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A “Life Changing” Summer in Haiti

Roxann Lawrence (left) and Amy Jimenez (right) with a young patient in Haiti.

Kalamazoo College juniors Roxann Taneisha Lawrence and Amy Jimenez recently had what Roxann calls “a life changing experience,” courtesy of the College’s Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) and Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL). They spent much of their summer interning at Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“Through the CCPD, ACSJL, and Grace Hospital, Amy and I were able to have one of the most rewarding summers of our lives,” said Roxann. “We were delighted to see social justice working through an international perspective.”

Here is Roxann’s account of their summer internship.

Grace Children’s Hospital is a flagship ministry of International Child Care serving children diagnosed with such things as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malnutrition. With an unparalleled dedication to changing the circumstances of the poor through preventative and curative health care, GCH/ICC is greatly appreciated for their commitment to these children and their families throughout Port-au-Prince and neighboring cities.

We were given the opportunity to work in an organization with a myriad of integrated community projects and chose to work in different departments. Bearing in mind the communication barriers, we worked with the Community Inclusion/Rehabilitation Program, human resources and public relations.

Being involved in the Community Inclusion Program was a life changing experience. We saw children and their families displaced after the earthquake in January 2010 and living in tent cities. Many of them had mental and physical disabilities. After undergoing a two-day intensive training with some physical therapists from the United States and orienting ourselves about the program and the communities it serves, we looked forward to going out in the community.

Despite the level of poverty that stared us in the face when we entered the tent cities, smiling faces greeted us in Haitian Creole “Bonjou” (Good Morning) or “Bonswa” (Good Evening), often by children playing mab (marbles). We walked passed dozens of USAID gray-colored tents packed with families and toddlers pointing at us and repeating “Blan, blan, blan!” We later learned that “blan” was Haitian Creole for foreigner. On many occasions, we were jumping from rock to rock to avoid stepping in the sewage and garbage that littered the slumped tent cities.

We conducted a number of tests with the children to see how much they have improved since their last check-up and also visited each patient once per week. It was self-fulfilling and empowering to see children responding to treatment in a positive light. Usually treated as outsiders because of superstitious beliefs in Haitian folklore, the children and their families were set on fitting in.

The people living in the tent cities were resilient and creative, despite the dilapidated housing, land and air polluted environment that surrounded them daily. On some of our visits with the nurses to the mobile clinics, we witnessed creativity at its best. With the lack of monetary resources, ICC/GCH established mobile clinics in different tent cities to accommodate families that are unable to come to the hospital. Instead, the hospital goes to them. These mobile clinics are used mainly to vaccinate and weigh babies, and educate community members about birth control methods, nutrition and sanitation. Without a standard scale to weigh the babies, community members made crème-colored cloth bags and the babies were put in them and placed on a scale that hung to a tarpaulin.

Amy and I were given the opportunity to give tours to other teams. Usually, these were North American religious-based groups who have had some form of relationship with the organization. From time to time, there were one or two persons who were returning to Haiti, but majority of the team members were new. A typical tour would consist of taking them to different departments at GCH/ICC and explaining to them the services that they provide to the community.

From public relations, we moved on to human resources, where we spent most of our time doing administrative work, from filing and retrieving information and documents to managing and string files. Something that we are really proud of was the pre-orientation package that we were asked to prepare for North American groups who were coming into Haiti. After spending countless of hours reading, observing and interacting, we made a pre-orientation packet that will now be given to all groups who are coming to Haiti through ICC.

Without a doubt, this has been the best summer of my life. It was a challenging, but nonetheless great learning experience. Other than helping me to see social justice working through an international perspective, it reinforced the importance of community participatory service to community development and change. What I have experienced working with ICC/GCH will continue to have a positive impact on me as I passionately pursue a life dedicated to serving and working with marginalized groups. I’ve thought about what I have learned here at Kalamazoo College, and it was fascinating to translate theory into actual practice. At that time, I became even more grateful for my K experience. We would recommend every K student to apply for this internship. This was a summer well spent.

Both of us are extremely thankful to CCPD and the ACSJL for providing us with this great opportunity to learn and grow as social justice leaders of today and tomorrow.

Roxann Taneisha Lawrence ’14 majors in Anthropology and Sociology with a concentration in Public Policy and Urban Affairs. From Westmoreland, Jamaica, she is currently on study abroad in Strasbourg, France. Amy Jimenez ’14 also majors in Anthropology and Sociology, with a second major in Theatre Arts. Originally from Compton, California, she is currently on study abroad in Varanasi, India. During her sophomore year, Amy was a Civic Engagement Scholar through the College’s Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Institute for Service Learning working at El Sol, a bilingual elementary school in Kalamazoo.

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