Several months after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I called up J/P HRO, a relief organization founded by Sean Penn following the disaster. I wanted to volunteer to serve as a primary care physician (Haiti did not have an infrastructure for neuropsychiatry, my specialty), and I spent ten days volunteering in their clinics, treating common illnesses like worms, headaches, high blood pressure, and acid reflux.
In some ways, I was prepared. I knew that I was not going to help much in my field of expertise; in my experience, even in the United States, good mental health care is becoming a luxury that is unreachable for those who need it the most.
But working with this organization gave me a simultaneous sense of frustration and accomplishment. During my time there I was able to more fully understand the lack of health care for the average Haitian. The trip gave me insight into the realities of my people, and it also gave me greater perspective, I felt, enabling me to compare the country I grew up in to the one which had now been devastated by disease and disaster.
On the other hand, I was the only volunteer physician of Haitian descent; the rest came from Europe, Canada, and the United States. As the “returning son,” I was grateful for the opportunity to give back to my parents’ country, my ancestral land.
When I returned home to the United States, I started thinking about how I could become further involved in the Haitian community, and I knew I had to begin by exploring my own story.