Haiti Trip: A big step in the right direction

Michael Aleman (MEAS, 2014)
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Minor: Global Health
Location this summer: Haiti

Although I had originally planned to spend upwards of a month in Haiti, my back problems progressed to the point that I had to call it quits two weeks early. The issue, in part, was that the hospital did not have anyone trained in physical therapy that could help rehabilitate me, nor did they have a specialist who could recommend medications for my pain. Hence, on July 6th I found myself on a flight bound for Ft. Lauderdale and then Chicago.

I’d arrived in Haiti with lots of plans, but I’ve learned that research projects in foreign settings are bound to have unexpected obstacles. In addition to my back, I found that there was simply not much I could contribute to the daily activities of the hospital through simple interviews with staff and the collecting of pertinent information. Rather, in my final week I found myself working with the hospital´s biomedical technicians fixing everything from an unresponsive medical monitor to a laser printer, with lots of mobile phones in between. I also spent a considerable amount of time documenting the status of the facility´s locks and plumbing for Tim Traynor who needed the information to ensure maintenance was undertaken as well as implement a master key system of locks.

In the end I felt that I accomplished little in tangible terms, but an enormous amount in personal development. Though this wasn’t my primary goal, I couldn’t help but feel a little comforted by how much I enjoyed working as a partner to such a good cause and certainly lessened my frustration with my back problems. In the end, I felt the entire trip to be a big step in the right direction.

Some of the photos show the other side of volunteering in a place like Haiti – a Fourth of July celebration, motorcycle trips to a mountaintop community to deliver hats or to see a French citadel and watching a local youth soccer match. As a result of this experience, I’m looking forward to returning to Milot to volunteer once again in the foreseeable future, hopefully on Northwestern University research money.

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