|On the ground in Haiti: Gillings School students integral to relief effort|
When one door closes, open another.
That was Alicia Stokes' mantra when the University had to cancel her trip to Haiti. Stokes, an executive master's candidate in health policy and management at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, had been selected from approximately 100 applicants to take part in an extended relief effort in the small, disaster-riddled country. At the last minute, the University decided the particular trip abroad would be too great a risk.
When that happened, Stokes partnered with undergraduates Andrew Koo and Dominique Dormeville and recent alumnus Alex Christian to find out how to get to Haiti on her own.
The four of them worked with experts at UNC and Duke to form their own organization, the Student Impact Project. Their mission was to help Haitians help themselves which led them to focus on developing a sustainable health system, particularly for women and children. They also wanted to provide educational aid to children in grades one to 12.
"Some of Dominique's family members live in Haiti," Stokes said, "so she got advice from them about groups we could help. We also met a nurse practitioner from Florida, Jacques Desir, who has been a great partner with us. Jacques had been an orphan at the German-run Mission de Vie orphanage in Gonaives, Haiti, and now runs mobile health clinics there. We also identified a school that was willing to work with us."
Last spring, Christian and Dormeville paid their own way for a four-day needs assessment trip to Haiti.
"We quickly learned that Haiti has no infrastructure, and few laws and police powers," Stokes said. "We felt compelled to return to help make a difference for the Haitian people."
Back in Chapel Hill, the group redoubled its efforts to obtain necessary travel approvals from the University. After much planning and paperwork, the Student Impact Project officially began.
After collecting and packing medical supplies, the group left for a two-week trip in early August. For Stokes, it was a special trip in many ways - not least because it was only her third time on an airplane and the first time out of the United States.
"My first impression of Port au Prince was that there was dust and dirt everywhere - and it was hot!" she said.
They traveled three hours north of Port au Prince to meet Desir at the orphanage.
"I was surprised to see how neat and organized the orphanage was," Stokes said. "When we set up our mobile health clinic and examined the 40 children who lived there, we found them overall to be very healthy."
The project team traveled to an orphanage three hours north of Port au Prince and set up a mobile health clinic, where they examined about 40 children and nearly 200 other people who subsequently arrived to receive medical services. The students saw patients from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"One frequent complaint of the people we saw was dizziness," Stokes said. "When we examined them, we found almost all of them had water in their ears. We were concerned they were using too much water and that it wasn't clean. They also were not using cotton swabs to clean and dry their ears."
After their stay at the orphanage, the team arrived at College Alain Clerie, a school that had been destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake. Tarps had been set up to replace the collapsed roof, but their coverage was poor and children got wet when it rained. The project team committed to help fix the roof, purchase computers and begin an ongoing sponsorship program for the school.
"I have learned so much from this experience, and it's wonderful to use what I am learning in the classroom to help the Haitian people," Stokes said.
"In the executive master's program classroom, students define a problem, explore the possible lead causes, and consider how to help change behaviors or root causes of the issue. This was evident with the people we saw at the clinic. Dizziness and ear aches were identified as problems, and we discovered the water pooling in people's ears. When we return to Haiti in early 2013, we want to educate more about ear hygiene and suggest ways Haitians can take better care of themselves."
What comes next for the Student Impact Project? The group members will present their ideas and plans to several organizations in the U.S. in an effort to raise funds for their work in Haiti. They hope to take eight or nine students on their next trip and eventually to create five sustainable mobile health clinics in Port au Prince or northern Haiti.
"I am so proud to be a part of this relief effort," Stokes said. "Our work will have a significant and immediate impact, and hopefully a long-lasting positive effect, as well."
|Last updated November 30, 2012|