Local pediatricians organize health care fundraiser for Haiti set for April 28

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 8, 2018 at 4:44 PM

While fundraisers work toward helping people in other nations, some Americans often wonder why we should assist people elsewhere when there’s so much need here.

But East Tennessee State University Associate Professor of Pediatrics Jackson Williams, who also serves as a pediatric hospitalist for Niswonger Children’s Hospital, believes in the “interconnectedness of all humans, no matter one’s country of birth.”

Because of this outlook, he and others with the St. Damien Collaborative will be holding a fundraiser for Haiti, “An Evening of Moving Mountains,” at the Millennium Centre on April 28 at 6 p.m.

The aim of the fundraiser is to help train more pediatric physicians at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, the island nation’s only children’s hospital.

“It’s helping children directly but also helping train and educate the next generation of Haitian doctors,” Williams said. “For me, my full time job is to help kids here in East Tennessee, but I also want to use my talents to help children in Haiti.”

After coming back from his most recent trip to Haiti in January, where he helped support medical training and research efforts in the island nation, Williams said he has felt compelled to continue assisting efforts that aim to bolster pediatric health care in impoverished nations facing difficulties.

“Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. With a growing population, the country continues to struggle with training an adequate number of professionals such as physicians. The 2010 earthquake only made an already challenging situation worse,” Williams said.

In the past, Williams has traveled abroad to use his medical skills to help others throughout the world. As an undergraduate at Wake Forest University in 1996, Williams served as an international health care volunteer with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity program in Calcutta, India.

“I didn’t have a lot of skills to offer back then, but much of what we were doing was hospice care for the sick, dying and poor in Calcutta,” he said. “It’s very much a part of the reason I became a physician — I feel called to do what little part I can to help in the world where there are needs for good health care.”

Williams believes that with the appropriate amount of internationalist humanitarian assistance, Haiti can overcome its health care obstacles. Though he said Haitians are a resilient people, he said there hasn’t been much optimism in the island nation in recent years.

“Haitians are mountain folk, much like we are here in East Tennessee. In fact, the name ‘Haiti’ originates from the original aboriginal Indians who inhabited the island and translates to ‘high ground,’” he said. “Mountain folks are tough. They are resilient. But there are particular challenges for those living in difficult to reach mountainous areas. There is a saying in Haiti — ‘Dèyè mòn, gen mòn’ — ‘Beyond mountains, there are more mountains.’

“In other words, after you have crossed one mountain, or challenge, there is always another one to climb. It can feel defeating, especially for a country that has endured so many difficulties.”

But with the St. Damien Collaborative project, Williams said he and others hope to do more than just provide immediate assistance to climb each “mountain” one at a time. The organization hopes to provide a “long-term commitment to assist in the training of the country’s future pediatricians.”

“In 2016, St. Damien graduated its first class of pediatric residents. Now, with continued support from U.S. partners, St. Damien is offering further sub-specialty training for pediatricians,” he said. “If we can continue training the next generation of Haitian pediatricians, we can help doctors deal with those problems instead of thinking that there’s just another mountain to climb.”

To find out more about the St. Damien Collaborative fundraiser on April 28, visit www.nphusa.org/movemountains. 

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