Pre-Health and Haiti

November 7, 2016

by Duncan Pearce, C'17

When I first began working for Zanmi Kafe in Haiti I was primarily conducting baseline surveys on farms throughout the rural zone known as Bois Jolie. The Zanmi Kafe research project works to reforest the severely deforested region of Bois Jolie by planting coffee and other shade trees on participating farmers’ land. At the time, though, I didn’t yet fully understand how an agroreforestation project would relate to the career in medicine that I was considering. But I knew that doing something I loved was more important than trying to build the perfect resume. So I signed on to work in a country that intrigued me, knowing that at the very least I would surely walk away from the summer with plenty of stories to tell.

Oddly enough, that first summer I spent working on coffee farms became the single most significant experience that encouraged me to pursue a career in the medical field. Even though the work I was doing wasn’t directly related to medicine, I found myself constantly observing our research through a medical lens. And the more time I spent in Haiti, the better I understood how the research we were conducting was tied to the public health of the region.

Ultimately, I realized that the only way to uplift these people from their immense poverty is by addressing the root causes of their situation. Without trees, there is no soil, and without soil, crops simply cannot grow. By working to reforest Haiti so farmers can once again grow food, we’re addressing the greatest threat to public health these people currently face. So while my research doesn’t involve treating patients in a hospital, it has allowed me a much better perspective on the complexity involved in providing medical relief.

As the years have gone by, I’ve been given a greater amount of autonomy over the research that I conduct. And during my most recent summer, I decided to more closely examine the health problems currently afflicting the people of rural Haiti. By conducting baseline health surveys with Zanmi Kafe farmers, I was able to gain valuable information that will ultimately help us to quantify the long term effects of our reforestation project on farmers’ health. I hope that in the years to come more pre-health students will use their knowledge of medicine to further develop this ongoing research. The greatest reward for us as a team would be to look back and know that our reforestation efforts have truly improved the livelihoods of the Haitians that we’ve worked with.

Duncan's experience led to our new Zanmi Lastante Medical Internship in Mirebalais, Haiti.


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