Three Years Ago: How Much Can Be Accomplished On A Shoestring

By Karen L. Kwong, M.D., FACS.

Jacmel, Haiti. I was struck recently by an article in The Huffington Post by Jim Luce where he noted how little aid results one sees in Haiti today, yet how much can be accomplished on a shoestring budget.   I know from personal experience that this is true.   Our medical team recently went to Cayes Jacmel in Haiti at the request of Dr. Luxo Philippe.   Although many others, like you, had been going for years.   This was my first trip.

Belle Anse was not hit as hard as other part of Haiti, but the need there was immediate.

Centre Medical Emmanuel, founded by Dr. Brinson McGowan and run by Dr. Louis (“Luxo”) Philippe in Cayes Jacmel, was the only standing hospital in the area.   St. Michel’s Hospital had collapsed and a group was working there in tents, later to be replaced by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).   We worked at logistics with the U.N. in Jacmel the weekend we got in, ten days after the earthquake of January 12.   I wanted to jump a transport to Leogane, given the reports of damage there, but it was best we kept our team together.   At any rate, we treated many patients both with surgical and medical needs, using the infrastructure and people of Haiti.

University students came to volunteer their services as translators for us.   I could usually get by with my high school French for simple things like dressing changes.   But I got to know our translators.   Bekert DeCollines was a first year engineering students.   He lost his professors.   Allan Saintot was three months from finishing his linguistics degree and believes all the efforts and money are for naught.   He lives in a tent that one of our nurses left him, with the headlamp I gave him – the bulb is going out.   It won’t function soon.   Steven had gone to the Dominican Republic, but with no work to be found, returned home.

Suzanne Ganote supplied Bekert DeCollines with much-needed supplies to start our new school.

They are wonderful, wonderful students and as Jim wrote, want to finish their studies and want to be a part of Haiti’s future.   Allan asked for $2,500 to get a visa and find work and hopefully school in Mexico.   He did not have specifics and I worry, having lived and worked on the border in Juarez about his safety and future there, but he did not have the money for that.


Our team looked into scholarships in Oregon, but the closest I got was the least rich school Portland State, and we missed the deadline, but also not sure how he would do for living expenses, even if he stayed with us.   I don’t know if he’s taken the necessary tests such as TOEFL.   I would really like to find a place for him.   Perhaps he would do best staying in the Caribbean since he was so far along with his studies.   Of course, I would like to find scholarships for them all.

Our medical team at Jacmel airport following the massive earthquake that hit Haiti.

As for a ”˜little going a long way’ and the ”˜power of one,’ Bekert and I have managed to start a school in Belle Anse.   I would add to this: “It started with the power of one (or two), but ultimately became the power of the community: the Haitians knowing their needs and how best to accomplish them for their community, and the generosity of their U.S. partners who wanted to do their part to help with donations.”

Linda Van Tassel, R.N., with three of the men who helped with translation during our mission.

I don’t want to minimize the subsequent response of generous people, both on Haitian side, for their time and wonderful altruistic goals, and on the U.S. side – people who wanted to help, despite the fact we were not a big named organization, but something started from scratch.

Bekert and his university student buddies began teaching these students, aged 5-15, and now we had up to 65 students – and another 25 young adults interested in computer skills learning.   They would like to also focus on English, French, and Spanish teaching along with art projects, as they felt these skills have helped them for a career.

Running the clinic at Centre Medical Emmanuel in Cayes Jacmel kept us very busy.

The mayors have seen what we have done and are quite appreciative of our effort, because they know also how important it is for the community and future of these people.   Bekert needed $500 and $77 for the first tax to buy land, which is not easy to get, and the landowner was willing to sell for this discounted price because of the cause.   The people, though, would not be able to afford it.

You tell me: Can a much-needed children’s project in Haiti be funded with quilt raffles alone?

I e-mailed my friends and people at work.   Before long, we had a quilt raffled and donations to support the land purchase, tax, and the first session of classes of teachers.   The session has ended and they are arranging some soccer before the next set of classes.   They are clearing the land.   We were able to get them also a printer, pens, pencils and a pencil sharpener.   They need things like paper, but you know, it’s not like you can just go to the Office Depot in Haiti.   In fact postal doesn’t even go to Belle Anse when it is running.   I got them a digital camera so they can document for our website and donors.   My sister made the website.

