P.J. Pitts, a member of Pacific University's first pharmacy class in 2009, has spent more than two years working on recovery and relief efforts in Haiti.Wanda Laukkanen | Writer
She also worked with Pacific alumnus, Terry Hartmann, PA ’10, in providing health education and assessments at several orphanages in the country.
“One of the things that was sort of frustrating to me and to some of us who have done long-term work in Haiti, was that right after the quake, things are different,” she said. “Right after a natural disaster, you have to go in, you have to do triage, do the best you can and help save people.
“But a year later, if you’re looking at things you can do in a country…many NGOs (non-governmental organizations) were not necessarily doing a great job of training the locals.”
So, as a result of the desire to do more than just handle an emergency, “we started looking at what were the things we could do that were sustainable, and the big thing that is sustainable is education,” Pitts said.
“If a child is sick, has worms, and I de-worm him, that will solve the immediate problem. But in a month he will have worms again. But if I teach him and his parents how he is getting worms, and how to prevent infection, then that will make a bigger impact,” she said.
“Of course, you still treat the worms now, but in a year, when that child is worm-free and so are his siblings, that will be because I educated and empowered his mother to care for them.”
In addition to dealing with orphans and community health, Pitts is also very much involved in working with amputees. In particular, an amputee soccer team, Zaryen, has captured her heart, and she not only supports the team with funds for education, she talks to members two to four hours every week by phone.
Pitts and others started a program in Haiti called Medical Relief and Education International (MREI), which has two components: an orphan project and community health. Pitts is completing the paperwork required to make MREI a 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit organization, which she said will allow a much more active presence in Haiti.
Pitts and others involved with her tackled community health in Haiti by going to town hall meetings, offering assessments, living in the communities with local families and listening to their concerns. Pitts said MREI empowers the locals to build partnerships with the relief organizations, rather than create a society of dependency.
“(Many NGOs) come in with ideas that they think will ‘fix’ Haiti, even if they’ve never been to Haiti or never met with anyone there to ask them about what they need,” she said. “They basically come in, tell the Haitians what they need, then do it for them.
“When I go out to do trainings, I say, ‘If you sit through our training, you will be able to keep your family healthy and keep cholera out of your home.’ It takes a lot longer to do it the way I do, but I feel that it makes more of an impact. In addition to whatever we’re trying to do, it empowers and strengthens the community. And when you include your target population in the development process, they take some ownership of it,” Pitts said.
“When we had our first cholera disease training, we had 85 people show up,” she said.