Fred Chalker says a turning point in his understanding of the needs of the Haitian people came five years ago, when he was visiting one of his clinics on the Northwest coast of Haiti. A mother had brought her 18-year-old son in to the modest medical clinic Chalker funds through his charity, Living Water Ministries of the Palm Beaches. "They'd carried him in on a stretcher," Chalker says. When the doctor examined the boy's backside, there was a gaping hole in his buttocks several inches across and a couple of inches deep.
"The wound was completely clean," Chalker remembers. "Just a spotlessly clean, gaping hole. No infection."
The doctor was flummoxed. "I've never seen anything like this," Chalker remembers him saying. "I don't know what this is."
The boy's mother told them the wound was six or eight months old. She said she cleaned the wound meticulously every day, but that it never healed. Now the boy wasn't able to do much but lie in bed.
"The doctor thought about it for a while," Chalker says. "And then he said, 'I have an idea. I'm gonna try to put him on vitamins and see what happens.'"
A couple of months later when Chalker returned to Haiti, he saw the boy again. He was walking around. The hole was healed.
"What I realized was that these people didn't have the basic nutrients to even heal their skin," he says now. "There are specific vitamins and minerals you need for your body to function, and they just weren't getting them. Children in Haiti can go for the first 10 years of their lives and never eat anything other than rice and beans. The doctor told me, if this boy had gotten even one carrot a year he might not have had this problem."
Chalker's charity, which he founded 20 years ago and runs mostly out of his home in Atlantis along with volunteers and board members in Palm Beach County and elsewhere in South Florida, partners now with Feed My Starving Children, a Minneapolis non-profit that provides Living Water Ministries with 500,000 free meals at a time. Chalker and his board ship the meals -- a kind of rice and soy gruel-in-a-pouch fortified with vitamins -- to the Northwest sector of Haiti. They then distribute them, one meal a day, to children attending seven of the charity's schools. "We add a few things to the meals," Chalker says. "It's only about a cup of food -- we add oil, bouillon, a few vegetables and some beans. For most of the kids this is the only meal they'll get for the day. Each meal costs us six cents."
Living Water Ministries has no overhead in the States -- "No office, no staff, zero expenses," Chalker emphasizes. "If you give us a dollar, it goes to Haiti." They do employ hundreds of local teachers, nurses, and support staff on the island. Chalker and his board make four trips a year to visit the schools, clinics, and villages that receive aid from Living Water.
"Once you go there and see the conditions these people live in," Chalker says, "your heart is burdened. You can't not do something to help them."