ServeHAITI is a volunteer organization with roots in the social outreach program of Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In the late 1990s, the first delegation of volunteers traveled to Haiti. Out of the collaborative efforts of a multitude of volunteers throughout the United States and Canada, ServeHAITI was born in 2001.
In February, 2001, a team assembled by Tom Reichert, then Outreach Director of Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta, GA, flew to Port-au-Prince and traveled the treacherous 53 mile journey from the country’s capital, to the mountainous region of Grand-Bois, Haiti. That first medical delegation trip took approximately 10 hrs as they were stopped along the way to give emergency medical aid to a pregnant woman in dire need of attention.
In 1997, Tom contacted the Haiti Parish Twinning program asking to be paired with the poorest parish they had. His initial trips to St. Pierre included painting the one local school, funding money to improve the rectory where future visitors would stay and getting solar panels installed. These initial trips laid the groundwork for a permanence in the area.
The first delegation to go on this medical mission were:
Mary Kate Costin
John DePasquale, MD
Bill Johnson, RN
Jane Johnson, RN
Donna P Williams
Father Richard Zivic
From the very beginning, John DePasquale, MD, a pediatrician living in Atlanta, GA at the time, was of the opinion the primary mission to Grand-Bois was let the Haitians do for themselves-it was the goal to work in continuity with the community to provide sustainability in healthcare. “As a pediatrician I realized that to make a difference we needed to provide continuity of care — a permanent presence in the community — and that meant hiring local medical and nursing staff to best administer to the needs of the people.” Having been a part of 3 international medical missions prior to our first one to Grand-Bois, he had witnessed the temporary interventions of once-a-year visits by US medical teams that provided ER services or “bandaid” type treatments and realized that was not the model to follow.
The introduction of Leopold Bourguoin, MD, at the young age of 29, was made to Tom Reichert during this Feb 2001 trip by Father Boniface, parish priest in St. Pierre. Dr Leo was, at the time, a practicing physician in Port-au-Prince.
Without Mr. Reichert’s desire to help the poorest of the poor and Dr. DePasquale’s insistence on a self-sustaining health care program, ServeHAITI would not exist as it does today. Though each person giving of their time and talent to the people in Grand-Bois are to be saluted, Tom and John are, in the purest form, the very backbone of St Vincent de Paul Health Center.
From February 2001 until the opening of the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center in 2005, patients were seen in a makeshift “clinic” in the back of the local church—St. Pierre Parish.
As is evidenced by the above photo, that very first medical team in 2001 was met by hundreds of people wishing to see the “American doctors.” It was at this time that Dr. Leopold Bourgouin signed on as the Haitian Medical Director.
In 2008, a film crew comprising volunteers, David Briggs, Steve Henke and Tim Kane, traveled to the region of Grand-Bois – donating their time and talent to developing a documentary film, Defining Dignity: The People of Haiti. Produced by Timothy Kane Productions, this 10-minute film documents the lives of the people of Grand-Bois as well as the many volunteers working with the Haitian staff at the Health Center.