Haiti spring break trip pulls teeth, plants coffee, takes names

by Alec Hill
Executive Staff

While many of their peers headed home or to the beach when school let out for spring break on Wednesday, March 12, a group of 18 intrepid students, accompanied by Biology Professor Deborah McGrath, Outreach Coordinaton, Dixon Myers, and retired Sewanee dentist Bruce Baird, made their way to the town of Cange on Haiti’s central plateau for an eleven day service trip. The excursion, which combined hosting free dental clinics and working on McGrath’s long-term sustainable forestry project, also tested students’ comfort zones and left each traveler feeling refreshed, renewed, humbled, and with a deep and lasting sense of wonder at the strength and vitality of the Haitian culture they encountered.

The group was lead on the student side by Elizabeth Sega (C’15) and Linnea Carver (C’14) (who was unfortunately sidelined by illness at the last moment and unable to join the group on the journey for which she had so well prepared them). Hallie Crosby (C’16), Donald Okoye (C’16), Henry Mentz (C’15), Mary Ottley (C’15), Olivia LaRussa (C’16), Duncan Pearce (C’17), April Kosakoff (C’16), Martha Ellington Quinn (C’14), Samuel Pierce Myers (C’15), Alec Hill (C’16), Monique Stitts (C’16), Emmie Oliver (C’16), Uju Okonwo (C’15), Laura Laine (C’14), Kate Gardner (C’15), and Davante Jennings (C’16) made up the student side of the group. Sustainability Post-Baccalaureate Fellow Charlotte Henderson (C’13) also made the trip to provide moral support. Stitts came along to document the group’s efforts through photo and film.

The group stayed in a compound attached to a hospital in Cange built by the well-known NGO Partners in Health, founded by Dr. Paul Farmer and featured in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains. From this home base, they performed simple dental procedures at clinics in three different towns under the able direction of Dr. Baird, and also worked on coffee tree nurseries in two towns as part of “Friends in Coffee,” Dr. McGrath’s project studying the environmental and socio-economic benefits of coffee as a cash crop for subsistence farmers in the area.

Such a summary of the group’s activities fails to capture the riveting beauty of the Haitian landscape, the profound lessons of the country’s dramatic history, the simple fulfillment of working with friends, the whole-body clarity felt by group members during early mornings and late evenings, and a host of other moments and memories from the short but busy trip. For a better idea of the sights, sounds, and sensations encountered by the group in Haiti, be sure to talk to one of the voyagers about what they felt and learned.