Mary Baldwin Alums Contribute on the Ground in Haiti

February 16, 2010

Immediately after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, Mary Baldwin University learned of two alumnae filling critical roles in Haiti before and in the aftermath of the disaster:

  • Brittany Bledsoe ’07 has worked as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti since July 2009. She returned to Virginia about a week and a half after the quake due to an illness, but plans to return to Haiti in early February. The alumna stopped by Mary Baldwin to talk with students in Gordon Bowen’s political science courses, explaining her role as a temporary medic and sleeping at her desk — the embassy was virtually undamaged — in the days following the earthquake.
  • Kelly Mann ’99 arrived in Haiti January 20 for one week to serve as a pediatrician, traveling with a group of orthopedic and trauma surgeons from Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Her primary responsibility was post-operative management of children. Mann recently sent a moving account of her experience — excerpted below — and said she hopes to return to continue the work.

The pediatrics tent where Mann did most of her work“I learned that the greatest contribution I could offer was not simply my medical skill, but my ability to be versatile and to do whatever needed doing. While I examined patients and administered medications, I also checked vital signs, changed diapers, and even served food. I helped to develop a system of communication with the various surgical teams and encouraged the re-introduction of paper charting for medical care providers working with our patients. Medical record-keeping has become a time consuming and burdensome millstone around the neck of many U.S. medical care providers. However, its complete absence is a huge detriment to delivery of quality medical care in such a resource poor setting. This was especially true in the early days after the earthquake during which time the concept of continuity of care was little more than a dream.

“Many people have asked me how my education and work experiences helped to prepare me for the challenges we faced there. While I’m not entirely sure that anyone can ever be fully prepared to witness devastation on such a massive scale or see an already struggling nation become even more vulnerable, I believe that having worked and studied in places such as Israel, Kenya, and India offered me a breadth of experience from which to draw. Exposure to these medical systems helped teach me how to make do with what you have, no matter how little that may be.

The team that went with Mann to Haiti“I couldn’t create basic resources like water, oxygen, or electricity; I could only work with what was in front of me. The most important lesson that working in Haiti taught me was acceptance. In a situation in which resources range from scarce to non-existent, aid workers have to accept and be at peace with the limits of our abilities and influence.

“Perhaps it is these same limitations which inspire me to want return to Haiti and help other resource poor nations in the future. As individuals, none of us can end poverty, hunger, and natural disasters. By joining my efforts with the hundreds of other volunteers in Haiti, we were able to effect change that of none of us could have achieved alone.” — Kelly Mann ’99

College Comes Together for Victims of January Haitian Earthquake
From The Cupola, February 2010
By Melissa Jones

When faced with the reality of the destruction caused by the earthquake in Haiti last month, students, faculty, and staff at Mary Baldwin rallied to raise money and awareness for the victims of the disaster.

“Right away some students wanted to plan a May Term service trip,” said Heather Ward, director of international programs. “It was a great impulse, but right now, even some of the best organizations in the world can’t get in and be effective because of the country’s damaged infrastructure. We may plan a trip for winter or spring break next year. I believe that relief efforts will go on for at least the next five years.”

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on January 12, crippling what is already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A week after the natural disaster, officials estimated the casualty count could top 150,000.

On January 20, the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement sponsored a forum about the current situation in Haiti with Linda Kofeldt, a longtime volunteer with the Haitian Outreach Foundation, Jill Siegal of the American Red Cross, and Naianka “Naka” Rigaud ’11, a native of the island nation. In the forum, Siegal stressed that, for the immediate future at least, money — which will be used for buying food, water, and medical supplies — was the best gift one could give to the people of Haiti.

Taking that message to heart, the Spencer Center started a collection to benefit the Red Cross International Response Fund. Within two weeks of the disaster, the center had donated $508, including more than $200 collected at Mary Baldwin basketball games. Students also raised $1,149 for the Red Cross during the Martin Luther King, Jr., candlelight memorial service at Central United Methodist Church. In addition, Professor Allan Moye’s band, The Findells, held a benefit concert at Baja Bean in downtown Staunton and the Ida B. Wells Living Learning Community donated $400 in proceeds from the Kwanzaa Ball to a Haiti relief organization.