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Lecture discusses methods to combat poverty facing Haiti

Credit: Wikimedia Commons Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS), hosted a series of speakers to discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s message about the importance of receiving equal treatment despite one’s socioeconomic status, and how this applies now to work that is being done in Haiti.
The first two speakers were directly involved with Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS), an organization dedicated to serving the people of Haiti, a country with one of the worst poverty and infant mortality rates in the world.

HAS is set up in the Lower Artibonite Valley in central Haiti and is the only hospital responsible for providing full-time healthcare in an area of 610 square miles. They are responsible for the health needs of an estimated population of 350,000 people. To put that into perspective, there are about 29 different hospitals in Pittsburgh, all of which, together, are responsible for serving under 310,000 people. Founded in 1956, HAS has dedicated itself to providing vital resources to those who would otherwise go without them for sixty years.

The first speaker of the night was Loruchama Ostin. Ostin was born in Haiti and moved to America when she was 17 years old. Eventually becoming a nurse in Pittsburgh, she decided to volunteer at HAS for two weeks in order to learn a little bit more about her birth country and to help those in need using her particular skill set. At the hospital, Ostin and others work to cure diseases that are rarely seen in America, such as tuberculosis or cholera. In addition to this, many also work with a mobile clinic.

The mobile clinic is perhaps the most vital part of the operation; because the area is so large, it is impossible to get everyone to the main hospital unless they are in dire need. Thus, HAS set up a mobile clinic, which travels throughout the region dealing with inoculations, delivering much needed vitamins, and teaching the Haitians about how to recognize the signs of domestic abuse. Ostin finished her discourse by explaining the importance of HAS and the work being done by the health care professionals who are quite literally saving lives.

The next speaker was Ian Rawson, the former Managing Director of HAS and the son of one of the co-founders of the hospital. Rawson firmly believes in the message of the hospital. While addressing how the original founders decided on Haiti to be the location of HAS, Rawson simply stated “Haiti chose us.” While the Haitian population that they serve is by and large impoverished, Rawson stressed that they were never poor in “spiritual life, strength, or courage.”
Through the hard work of its staff and volunteers, HAS has undoubtedly seen results. Polio, measles, and tetanus have been eradicated in the area. Pre and post-natal care rates have risen dramatically, with 100 percent of women having at least one meeting with a healthcare professional before birth, and with 98 percent of women receiving much needed iron supplement pills post birth.

Perhaps the most important factor that they deal with is malnutrition. Living in an extremely impoverished nation, Haitian people face a simple problem: they simply do not have the money for food. Of the amount of people who go to HAS seeking medical care, half of those are children. Of those children, half of them are malnourished. It is easy to pretend that hunger isn’t a problem here in Pittsburgh, but for the children in Haiti, it undoubtedly is one of the biggest issues.

The final speaker of the night was Michael West, a professor of French and francophone studies at Carnegie Mellon University. West first took notice of Haiti from a linguistic perspective, finding the creole language spoken there a fascinating derivation of French. He and his students became interested in the Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Petion-Ville (SOPUDEP), an organization dedicated to helping the Haitian people through education. The students who traveled to Haiti in the spring of 2014 received no financial aid from Carnegie Mellon for the trip and raised all of the expenses through various fundraisers.

Overall, the three speakers sought to echo Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of economic justice. In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. day, they demonstrated the work that their two organizations have been doing in order to make his dream a reality for all people across the globe.

More information on the two organizations can be found at hashaiti.org and sopudep.org.