Piles of rubble and garbage and streams of fetid water remain along the streets of Port-au-Prince. Tent cities have replaced neighborhoods. Haiti’s government still struggles with how to rebuild nearly three years after a catastrophic earthquake crushed the already exploited Caribbean country.
On her second trip to Haiti earlier this month, Mary Baldwin University staff member Page Hearn was able to see past this seeming hopelessness to the joy among the faces of some of the world’s poorest, hungriest, and sickest people.
“I learned more from the people of Haiti than I could ever teach them,” said Hearn, who works as a housekeeper at Mary Baldwin. “[Despite their circumstances] they have the highest quality of life. They have smiles on their faces. And they have nothing.”
Hearn led 14 volunteers on a medical mission to Haiti through Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville. The group ran clinics in remote areas of the country — the villages of Cherident and Monchil — where medical supplies are scarce and the need is unlimited. Hearn relied heavily on skills honed back home as a volunteer EMT (and late-night Creole lessons) as she worked the triage unit — keeping order, assessing ailments, and leading patients to available doctors and nurses.
“I like being able to see every patient,” she said. “I like that responsibility.”
In addition to medical supplies, the group brought clothes and, thanks to a donation from Mary Baldwin’s athletics department, soccer uniforms and soccer balls.
Carrying a bag full of kid-friendly surprises, Hearn earned the nickname “Mary Poppins,” among many Haitian children. She handed out scores of little rubber bouncy balls, stickers, lollipops, and bottles of fingernail polish. Such novelty items are unheard of in post-quake Haiti, where food and clothing are hard to come by for thousands of orphaned children who are raising themselves.
A soul well suited for mission work, Hearn sees hope in an exploited country like Haiti. She said she tries not to dwell on the chaos of places like Port-au-Prince, or the mob mentality that sometimes emerges from the lines of people seeking help. Instead, she sees a positive future.
“It’s amazing,” Hearn said. “It’s my favorite place in the world. I can show you exactly the spot where I want to build a house and retire.”
For the more immediate future, however, Hearn is researching the possibility of adopting one of the orphans she met on her first trip to Haiti in 2011. Her own 8-year-old son is practicing Creole in the hopes of joining her on a future mission trip. And she hopes to organize a student visit to Haiti during Spring Break. Such a journey would be ideal for students involved with Mary Baldwin’s Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement, which offers opportunities for service, study, and volunteer abroad.
“I would like to see every American travel to Haiti,” Hearn said. “It would make our own country a better place.”