haiti volunteers busThe power of love on a Haiti service trip

Story and Photos by Emily Gerardo, RN, BSN, Adjunct Clinical Faculty 

They said falling in love should be expected, but that it happens without warning. I wasn’t looking for it. Haiti was a place I had wanted to see, a people I had wanted to meet. I was ready to work there, to be of service.

Photo caption: Driving to pick up patients to transport to the PID clinic for evaluation. Mary Rose Becker ’15, Robert Michaud ’14, and Maddie Fuller ’18 speak with their Haitian translator.

Arriving at Logan International Airport, two Saint Joseph’s College nursing students, who I had taught the previous semester, greeted me. Our trip leader was Mary Becker Rose ‘15, hired as a new grad into her first job. Once a newly registered nurse stepping into an unfamiliar place, she was now leading me as I stepped into my own unfamiliar. Students from diverse disciplines traveled with us; all shared a love for people and a drive to make a difference. Things were off to a great start.

Except for her breathing, the patient lay motionless. Our team had picked her up off of her bed of cardboard and styrofoam in a single room where flies buzzed and thin shafts of sun passed through where the wall did not fit together. She lived on a dump with pigs, dogs, and goats. Over the past week, I had seen only sadness in her eyes, heard only fatigue in her voice.

While I examined the patient’s children, one of our students slipped behind the gauzy curtain and took the mother’s hand in her own. The mother smiled for the first time. A stranger’s hand held her own. A prayer was uttered in a language she did not speak. Peace became suddenly palpable.

I pride myself in the care I provide my patients, yet in that moment, a student reminded me of what was most important.

Medical missions and service trips have taught me more about myself than anything else. From Libya to Haiti, to wherever is next. I have tasted poverty from the inside out–from dark huts with mud walls to a fire boiling worms out of water. I have watched children escape genocide, only to succumb to the bite of a mosquito. I have seen women lying on earthen floors, too weak to move, too scared to speak, too sick to care. Poverty is more than a zone we can draw haphazardly on a map; it is the sights and sounds and smells of empty, of bare, of discarded. It must be stepped into and inhaled.

When poverty stares you in the eye, then you see not only despair, but also hope.

You feel the hope rising up from people who will not be silenced, from those who may be slowed down, but who never stop dreaming. Even from the surface of a dump, a community rises, one family at a time.

Was it the people or the place? Was it the food or the black-black coffee? Certainly both students and alumni made it what it was for me: a commitment to a vision of Mercy. We are caring, robust, and fierce warrior advocates who fight for love and for life. We are tired and humble, relentlessly helping people who are struggling for another tomorrow.

Haiti is a place that impacted each of us more than what we could have imagined. Many of us are still unpacking, long after our luggage has been unzipped and put away.

College Service Trips

SJC nursing student providing medical exam on a Haitian childCollege service trips offer invaluable experiences for students, regardless of their area of study. With its dual focus, students from any program can help Haitian communities with home building and can participate in clinical activities, under the supervision of licensed nurses. In six years of nursing, Emily Gerardo has served on eight medical missions. She has co-founded a non-profit that plans and coordinates annual medical missions to Zanzibar. She has worked for Doctors Without Borders, managing outpatient clinics in refugee camps in Africa and executing vaccination campaigns there. She will return to Haiti as a trip leader for Saint Joseph’s College this winter. You can learn more about Service Trips at sjcme.edu/service-trips.

Photo caption: Sophomore nursing student Molly Cobb performing a respiratory assessment on a young boy. On this day, PID set up a mobile clinic in a community church, where our team evaluated over 50 patients. Because trash is burned near the home and cooking is done over an open fire, there are many patients with respiratory complaints.