We are excited to share an update about our international volunteer alumnae, Britanny Jonap. Brittany joined CMMB as a doctor of pharmacy in 2016 and served in Haiti providing health supply chain support to our team. She was there when Hurricane Matthew hit and played a key role in CMMB’s relief efforts. Find out what’s next for Brittany (spoiler alert: it’s great news for the healthcare system!) 

Where did you volunteer and what was your role? 

I volunteered with the Haiti team in Port-au-Prince from June to December of 2016. As a pharmacist, my role was initially as the Health Supply Chain Specialist for the hospital in  Côtes-de-Fer. However, after the opening of the hospital was delayed, my role morphed significantly. It is difficult to put a title on the work I did while I was in Haiti. I worked as a pharmacy consultant for the Haiti Child Health Project, I made initial site visits for the Angel Investors program, I assisted with medication procurement in response to a cholera outbreak, I wrote reports for Vitamin Angels, I went on site visits with the SIDALE team, and I was a part of the team responsible for procuring and distributing emergency supplies after Hurricane Matthew.

One American and two Haitians stand holding boxes of donated medicines in Haiti

What is your biggest learning from your experience and how has it impacted your professional career?

On the night of October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew crept onto land in southwest Haiti. I remember the sound of the wind ripping through the trees and the rain banging against the walls. I thought about my friends, like Marcet and his daughter who lived in a makeshift structure under a tin roof. I worried about the children at St. Vincent’s School, who resided in an area prone to flooding. I was uncomfortable knowing that I would be safe in my concrete home on a hill, while so many around me could have their lives swept away by a mudslide. I felt injustice as I stared into my emergency kit, knowing that these items were a luxury.

A bird's eye view of the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew.

A bird’s eye view of the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew.

As the storm passed, news slowly came in from our partners in the West. The island had been devastated. We abandoned all other activities to focus on emergency response. Nothing had adequately prepared me for this, not my degree, not my experience in the emergency department, nor any advanced courses in public health. Nothing. But when people’s lives are at stake you learn to do whatever is necessary.

Brittany Jonap and fellow volunteer Robin Maddox give out emergency relief kits to impacted community members hurricane matthew

Brittany hands out relief kits after Hurricane Matthew

I was part of the team charged with the task of acquiring and distributing relief items. It took two weeks before we reached our partner community of Geabeau. When we arrived, the health facility was unrecognizable, completely destroyed. For 50 miles in all directions all I could see was mass destruction. In the days following, I woke up early and stayed up late, living and working with a purpose.

When my team initially left the coast to return to Port-au-Prince, I experienced a strong desire to do more. I felt drawn to the communities where people were injured, but I lacked the hands-on training to address their most urgent medical needs.

In the weeks following, infectious diseases spread. I sought out work in a cholera clinic, but I didn’t have the skills to appropriately triage patients.

In the months after the hurricane, areas were hit by famine. I wanted to help in the hospital, but I didn’t have the knowledge to diagnose nutritional deficiencies.

Living through those moments of devastation, injustice and pain, I finally had the clarity I needed to pursue a career in medicine. The deterrents no longer mattered. What mattered is that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to alleviating the suffering of my fellow human beings. I wanted to be able to provide comfort and essential care to people in their most vulnerable moments. I longed to live in a world with equitable, affordable, accessible healthcare.  It was in those moments that I finally decided that I would become a physician. And now, three years later, I am currently in my second year of medical school.

How has your experience changed you personally? How does it reveal itself in the way you live your life? 

During my time with CMMB I gained an appreciation for simple pleasures. I learned a new language and I built relationships with people that crossed cultural barriers. I witnessed suffering greater than I believed possible, and I developed a new level of empathy. In the midst of challenges, I saw happiness in its purest form. And I experienced that happiness myself.

Volunteer pharmacist Brittany in Haiti embraces her Haitian friend.

I lived with little and gained the world. It is hard to put into words how that manifests in my life now. I’ve had a breadth of life experiences that most people can’t relate to. And in some ways that has been isolating, but it has made me more introspective in a positive way. Simple inconveniences, like being stuck in traffic tend not to bother me. I don’t get overly stressed about tests at school. I am more environmentally conscious–I compost my trash and try to waste as little as possible. Material possessions mean little to me. I take time to go for walks in the woods, and I laugh more and I am more mindful about how I live my life.

 Where are you now and what are you doing and what are your hopes for your future?

I am currently in my second year of medical school and have a sense of peace about my decision to pursue a new career. It was certainly a huge transition becoming a student again, but one that I have greatly enjoyed. One of the most meaningful experiences I have had in medical school thus far was working at a clinic in Immokalee, FL, which is a rural migrant community in Southwest Florida.

Many of the patients there are Kreyol speaking, and I enjoyed being able to form deeper relationships with those patients through my knowledge of and experiences in their native country. Looking forward, I was accepted into the rural health program at my school and will complete many of my clerkships in rural areas of Florida. I am excited about this opportunity as it will provide unparalleled hands-on experience and best prepare me to work with underserved populations in the future.

I will graduate medical school in May of 2022 and will likely pursue a residency in Family Medicine, which is a specialty that tailors to my varied passions and particular interest in global health. Beyond that, there is a lot up in the air! I often think about returning to Haiti, particularly about the possibility of working at the Bishop Joseph Sullivan Center for Health in Côtes-de-Fer one day.

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