Shops, electricity, roads and healthy people transformed into utter poverty and destitution by the span of a few hundred feet – this is what Lenka Hellerova saw when she arrived at Dajabon in 2009. Dajabon is a border crossing between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
“Haitians were running back and forth from the border, trying to buy up in bulk whatever they can. They load up supplies on old trucks and then drive for hours on crumbling roads to distribute their goods throughout the county,” Hellerova explains.
From that point on, she became obsessed with all things Haiti. Hellerova was working on her master’s in nonprofit management with a specialization in international development from the New School for Management and Urban Planning in New York at the time.
“All of my classes, my research papers – everything --focused on some aspect of Haitian life, politics, history, etc. In 2009, my master’s thesis was a policy piece on how to improve the management and organizational structure of a rural hospital in the northeast of Haiti.”
During summer 2009, she moved to Port-au- Prince, the capital of Haiti, and worked to develop a socioeconomic analysis of the southern region of Haiti in order to create investment projects for foreign governments and private investors.
Unfortunately, an earthquake ended the project and destroyed most of the country. On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated most of Port-au-Prince and nearby towns, leaving thousands of people dead and many more without homes.
“I was in Port-au-Prince when it happened and I decided not to evacuate. For the first two weeks I went to the UN Logistics base and attempted to secure medical supplies, tarps and food for an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp that grew up next to a house I was living in.” There were approximately 2000 people in the camp.
Hellerova’s experience in Haiti fostered a desire to do more than development work. Instead, she wanted to help people on a personal level.
“After the earthquake, despite my efforts, I felt helpless to help others. For the first few weeks after the earthquake the most critical and urgent need in the country was for doctors, nurses and medical supplies. Nothing else really mattered, and it became painfully obvious to me that my training and education thus far did not prepare me for this type of situation. There was nothing in my training that taught me how to help people who were injured.”
After another medical mission that summer, Hellerova decided to go into nursing and was accepted at the College of Nursing. She is currently a first-year nursing student at the University of Colorado and works part-time as a research assistant. In January of this year, she went back to Port-au Prince-for the first time since the earthquake and spent a few days volunteering in the tuberculosis ward in Port-au-Prince’s public hospital.
“I wanted to see if I was still on the right path, and even before I landed, I knew I was.”
In the future, Hellerova wants to combine nursing with her management degree to work in the public health and policy field in developing countries, starting with Haiti.