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Professor's service trip to Haiti spurs ideas for Elon

Prudence Layne traveled to a remote region in Haiti during spring break to assist doctors and nurses at a free medical clinic. While there, the assistant professor of English saw not only the damage from a powerful January earthquake, but what she says are opportunities for Elon University to help in the nation’s reconstruction.

Assistant professor Prudence Layne described a service experience over Spring Break where many Haitians who sought medical help were visiting a doctor for the first time in their lives.

Layne, director of the African/African-American Studies Program at the university, visited Haiti with her uncle, a pediatrician, and other members serving with the Caribbean-American Medical and Scientific Association.

As a volunteer, Layne transcribed medical records and assisted the medical teams with other communication needs. Elon sophomore Danton Kerz, a member of the Elon Fire Department and the Coast Guard Auxiliary, accompanied medical volunteers at his own expense.

In some instances, Layne said, it was difficult to identify those who needed help because of the earthquake, those who were in need of help prior to the disaster, those receiving medical attention for the first time, or all of the above. “Most of the people had never seen a doctor in their lives,” she said.

The trip from Port-au-Prince to the region where the medical volunteers worked took several hours. Along the way, Layne witnessed levels of destruction that she said couldn’t be put into words.

“In all my travels, this was the worst devastation and poverty that I’ve ever seen,” she said. “For me, I definitely want to go back, maybe over the summer, and do some more work. But a lot of the good I can do for Haiti right now is to keep talking about the country’s needs, to keep the people foremost in our minds.”

Debris and trash remain in many streets, with some Haitians still entombed in collapsed buildings.

Layne’s observations and experiences have since been drafted into a report she submitted to the Office of Student Life. In it, she shares potential partnerships to be discussed in the years ahead as the university considers relief efforts through programs like Project Pericles or the Kernodle Center for Service Learning.

Those future possibilities, Layne said, do not need to be restricted to Port-au-Prince.

“I like the idea of working in a specific area where over a long period of time we can see the fruits of our labors,” Layne said in a recent interview. “A lot still needs to be done and fundraising remains the best way at this point for us to serve the country.”

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killing an estimated quarter million people, injuring thousands more and leaving more than a million survivors homeless. Debris from the quake remains in many streets, Layne said, as does the stench of death from bodies that remain entombed under collapsed buildings.

Amazed by the extent of the destruction, she also noticed that Haitians showed hope that they would recover from the natural disaster, even as security remains sporadic, illnesses attack those who escaped death, and the 2010 hurricane season approaches. For all of these reasons and more, Layne suggests that Elon students refrain from traveling to Haiti for at least one year and the situation could be reassessed.

“The university has a lot of expertise here that I think would be welcomed in any partnerships we pursue with the people of Haiti,” said assistant professor Prudence Layne.

Still, she said, there are many things Elon students might consider to help America’s neighbors to the south. Among them:

• Fundraise to help build a nursing and vocational school; then seek partnerships with nursing programs at other colleges and universities while possibly working with Elon faculty to develop a training program for physical therapists and exercise sports scientists.
• Partner with CAMSA to build a women’s health clinic/family resource center.
• Collect books in French for a local library in Anse-a-Veau and for schools opening in the area.
• Collect medical supplies to support local health clinics.

“Elon can serve a really good role in education and healthcare,” Layne said. “But Haiti is not something you jump into. Haiti is a complex place politically and culturally. Still, space for Elon’s involvement in the long term remains.

“The university has a lot of expertise here that I think would be welcomed in any partnerships we pursue with the people of Haiti.”

Individuals and groups interested in having Prudence Layne meet with them to discuss Haiti and how they might contribute more deliberately to Haitian relief effort can send an email to playne@elon.edu.

Eric Townsend,
6/18/2010 11:10 AM