything happens, and pretty much all the natural resources are gone. And that’s not an exaggeration. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 99.7% of Haiti’s original forests are gone making it the most deforested country in the world. Widespread corruption is bankrupting the country and, in fact, two months before and just two days after our visit, the country was essentially shut down due to peaceful protests turned violent riots and the resulting civil unrest. I know some prefer ‘low-income’ or ‘resource-limited’ over the term ‘developing’. But ‘developing’, to me, speaks to the process of change toward economic growth and some hope—which always underlies my work—whereas the alternatives just describe a problem. That said, in the case of Haiti—the poorest country in the western hemisphere—resource limitations do define the situation, and the path to growth is not always clear.
More than any place I’ve worked, I felt that in Haiti I was on my own and completely at the mercy of strangers. Compounds, like the Marriot where we were put up, are walled and patrolled with guards carrying shotguns. Traffic stalls, sometimes for an hour, for no apparent reason. Much of the damage from the earthquakes and hurricanes over the last decade remains unrepaired. I don’t work in war zones but at times this felt like one. Still, I do what I do because I believe there’s hope. One has to. And it doesn’t come from inside me as much as from those I see around me and when I look beyond the chaotic surface of a place like Haiti. Haitian doctors who work for a pittance staying late to learn more about the knobs on an ultrasound machine. The smile on the street from a stranger in spite of my whiteness and unavoidable complicity in the struggles they face every day. They give me my hope, and I hope I can continue to honor their stories.
You can learn more about NYAGI’s work at www.nyagi.org
Jason Houston is a globally recognized photojournalist and a Ramro Global Ambassador. His work is defined by a personal and transcendent dedication to community, culture, and how we live on the planet and with each other. His embedded, long-term approach captures informed, authentic narratives that help engage the public to guide social and environmental change –