Haiti Just After the Quake

From grassroots fundraising to working with cancer patients, a former volunteer shares vivid memories of loss and joy in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
January 9, 2020 - NPH International

Former volunteer Avriel Burlot spent loads of quality time with the children at NPH Haiti.

I was first introduced to NPH Haiti (also known as NPFS or Nos Petits Frčres et Soeurs in French) while a student at Gonzaga University. I was involved with the University Ministry and the director, Fr. Craig Hightower, was a former volunteer with NPFS. He often told stories of his time in Haiti and shared stories about children that—though I did not know it at the time—I would have the honor of meeting someday. When Fr. Hightower’s niece became a volunteer with NPFS during my sophomore year, his stories multiplied and we all became huge fans of Molly’s blog and her stories about life in Haiti.

Molly died in the earthquake on 12 January 2010. When I heard about the earthquake, my first thought was to find Fr. Hightower and see if he was okay, if Molly was okay, and if there was anything I could do. Molly went missing in the rubble for days. Though those days seemed long for me, I couldn’t imagine how Fr. Hightower felt. The only thing I could do was organize, help, act.

A few of us students close to Fr. Hightower organized an initiative on campus to raise money, in addition to other fundraising efforts happening on campus. We quickly connected with two nearby universities and signed up the most talented student bands and singers we could find to perform. We pulled it all together in just a few days. On the night of the concert, we raised a couple thousand dollars. In retrospect, it wasn’t much money, but it was something. Back in 2010, this was the first crisis to utilize text messaging to make donations. Social media, though it was new, was a handy means of promoting events and fundraisers.

One year later I applied to be a volunteer with NPH. I was accepted as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic, just on the other side of Haiti. I loved the DR (as we called it) and I loved being a volunteer. I was a Communication Officer and a caregiver, but after a month, I was offered the chance to work on a project that partnered NPH DR and NPFS Haiti. I was so excited I couldn’t accept fast enough. I had studied French in high school and university, so picking up Creole was fairly easy.

I worked with a program called Santa Maria that supported St. Damien Pediatric Hospital cancer patients. At the time—and I believe it is still true—Haiti did not offer radiation therapy to cancer patients. So, St. Damien identified patients that needed radiation treatments and arranged for the child and one parent to travel to the Dominican Republic, live at NPH DR, and receive radiation therapy in the capital Santo Domingo.

Working with this program was life changing. I loved the kids I met, the parents were great, and cancer did not stop doing anything and everything they loved. My job focused on making patients and parents feel at home and a part of the NPH family, while making sure their medical procedures and healthcare experience went smoothly.

I visited Haiti for the first time in January 2012. Due to my work with the Santa Maria program, I continued to visit every three or four months for the rest of my 18 months in the Dominican Republic. Each visit to Haiti was different, beautiful, and challenging. I made friends, became more familiar with the NPFS grounds, and each time I learned more to make sure that I was serving the Santa Maria kids to the best of my ability while they were in the DR.

When my time at NPH Dominican Republic came to an end, I was approached by the International Communications department to consider a position in NPH Haiti as a communications specialist. I would train a local employee to fill the communications officer role for all NPH Haiti programs. I went for six months and stayed for almost nine. It was an intense period living in Haiti, but one I will never forget. It impacted my life in more ways than I could have imagined. I loved my communications role, and I was able to stay connected to the Santa Maria program by continuing to work with patients living in NPFS. I saw the transformational work of the Special Needs program and learned firsthand how strong, resilient, and brave the Haitian people are.

During my time in Haiti, a political revolt occurred and demonstrations were a regular occurrence. It made me mad then. And now, to see the same forces driving the same events make me mad all over again. I am mad because of how unfair and unjust it is to mothers who want to get their kids to school, to men who just want to work to provide for their families, to the expectant mothers trying to get to the hospital to give birth, and they can’t. None of them can.

I miss Haiti every day, especially the kids. If I could, I would be in Haiti right now. It will always be in my life and in my heart. I would love to go back someday. I support godchildren in Haiti who are getting older and about to graduate high school. So until I can return, I will continue supporting Haiti in any way I can.

My favorite memories are making paper masks for carnival in the cancer ward with the kids. We put on a pseudo carnival parade and celebration in the room with their parents. I also fondly remember the soccer games in FWAL (Father Wasson’s Angels of Light program) until it was too dark to see. I remember Christmas in Kenscoff with all the kids in NPFS present and bundled up because it was so cold. We all watched intensely the Christmas talent show put on by the kids for their housemates.

It was a lovely time—sometimes difficult, but always rewarding. My prayers go out to Haiti. I hope to return one day soon. And I pray peace comes to the people of Haiti.

Avriel Burlot   
Former Volunteer, NPH Dominican Republic and NPH Haiti




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