Brittany Jonap was one of our amazing international volunteers. She is a pharmacist who spent six months in Haiti as a health supply chain specialist. While this was her official title, it is does not capture the true extent of her role while there. Brittany was in Haiti when Hurricane Matthew hit and saw the devastation first hand. She met the families whose lives were literally washed away. Brittany played a pivotal role in CMMB’s relief efforts. In this powerful piece, she describes what it has been like since coming home, and shares some lessons learned.
It is Sunday morning and I am sitting by the window in my new apartment. I am bundled in layers of clothing, gazing out of the window at the frozen town and sipping on some Haitian coffee, a souvenir I brought back with me. My life is pretty different now than it was just a few months ago.
Volunteering and living in Haiti wasn’t always easy for me, but it made me appreciate life in a different way. I never took for granted where my next meal was coming from, and I was happy to have a sturdy roof over my head every night.
I lived purposefully, with intention.
I learned and I grew. I had my patience tested and I developed resilience. I experienced joys and sorrows. I lived with less and I saw and experienced true happiness.
Leaving was bittersweet. I was excited to come home and spend the Christmas holidays with my family. I was looking forward to getting back to work in a hospital.
But I didn’t want to say goodbye.
I built meaningful friendships and work relationships in Haiti. I knew I would miss all the people I had met. And I was sad that I would not get to see all of my projects through to fruition. But I am confident that the CMMB Haiti staff will pick up where I left off.
When I first got back home to the United States, there were moments of true bliss. Like taking a hot shower and almost simultaneously eating all of my favorite junk food.
But it is also very challenging. I put on a smile as I struggle through the process of re-assimilating myself to the culture of home. I have definitely experienced difficulties, but ultimately my perspective on what a challenge is, and what difficulty looks and feels like, is different for me now, and that keeps me humbly moving forward.
I spent my first month home looking for a job. I was a little nervous about how my non-traditional application would be received. The year before volunteering with CMMB, I had traveled extensively, volunteering in other capacities, including at a hospital in Laos, and at St. Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children in Haiti. My resume looked different from most.
But I was pleasantly surprised by the response. I was invited to interview at some of the best hospitals in the country. One of the interviewers told me that my application stood out because of all my international experience. Another one called my resume a “breath of fresh air!”
It was so encouraging to know that something so valuable to me, was viewed as valuable to others; that my time spent abroad had brought me such personal joy and fulfillment, and helped to accelerate my professional growth.
Ultimately, I’ve a good fit with the team at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, where I’m working as a clinical pharmacist.
I was so sad to leave Haiti, but I have peace about it. I know it wasn’t a goodbye, but rather a “see you later.” I am grateful for the opportunity I had to serve the people of Haiti, and I will have a little part of Haiti living on in me, always.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”-Miriam Adeney