The author is a board member of “For Hope International,” an organization, that seeks to empower Haitian health professionals, to foster locally grown solutions for locally-identified problems.

It has been said that empathy is a call to walk a mile in another man’s shoes. As such, empathy extends beyond mere sympathy or charity, ultimately demanding us to not just feel for but with another. Nonetheless how can we truly empathize with an elderly woman who desperately walked miles just to get a pair of flip-flop sandals from our medical trips? Do we even dare to look through the eyes of hundreds fighting with each other just to get a prescription from our pharmacy?

Admittedly, standing in the shoes of those somewhat 80% of Haitians entrenched in the depths of poverty has been a challenge for me—maybe also for you?  I have lived too long in the subtle comforts of the US lifestyle that I have forgotten that there are people actually dying everyday of hunger and malnutrition. Perhaps I have become so driven by personal success, and consumed by ambition that I have neglected the concept of the communal good. Maybe I have become so immersed in our ever polarizing debate over capitalism and socialism, rich and poor— that, while distracted with debating these abstract ideologies, I overlook the concrete realities of so many suffering. Better yet, maybe I am just too naïve in believing that I am powerless to really do anything about Haiti’s plight.

Without question, the challenges of Haiti are immense. Here stands a nation with one of the highest rates of infant mortality within this hemisphere. A nation plagued by rampant HIV/AIDS epidemic, and recently a cholera epidemic, where there are only 25 doctors and 11 nurses per 100,000 inhabitants. It is easy to see the desolation in a country where more than 80% of people live under a dollar a day and where the per capita annual income is about US$400. Can you sense the frustration of a people in a land where only a few have access to electricity and  clean water? Tell me, can you perceive the pervasive pessimism that runs through a place where only 65% of its children between the age of 5 and 12 attend school— of which, only 25% complete 6th grade and nearly 45% suffer from illiteracy.

I am still very troubled by the misery and the agony of the Haitian people I saw on our medical trips. Upon returning, I always felt so limited and incompetent that I tried to downplay my experience by using a single phrase to capture the essence of my trip as “a life changing experience”. It was not until recently I realized that I use this sentence after every medical trip I attended. Suddenly, it became clear to me that I could no longer use this cliché sentence as a catch phrase for every medical trips.

Still, the more I read about Haiti, the more hopeless I tend to become. When our organization (For Hope International) board meets to discuss the prospect of our annual commitment to our outreach to Haiti, pessimism tends to mount when I consider the challenges facing this nation. But the more I accept my own limitations, the more I become aware that my very personal journey challenges even my own skepticism, revealing the threads of hope at work in the fabric of my own life.

Our initial goal was to create an organization that provides annual medical mobile clinics in Haiti, especially for those patients with chronic diseases. But as we launched “For Hope International” and started to work alongside our Haitian health professional colleagues, we ultimately understood the needs required something greater than just mobile clinics.  we saw a great need for transforming lives and empowering people, a community at a time.

As we began to contemplate ways that the organization could be more effective in Haiti, we realized that we could no longer pretend that we know what the people of Haiti need. In the wake of our ignorance we asked those we worked alongside with, how we can better assist them to tackle their problems. The emphasis was on empowerment and leadership.

Thus, our brand new project “Komanse” is dedicated to empowering and transforming lives in Haiti through healthcare entrepreneurship. “Komanse” (the beginning), is an annual year-long program consisting of a conference, workshops, and business plan competition constructed to empower Haitian medical professionals to design and implement their own healthcare solutions.
These proposals will be presented to a panel of international and local judges who will select the most promising ideas based on their potential for innovation and sustainability. Winners will receive financial and professional support to start or continue their ventures.
For Hope International message is simple, a new beginning (Komanse), the best solutions to the healthcare needs in Haiti lie with the people of Haiti themselves.


Marc Saint-Jour
Marc is a physician, specialize in Internal Medicine. Marc is passionate about medicine, sports and politics. He is one of the founding board member of ForHopeInternational, an organization that seeks to empower Haitian health professionals (2009- Present). Marc will be writing mainly about medicine, healthcare and politics. Feel free to contact him via twitter, facebook and email.


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