Two girls are doing much better at the Centre Medical Emmanuel in Cayes Jacmel.

Our next quilt is in the making; I have someone lined up to make gift baskets for fund raising as well.   We’ve accomplished a lot directly to people with our $2,500 we raised with our Haitian partners.   So we are able to help in this community and for the students there.   They have some laptops as well and I will bring another when I go back in October I will make my first trip after our medical mission to see our new school in person.

Clearing the land required strong will – and strong backs!   Luckily our local team had both.

We are getting by with our homespun almost-bake sale type fundraising.   But what we have not been able to accomplish is finding education for our university students.   Universities are on no one’s top list, yet these are the minds Haiti will need.   The timeline might be five years for universities and the losses of the teachers is harder since its advanced level.

Children in the local school benefit from our medical community programming.

I’ve tried writing Georgetown, Clinton Foundation, Dartmouth, having heard possibilities there – but got dead ends.   Actually, Dartmouth and Georgetown did answer back and had a lot of compassion, but it appears as if our students were not going to be able to easily qualify for their programs.   I would really like to secure some sort of future to continue our university students’ education.   Allan was almost finished with his linguistics degree.

Locations that have French or Spanish speaking schools would be easier, as I think depending on the university training he was getting in Haiti, that he would need more ESL classes and almost start over if he were in the U.S., although his English is ok, than say, if he’d gotten a spot at non-U.S. universities.   I think it would make more sense for students like Bekert to complete university schooling in the States if it were available, since he was a first year student just starting out.

Haitian society is organized into families, soccer clubs – we work with whatever organization exists.

Our school committee there is made up of the young students in Haiti, and it is Haitian-run.   Although we have donations now from around the states and support of the people of Belle Anse, it is essentially running based on Bekert and me.   It is hard to ask my friend to help more than once a year, but the community knows we won’t have money flowing in at all times.   I’m working on seeing if we can link with a Seattle school project as sister schools and pen pals and gain more fund support that way as well.

At the end of the day, it’s about the young Haitian lives that are being changed.

I’ve traveled around quite a bit. My husband and I have done surgical care in Guatemala ”” and he’s now in Afghanistan – but there’s something about Haiti and its people that really captures the heart.   I really want to see the students I met there and bonded with so closely move forward with their academic careers.   I know how lucky I have been to achieve the goals I set for myself years ago.   If you know of anyone who can help us, or support the work of Jim Luce and Orphans International Worldwide, let me know!

The author with a new friend in the Southern Province of Haiti.

Originally published in The Stewardship Repot, August 18, 2010.

Related Stories by Jim Luce:

Trip to Haiti #22: Some Changes at Bottom, Same Old Stuff at Top

Eyewitness: Haiti Has Improved Somewhat in Last Two Months

Live from Leogane: Orphans International Partners with Haitian School Founded by Orphan

Live from Leogane: College Prep Leadership Training Begins for our Orphan Mentors

Airplane Interview with the American Ambassador to Haiti

Latino College Students Fund Haitian High School Graduates to Prepare for Chinese University

NYC’s Japan American Association Funds Haitian Students Dream of International Study

Film Shown at U.N. Donor Conference on Collapse of Haiti’s Presidential Palace

Connecting Disaster Relief Through Technology After Earthquake in Haiti

Fonkoze Helps Rebuild Haiti through Microfinance Following Earthquake

Live Report: No Spiders to Bite Me in My Pre-Dawn Haitian Shower

Live Report: 200 Haitian Earthquake Survivors Interviewed for Ten Chinese Scholarships

Live Report: Tremendous Progress Accomplished in Six Long Haitian Days

Live Report: Orphans International Worldwide Goes Live in Leogane, Haiti

U.N. Blue Helmets from Sri Lanka Come to Our Assistance in Haiti

Live Report: Cement Dust Coats All of Haiti, as 9/11 Dust Coated New York

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The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation ( There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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