Jan. 30, 2017
Haiti was flattened Oct. 4 by Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in a decade. Hundreds were killed. Most houses were demolished. Livestock perished. Crops were destroyed. A volunteer in the town of Dame-Marie wrote: “It truly looks like bombs were dropped.”
Dame-Marie is fourth-year student Paulin Gotrace’s hometown. Watching helplessly from the Daytona Beach Regional Campus, he decided he had to help. So began his exhausting, exhilarating introduction to large-scale humanitarian projects, culminating in a Christmas Day he’ll never forget.
“It was truly humbling to see that our small efforts had so much of an impact,” he wrote in a follow-up email to the college.
His first step was to turn to fellow student Dejon Maloney, at the Fort Pierce campus. They spread the word among students at all six campuses. The nonprofit KORE Haiti Inc. agreed to support their efforts. On Oct. 20, Gotrace sent an email to the college’s faculty and staff, inviting them to donate clothes, toiletries, diapers, baby wipes, water-purification tablets, medications or money.
“I thought I would probably receive a few donations that I could put in my suitcase,” he said.
Then Shenifa Taite, in the Office of Medical Education, forwarded the email to her pastor, the Rev. R.B. Holmes of Bethel Baptist Church. Holmes knew Gotrace and Maloney, who had attended Bethel during their second year in med school. So he spread the word to his congregation.
“Most of the donations were from them,” Gotrace said. “I am forever grateful.”
Before long, he had gathered enough items to fill an 18-foot rental truck.
That was the easiest part. Imagine the logistics of getting those items from the various campuses, sorting, boxing, loading, driving them to Miami, and arranging for their shipment to Haiti.
“The boxes were transferred via container/cargo ship,” said Gotrace, who was accompanied by Merancia Noelsaint, a law student from the University of the District of Columbia. “Once in Customs, they go through a process that may take weeks. The items were supposed to be out of Customs on Dec. 6. Then they changed the day to Dec. 19. When we got to Port-au-Prince on the 19th, they were still in Customs.”
Hoping to distribute items on Christmas, he was running out of time.
Finally, after hours of waiting and negotiating, he was able to reclaim some items. He took them to a bus station to arrange for transport – only to be told they were too heavy. Finally, he found a truck driver to deliver them to Dame-Marie.
So, after days of frustration came the Christmas he had dreamed of. He distributed items to more than 150 people in Dame-Marie.
“The smiles on people’s faces were priceless,” he said. “Some people were happy to have a new dress or shirt for Christmas. There was not a lot in those bags, but the majority of them would say, ‘Anything will help. Even a bar of soap will make a difference.’”
After graduation in May, he and Maloney plan to distribute the few boxes that were delayed in Customs.
Gotrace realizes that short-term relief helps only so much.
“We love working,” he said. “Teach and equip the farmers instead of sending rice. Equip the fishermen instead of giving them free food. That’s why I am using the surplus we have to buy fishing gear from local Haitian vendors for people who lost theirs.”
As for his career: “My plan is to stay in the U.S. to practice and go to Haiti several times a year to do mission work. I want to eventually have a clinic in Haiti and partner with local Haitian doctors. I have an entire community who believed in me since I was very young and still believe that I can bring major change in that community. I will not let them down.”
He wishes the rest of the world knew Haiti as he does.
“Every time Haiti is mentioned, it is always followed by ‘the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,’” he said. “This leads people to think that Haitians are miserable and helpless. However, people in Haiti are full of joy, even though some are not living in the best conditions.
“The Haiti I know is rich in pride and tradition. It is filled with resilient men and women who are creative, powerful and inspirational. Aside from our history of being the first black republic to revolt against slavery and gain independence, my Haiti is beautiful. From our savory foods to the way our people move to the sound of the drum, my Haiti is rich.”
These College of Medicine students/alumni assisted Gotrace: Dejon Maloney (“He was in charge of the mission as well; he just couldn’t go to Haiti due to his schedule”), Guerdine Alcius, Angel Augustin, Etzer Augustin, Wade Baggs, Danielle Guinan, Miranda Mack, Angelina Malamo, Ann Loraine Roc, Elier Rodriguez, Martine Sainvilus, Princess Urbina, Eric Walker.