When Mokena resident Shaun Harty flew into Port-au-Prince in March 2010, he faced the lingering devastation of the hurricane that struck Haiti’s capital city the previous January.
“Every building was just wrecked,” said University of Iowa senior Gabe Lancaster, who made the trip with Harty. “Even the capital building.”
Now, just a few years later, the current University of Illinois at Chicago medical student has returned to Haiti on five separate occasions, providing healthcare and conducting research in his efforts to serve the country’s poor.
From Iowa City to Rural Haiti
Harty became interested in volunteering in Haiti when he was an undergraduate Chemistry major working as an emergency room technician at the University of Iowa. There, he met the emergency room doctor, Dr. Christopher Buresh, who is also a co-director of the Community Health Initiative.
Buresh invited Harty to join the March 2010 medical team and Harty’s interest in Haiti and his desire to bring medical resources to its people has only grown since.
During his first trip to Haiti, Harty worked out of Léogâne, a Port-au-Prince suburb southwest of the city. During the trip, he provided medical care in a field hospital and in remote mobile clinics. Harty delivered four babies during his time in Léogâne and his team treated more than 150 people each day for injuries and conditions caused by the earthquake and its aftermath.
That summer, Harty returned to Léogâne to continue to work in the field hospital and mobile clinics.
The following summer, he went back as part of a needs assessment team working to prevent child malnourishment by encouraging conversation about nutrition among Haitian mothers.
Working for Water and Light
Harty recently returned from a summer on the coastal village of Arcahaie, conducting a needs assessment of the village’s water supply. During his time in Arcahaie, Harty was the sole researcher in the village and lived with a Haitian family who spoke only Creole.
Harty determined that every water source in the area was contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria. He addressed the problem by coordinating efforts to treat the water by distributing isolated containers, each of which had a spigot and cover. Villagers then added chlorine solution to the stored water to keep it clean. Harty hopes that cleaning the water will serve as a preventative health measure.
While working in Arcahaie, Harty also experimented with the installation of natural lighting systems. He filled plastic bottles with water and chlorine and installed them in the villagers’ roofs. Sunrays refracted through the water to generate the same power as a 50-watt light bulb.
Before leaving Haiti, Harty taught three recent college graduates to install the system. It has since become a commonly used lighting option in the village.
“Nothing Can Prepare You”
Despite Harty's passion for his work in Haiti and his love of the nation’s people, adjusting to such a drastic environmental change is not without its challenges.
“Pictures really do no justice,” said Harty, of his first visit to Haiti. “Nothing can prepare you for what you see.”
Although the country has drastically improved since the 2010 earthquake, the water is still unsafe and many people live in tents.
Harty also noted the importance of being culturally aware when working in a foreign country. Consulting with community leaders, obtaining their approval on major decisions and working with villagers instead of imposing ideas on them are all critical components of a project’s success.
As Harty continues medical school, he hopes to specialize in emergency medicine and become an emergency room doctor, while continuing his work in Haiti.
“I envision myself working here and traveling a lot,” said Harty. “After each time I come back, I have a stronger desire to return.”
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