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Union College alumni provide critical support in post-earthquake Haiti

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When a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck southwest Haiti on August 14, 2021, the international community rushed to send aid. But for three Union College alumni, sending in supplies wasn’t enough. International Rescue and Relief (IRR) alumni Jani Schumacher, Justin Dina and Lauren Lombard decided to volunteer with Educáre, an organization run by Haiti, to provide medical assistance to the most affected by the disaster. Schumacher, a paramedic, assisted the doctors with medical care, while Dina coordinated the team’s mobilization and other logistics from the ground in Haiti. Although Lombard was working remotely, she was able to use her expertise in communication, organization and fundraising to aid Educáre’s efforts.

The medical team penetrated into the rural mountains surrounding the epicenter where aid was badly needed and less available. Schumacher said, “No one went out there because if you went out, you had to hike in the mountains. One day, we went about eight miles with everyone else. [of] Our clinical supplies to create a clinic atop Mt. By working with local communities, we have been able to go to the areas of greatest need. Our group went out and met people wherever they were.”

Educáre was founded after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Lombard went to Haiti for seven weeks to help with relief efforts and made numerous contacts with the Haitians she worked with. When they formed an organization to provide better education to children in the area, it joined the cause. Since then, Lombard has continued to volunteer with Educáre. She works for a nonprofit she co-founded called, We Feed, which provides access to food in her Minnesota community. Lombard introduced our Dena to Educáre’s president, Jameson Leo, five years ago. Much of Dena’s work has been with Singing Rooster, an organization that provides support to small Haitian-owned coffee plantations.

When the 2021 earthquake struck, Educáre focused on disaster relief to meet the country’s current needs. Dina called Schumacher, whom he met when their time on the IRR program at Union College overlapped, and invited her to come join the team. Their travel plans were delayed by Tropical Storm Grace, which hit Haiti two days after the earthquake. However, they were able to join the team of local Haitian doctors and begin holding emergency clinics within days of the disaster. “We were in the unique position of being an organization run by Haitians and staffed by Haitian volunteers,” Lombard said. “Everyone, except the Americans who joined, were locals. They spoke the language and were very knowledgeable about what the risks were and how to respond to them. As an organization that isn’t just outside aid, we’ve made an impact on the local community.”

Jana Schumacher and Justin Dina stand with Team Educáre, a Haitian-run organization focused on creating real, long-term positive change in the lives of students and their local community. [Photo provided by Union College]

Because the area the team was working in was so far away, they still saw unhealed wounds several weeks after the earthquake. “We’ve done a lot of wound care,” Schumacher said. “This was my main job; I did a wound debridement. When I started, there were about a week of injuries, and by the time I left I was treating three to four weeks of injuries and paying no attention. We had to remove and clean the wounds And let it begin to heal. [For] Some we give stitches if they are not badly disfigured, and then we give antibiotics.” The main concern for Educáre’s team was the scarcity of antibiotics. Many patients had horrific infections from their untreated wounds. The demand for antibiotics has never been greater than the supply. Not only, but moving the once-available stock to where it’s needed is also made difficult by the damaged infrastructure.Transporting supplies into the mountains of Haiti is always a challenge, and the earthquake and storm may complicate matters by destroying parts of the road network, as well as disabling towers cells.

“Because the towers were damaged, communications were very limited and unreliable, which made coordinating our relief efforts difficult,” Dina said. Despite the challenges, Educáre has treated more than 1,700 patients in 12 different clinics. Working with HERO, an organization that provides medical flights, and the US Coast Guard, they arranged for the airlift of eight of the most seriously injured people to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, for hospitalization.

“Our first airlift was for a five-year-old girl named Island,” Lombard said. A brick fell on her head and [it] split open. She started getting infected, then an aftershock, a wall fell on her and hit her. Her head was completely slit. We were able to fly her to the capital and take her to the best hospital in the country with the best neurosurgeon. It took several days to get her into surgery because they had to go through a number of tests, labs, and examinations. In the process, they found out she had a brain tumor.”

“The most amazing thing is that the tumor protected her from serious brain damage when the wall fell on her, and the wall fell on her that allowed her tumor to be discovered and treated,” Lombard continued. “She had surgery, and Educáre was committed to covering her medical expenses. However, she was covered by an earthquake relief grant. She is at home now and doing well, and Educáre will be helping her get to her follow-up visits. We feel she is being saved to do great things in the future. This is the case with all the children Educáre has worked with.”

Lombard said her education at the Federation helped prepare her for the challenges of working in disaster relief. “I paired communications and international rescue and relief, which ended up being a really good combination,” Lombard said. “I didn’t expect to use the things we studied later, but it’s straightforward [impacted] Things I ended up doing. The problem-solving aspects of how to deal with the crisis … were certainly highlighted in the things we were studying and doing.”

Dina found his passion for working with local organizations while studying in Nicaragua as part of the International Federation for Relief and Rescue programme. He said, “While I was there, I met Dr. Caldera, who sadly passed away while I was in Haiti. He was a local doctor who worked with Union teaching IRR students. He was a great inspiration to me and taught me a lot about working with local organizations. … I also learned a lot as well. From the IRR response to Hurricane Harvey. Working in emergency management during that response helped prepare me and develop my skills.”

Although Educáre’s team faced many difficulties, Dena, Lombard and Schumacher did not pass up the opportunity on the world. “Although we were constrained by unreliable transportation, poor communication channels, and lack of supplies, we were able to do more with less,” said Dina.

Lombard summed up her experiences, saying, “Anytime you respond to a disaster, it’s uncomfortable, stressful, and challenging, but you see the people you can influence and everyone makes it worthwhile again.”

This article was originally published on the North American Division News website.

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