In May of 2016, I was one of the lucky six students chosen from the MSPH program to partner with the Hopes for Haiti foundation to make a trip to Zorange, Haiti. Before embarking on this journey, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When discussing the trip with the last year’s team of public health students, I was confused as to why they were at a loss of words for describing their trip and were unable to give us much insight on what our trip would consist of. After flying into Port-au-Prince and spending our first day in Zorange, I understood why.
Flying into Port-au-Prince, I was confused and nervous. The city was disheveled and unsanitary with trash piled everywhere in the streets and houses crumbling down to their foundations due to the earthquake that had impacted Haiti almost a decade ago, but as we moved away from the city and into the mountains, these feelings disappeared and I was blown away by Haiti’s beauty. After taking an exciting motorcycle ride into Zorange, we were hit with the understated reality of how privileged we truly are in Buies Creek. We had left our air-conditioned houses with running water and queen-sized beds to sleep under mosquito nets in fear of tarantulas and unable to escape the heat, yet were still considered the privileged individuals in the community because we had electricity, a bathroom, and a generous meal on the table every night.
During our time in Zorange, we focused on three projects: adding to the medical data base that was established by last year’s team of public health students, teaching English classes to both the students of Unifee and the Hopes for Haiti staff, and administering Vitamin A and Albendazole at three local schools. Adding to the medical database previously established in Excel was easier said than done. With the help of the Hopes for Haiti staff at the medical clinic, we were able to decipher the patient information, which was handwritten in Creole, from hundreds of visits to the medical clinic and code these records into the database. In the afternoons, we taught English classes to the Hopes for Haiti staff. Since the foundation has been teaching English to the staff over the past year, we picked up where the last group had left off, which involved teaching medical terms, parts of the body, types of foods and drinks, and irregular verbs. We often played review games like Jeopardy, Pictionary, or Guess That Word, which allowed us to interact with the staff and allowed the staff to actively participate and apply the information they were learning each day.
Along with teaching the staff English, we were able to teach English to the preschool and high school students at Unifee, the local school. Since the students in Zorange don’t start learning English until the 5th grade, we taught the preschool students nursery rhymes with hand gestures so they could begin working on their pronunciation skills. On the other hand, some of the high school students were able to write full sentences in English and were beginning to speak in full sentences when engaged in conversation, so we focused on strengthening their pronunciation and sentence formation. Although the students at Unifee are all hardworking and disciplined with their studies, only about 5% of the students who graduate attend the University in Port-au-Prince due to financial barriers and the needs of their family. The subject-focused coursework at Unifee also serves as an education barrier for many students who are interested in pursuing the arts. Many students we talked to in Zorange wanted to become artists or musicians, but because Unifee’s course load focuses on math and science, these students were not receiving the proper education needed to pursue their passions.
We were also able to gain experience in the pharmacy and in the field while administering Albedazole and Vitamin A to children between the ages of 6 months and 61 months at nearby schools. Making sure we respected the cultural perspectives of the community during this process was key, since many of the parents were hesitant to have their children treated and many of the students were often afraid of us because they believed we were administering immunizations. With the help of the Hopes for Haiti staff, we were able to break down the language barriers between our group and the community while administering medications that could reduce serious health consequences for young children in the area. While we were administering these medications, it was disheartening to see the lack of access to healthcare many community members face. At the school in Tony, a concerned mother showed us an abnormal growth the size of a baseball that had developed on her son’s stomach within the course of a week. Since we did not have a medical professional traveling with our group, we advised her to seek care immediately at the clinic in Zorange or Bainet, but she informed us that she lives too far away from both clinics to seek the care her son desperately needs.
Our trip was an uplifting and discouraging journey of understanding a culture and population of hardworking people that continue to strive towards economic, social, and community growth, yet continue to be shut out due to a broken system. I am eager to see what this year’s public health team is able to accomplish during their journey in Haiti and I hope to establish a rotation site at the medical clinic in Zorange so that other pharmacy students are also able to experience all that Zorange has to offer!
-Shannon Brown (P1)