Chappaqua, New York's Christine Caserta can drop a tear at the thought of the Haitian people as easily as their story has faded from the brief attention span of the news cycle. But maybe the reason she finds it easier to stay connected has something to do with how her originating emotions differ and the manner in which they helped spur the creation of a medically sustainable nonprofit called, Hand up for Haiti.
"The people of Haiti are incredibly warm and kind hearted, says the Executive Director and Co-founder. "It just makes me cry." Begun last March, HUFH proceeds from thepremise that people cannot be left behind as good doctors and nurses depart back to America. "It's all about education," she says, and getting Haitian doctors, nurses and health practitioners in a better position to treat is the mission.
Graduating from Northeastern last year, with a degree in entrepreneurship, a life entrenched in an NGO seems an unlikely starting point. She won a field study scholarship to South Africa and the experience shifted the manner in which she viewed business. So much so, she says, "I wound up extending my stay from four weeks to seven months."
After returning last January, she took part in a fundraiser on behalf of Partners in Health and the work they've long done in Haiti. Out of that, she was approached by Dr. Jill Ratner of Mt. Kisco Medical Group. "She was already making trips to Haiti with a group of doctors and she asked me to come," says Caserta.
Putting aside the effect the poverty had on her, the most important aspect of the trip was a return that did not exist in a vacuum. The word spread and the bubble burst with many area doctors, nurses and medical students inquiring into a follow up. "I saw this as an opportunity to start a program," she says, and Dr. Ratner would sign on as co-founder and president.
In turn, HUFH accessed and drew up culturally appropriate curriculums which could be brought to indigenous doctors, nurses and medical practitioners. As it stands, the organization gets its best turnout through the word of local pastors and medical professionals then converge on the HUFH clinics. "There are between 30 and 50 people who usually attend the classes," she says.
Nonetheless, as complicated as the situation can seem, a little simplicity goes a long way. Infant mortality is one such area. It's not uncommon anywhere that babies emerge with difficulty breathing. In ahospital, the incidence is easily addressed, but in Haiti most children are born at home, and the result of inaction is obvious.
HUFH's Breathing Babies program brings proper procedure to local health professionals, which can easily be brought back to their villages. Among other things, HUFH medical professionals run vaccination programs, introduce upgraded sanitation methods and educate on OBGYN practices. "They have seminars with Powerpoint presentations," she says.
In turn, getting caught up in the initiative speaks for itself. "People just want to keep coming back," she says.
In terms of the mileage that is accumulated as learners, medical students can also comment in volumes - especially compared to what they read in books. "They say they get more experience in one week than in years of study in school," says Caserta.
But you won't find HUFH in Port-au-Prince - where most of the damage was done. When she returns with pictures from their Cap Haiten location, people are shocked by what they think is the aftermath of the seismic shift. "I tell them this wasn't because of the earthquake," she says.
Haiti - simply as it was - but HUFH choose the region according to the numbers. "The capital is overrun by NGO's," she says.
As for the criticism that NGO's sometimes receive, she offers her first hand account. Despite what we all might read, she says, "These NGO's are all working together."
HUFH has collaborated with 25 and they're not slowing down. For those who might be thinking of putting their hands in, Hands Up sets up all the accommodations - food, hotel lodging and travel. Each volunteer pays an up front fee, she says.
With seven trips completed, she takes pride in what's been accomplished but for everyone associated, all that's still left undone does not deter them. "We just happen to connect the right people who are ambitious and who are working toward a cause they very much believe in," she says. "And when all is said and done, I just love this."