For a graduate with a neurobiology degree from Harvard, choosing to spend five months in Haiti post-graduation might not be the most logical step. But for Lawrence Benjamin, 22, it was.
“My mother is Haitian, and I’d never had the opportunity to visit Haiti directly,” Benjamin says. “I wanted to find the opportunity to come to Haiti and make a personal connection. After the earthquake, I think I had an increased resolve to want to use what skills I had to give back to the country.”
Benjamin came to Fond-des-Blancs in January of 2012, after being connected to St. Boniface through his involvement on campus at Harvard with Physicians For Haiti. His current position with the organization is as a stock management volunteer consultant—essentially, Benjamin evaluates the supplies of the hospital. As medical materials oftentimes have a shelf life, Benjamin says it’s important to know and understand exactly what is on hand. Because of the dynamics involved in monitoring and tracking supplies, Benjamin created an Excel-based system for tracking supplies. Consistent with St. Boniface’s mission of creating sustainable implementation policies, Benjamin has also trained Haitian staff to use the program once he departs.
As for Benjamin’s five months in Haiti? They went quickly, he says, but he nonetheless has both short and long-term plans to stay involved with St. Boniface, ranging from potential fundraising for a local soccer field in Fond-des-Blancs, to returning in a medical capacity a few years down the road—he starts medical school at Washington University in St. Louis in the fall.
Though his time in Haiti will be marked, for official purposes, by dates on a calendar, Benjamin believes it will stand out for other reasons: namely, the spirit of the people, the beauty of the country, and the opportunity it afforded him. ”I was so happy to finally learn my mother’s language; to connect to a cultural heritage that I had not had the opportunity to connect the dots with,” Benjamin says. “I can’t be anything more than thankful.”