One way to spend spring break: aiding people in Haiti

Mar 4, 2018

A group of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth nursing students expect to face reverse culture shock and low-tech living as they prepare to travel to Haiti to lend their medical expertise to island residents.

During spring break, eight students and their professor will work in a medical center in Haiti and build houses for those in need of shelter through a partnership with the university and Partners in Development.

It is one option offered to nursing students as part of the community health nursing clinical course for upperclassmen. Other options include a more local experience, and there is also a group of students going to the Azores in Portugal.

Several students have already been on similar trips. Some visited Costa Rica in the past and others have been to Haiti, but through a different program and company.

Ann-Melissa Pognon recently went to Haiti to visit family during her winter break from college. She is looking forward to going back and seeing family. There is one challenge she had to overcome though.

“The technology is not advanced as it is here, so adjusting to not being able to have technology all day long or to have Internet access everywhere you go was kind of different, but it was also very relaxing because you were disconnected,” Pognon said.

The first trip to Haiti happened six months after a major earthquake struck the country in 2010. A faculty member brought students down during the summer to aid residents impacted by the earthquake. From there spurred the idea to continue service work by implementing it as a class.

When students go down this year, they will be bringing extra supplies for Haitians. The group has raised over $2,000 for vitamins and other supplies through GoFundMe. Students are also gathering items like toys for children, who have well-child checkups. Carolyn Dorr will be bringing down Beanie Babies. The class expects to see between 200 and 250 children.

Some challenges students have faced so far are the various vaccinations they need, and packing. Each student is only allowed one personal item and a backpack of clothing.

Many students expressed how the excitement to help the community exceeds their nervousness. Several students noted hearing about the class freshman year and immediately gained interest.

“Watching all the other grades ahead of us go on it was inspiring,” Sierra Howie said. “I just knew that it is a once in a lifetime trip. You can go on vacations whenever you want, but when we have the faculty to bring us and the resources, and just being there and being able to help people, you don’t know when this will come by you again.”

Dorr said after her last trip she felt angry at home when someone would complain about what they have. It’s part of reverse-culture shock, when adjusting to being home causes emotional and psychological distress. For Dorr, she’s reminding herself she can only do so much.

“So going down this year is about focusing on what I can do, and what I can do when I come back, and remembering that I went on this trip but not everyone went on this trip,” said Dorr.

Professor Paula Walsh has been going to Haiti since 2013. She is amazed at the amount of respect and passion the students already have for the trip.

“These students are really just displaying such incredible empathy already, which makes me really happy,” Walsh said. “Going down with an open mind and open heart that’s where they’re going to have the most learning.”