Serving Street Medicine with a Smile
LAW students volunteer for week in Haiti
In the slideshow above, Jonathan Glick (LAW’11) describes a medical mission trip to Haiti he, Marc Aspis (LAW’10), and Joel Schmidt (LAW’10) made with the Puerto Rican nonprofit Iniciativa Comunitaria.
Marc Aspis had two things on his mind while preparing to graduate from law school this past May: final exams and searching for a great job.
But when he overheard a student say she was heading to Haiti to help victims left homeless by the earthquake that struck there in January, Aspis—an avid traveler—couldn’t resist. He asked her for more information.
Just a week later, Aspis (LAW’10) and two classmates, Joel Schmidt (LAW’10) and Jonathan Glick (LAW’11), were on a plane to Port-au-Prince to work for a week with Iniciativa Comunitaria, a Puerto Rican nonprofit that provides direct medical services to communities in need.
“We had absolutely no idea what we would be getting into over there,” Schmidt says.
The three rode with Iniciativa Comunitaria to rural and urban communities with two goals in mind: to administer street-level medical care and bring cheer to a community struck by utter disaster.
Among the three, only Glick is a trained emergency medical technician. But that didn’t mean Schmidt and Aspis escaped scrubbing up. They helped triage patients, sort medicine, and maintain crowd control and took a crash course on disinfecting wounds and giving injections, after first practicing on mangos.
Volunteer doctors and trained medical personnel working with Inciativa Comunitaria provided free care to patients suffering everything from grossly infected wounds to urinary tract infections to apparent post-traumatic stress disorder. For some, it was the first medical care they had ever received.
Glick recalls two extreme cases he treated that still haunt him. One was a five-year-old boy whose eye infection was so severe flies had to be plucked from his socket. The other was a two-year-old girl who was treated for a sexually transmitted disease.
“In Haiti, there’s no police to call, no social worker to call,” Glick says. “You treat it the best you can, but there’s no back up.”
And Schmidt recalls one 18-year-old man who approached him with an evident eye infection, begging to be seen. But because he didn’t have a ticket in advance, the volunteers were unable to see him. “We had to turn him away, knowing that he could die.”
When Schmidt and Aspis weren’t providing rudimentary medical assistance, they provided emotional relief for children at the clinics. The two played games, sang songs, and danced with the kids to music blaring from a mobile sound system attached to one of the nonprofit’s vans.
“Our job was bringing a smile to children’s faces when they didn’t have anything to smile about,” Schmidt says.
During one stop at a rural mountain village, the BU students passed out notebooks and crayons donated from a class at the Maimonides School in Brookline. The gift received a mixed reaction. “A lot of the kids didn’t know how to hold a crayon,” Aspis says.
Each night the trio returned to a small compound and lived in conditions similar to those of the earthquake victims. They slept in tents, had no running water or electricity, and subsisted on rice and beans for dinner.
The images the BU students saw during their week in Haiti remain indelible, Schmidt says. “I have never seen anything like this,” says Schmidt, who has traveled to hardscrabble countries in Africa and Asia. “The amount of destruction was really beyond overwhelming. I don’t even think a war zone could look so bad.”
Yet it wasn’t that part of their trip that made the biggest impression on the three: it was the resilience of the Haitian people.
“It’s easy, after a disaster, to just think about the past and live in the past and not move forward,” Aspis says. “The people had a hard life, but they all wanted to rebuild and had a positive vision for the future.”
Days after returning to the United States, Aspis and Schmidt graduated from law school and began studying for their bar exams. Glick flew to California to work at a prestigious law firm for the summer. But the three say they have had a hard time shaking the culture shock they experienced upon their return.
“There’s definitely a transition of going from a place where people have nothing and nothing is wasted,” Glick says, “to going to a country where people have everything and everything is wasted.”4 Comments