“Mwen pa aksepte sa. Nou bezwen mande pou kondisyon yo chanje!” That was my response to the driver at Saint Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs last year as he mentioned he didn’t think there was a way for the country to move forward. It loosely translates to, “I don’t accept this. We need to challenge the status quo and ask for different conditions.” I explained to him that just 20 years ago, I lived in Tanzania, and I never imagined where I was going to end up. All I knew was that I wanted more. He sighed, and I understood that sigh.
The truth is that I believe all of us have the ability to make impactful changes, even if they are small. In the end, it all counts.
I left Haiti at the end of last year after completing my assignment at Saint Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs. The previous year, I worked for Partners in Health in Mirebalais, Haiti. The last two years allowed me to gain key public health experiences while working in a low-resource setting. I understand Haiti has faced many challenges in the past, such as the 2010 earthquake and the cholera crisis that ensued. People constantly hear about Haiti in the news due to sporadic political protests.
However, for me Haiti was more than just a project or a place to work. In many ways, I considered it my home. I was also lucky enough to travel to various parts of the country, which enabled me to see the different worlds that exist within that country: the world of the wealthy versus the world of the poor, the areas with rich forests versus the city slums, the parts with diverse culture versus those with heavy globalization. My love and appreciation for the country and its complexities increased as I traveled more.
In many ways, I could draw analogies between my life in Tanzania and my life in Haiti. Perhaps, due to that, I was always destined for Haiti.
This summer I joined Konbit Sante, and in my short time with the organization, I have already learned a lot of lessons, including:
I take pride in what Konbit Sante stands for. Instead of building and setting up our own healthcare facilities, Konbit Sante has been working with existing Haitian healthcare facilities in the northern region of the country. We work closely with public hospitals that are managed by the Ministry of Public Health and Population. Over the years, Konbit Sante has also identified champions on the ground who lead and manage private healthcare facilities. We take our goal of capacity strengthening seriously at Konbit Sante, in that we continue to work closely with our healthcare partners in Cap-Haitien as they lead and manage their own hospitals and clinics.
In many ways, this position has come at a very opportune time. The world has changed. For many of us, there will now be a pre- and a post-pandemic world. For those of us who work in public health, this is a seminal moment. Until now, people asked whether I was a doctor or a nurse. I always explained that I am a public health professional and that we work to strengthen healthcare systems. In one way, the pandemic has made it easier for me to explain my profession. Due to COVID-19, more people understand what public health professionals do.
The recent victory of Kamala Harris, a daughter of immigrants, has shown me that people who look like me can be in places where change-making decisions are made. Harris is the first Indian American and African American woman in that position. Many of us can relate to her, and I for one can certainly see myself in her. It is not only inspiring to see her as the vice president-elect of the United States of America; it has ignited fire under my feet to continue to strive for more.
In my new position as Executive Director of Konbit Sante, I will be at the forefront of public health, evaluating public health systems to understand how to provide quality healthcare to ALL people, developing solutions with local counterparts, and leading teams to implement the solutions. I will be both a public health soldier and a public health leader.
As we move forward as an organization, we will continue to build upon the projects the organization has supported over the years such as strengthening the pediatric services at Justinien University Hospital, supporting the community health works at Fort Saint Michel, providing pre-packaged meals at Unite de Lutte pour la Sante’s malnutrition clinic, and providing strategic guidance on financial management at the Haitian Baptist Convention Hospital.
We are also eager to set up new initiatives such as partnering with nearby universities and colleges to develop internship and volunteer programs. We hope to enhance our developmental goals by increasing funding through grants and local agencies. We look forward to building relationships with like-minded organizations that believe in improving the quality of healthcare services in communities with low resources.
I would like to share some basic reflections I have had while transitioning into my new role:
I invite each of you to learn about our work and think about ways to contribute and collaborate. If you’re interested in learning more, please visit our website. Through these blogs, I hope to provide a glimpse of our work on the ground in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Please stay tuned as I continue to write more in the future.