Spring break is generally associated with vacationing in a tropical, picturesque playground, but a group of FIU medical students will be spending it working among the neediest people, in the poorest country in the hemisphere.
“We are going on a volunteer medical mission to Cap-Haitien, Haiti, “ says first-year medical student Yves-Dany Accilien. “We hope to provide basic physical exams and health education to an underserved community.” Haiti has some of the most dismal statistics regarding diseases like cholera, malaria, diabetes and hypertension, to name a few.
Accilien, who is 22, knows it first-hand. He and fellow volunteers and mission organizers Samuel Jean-Baptiste, and Steven Chery, both 23, were all born in Haiti. Except for Chery, they’ve been on medical missions to their homeland before, but this will be their first as medical students.
“I’m excited and at the same time anxious because I want everything to go as planned,” admits Chery, whose decision to become a doctor was influenced by a family tragedy. His mother lost a baby after being turned away at a hospital in Haiti because she didn’t have money to pay for her care. Now as he packs for the upcoming 4-day trip (they’ll be gone March 28 through April 1) his goal is “reaching out to people who’ve never seen a doctor before, and inspiring a new generation that there is hope.”
The group of 16 volunteers includes nine students from the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, some pre-med students and a couple of parents, one of whom is a nurse, the other a physician. Each is paying for their own expenses, but they are fundraising to pay for the hiring of a local Haitian physician, medical supplies and over-the-counter medications. So far, they have raised more than $3,000 through the crowd-funding website, GoFundMe.
The students will be working out of a church in the community of Fort Saint Michel in conjunction with the non-profit organization, Projects for Haiti, Inc. They expect to see more than 100 patients a day.
For Jean-Baptiste, who left Haiti when he was 10, it won’t be an entirely new experience. As a junior in college majoring in applied mathematics, he volunteered for a week at a hospital in Haiti, and that’s when he decided that by becoming a doctor he could make a difference. That’s what he means to do during the spring break medical mission.
“We could reach hundreds of lives through one single trip, “ he says. “We want them to know there are people who care – that even though we left, we are still connected.”
And if with their presence these three young men from humble beginnings can inspire another Haitian boy or girl to dream that they too can one day hope to go to medical school and become a doctor, that will be icing on the cake, he adds.