Student Makes a Difference in Earthquake-Ravaged Haiti

Posted: December 20, 2010 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: December 20, 2010 at 9:00 am

By Jason Jacks

Regine Jean-Francois. Photo courtesy of Regine Jean-Francois

The earth growled and rolled like crashing waves, causing ceilings to cave, walls to collapse and roads to buckle. Amidst the chaos in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that fateful afternoon of Jan. 12, 2010, was Mason graduate student Regine Jean-Francois, who was visiting her parents over the winter break.

“Pictures from the walls started to fall,” she recalls. “Then I heard my mother yelling, ‘Earthquake! Earthquake!’”

A public health student, Jean-Francois has been back to Haiti once since that horrific day almost one year ago.

As part of a practicum for one of her courses, she spent a month in Port-au-Prince last summer running a camp for nearly 100 children who attended the same school. All had either lost a relative to the quake or had one injured.

While there, she evaluated the health of the children and taught them how to deal with emergency situations. Some, she recalls, suffered from malnutrition and infections. Others were starved for attention, as their parents were left to deal with the aftereffects of damaged homes and lost income. All, she says, were adapting to their hardships.

“The people of Haiti are very resilient,” she says.

From the World Factbook

Part of Jean-Francois’ desire to help her fellow Haitians comes from her own experiences during the quake.

Scheduled to fly back to Northern Virginia on Jan. 13, Jean-Francois was chatting with friends online from her mother’s office computer on the afternoon of Jan. 12 when the earth started to rumble

Seconds later, she and her mother raced to find a way out of the building where her mother, Dianne Jean-Francois, MD, worked as country director for the Catholic Medical Mission Board, a charity that specializes in medical donations.

A secretary directed them in one direction, but that way out was blocked. Finally, after maneuvering through the dust and debris and out the building, they darted to a clearing, where they started calling loved ones.

Jean-Francois’ 92-year-old grandmother survived, but an uncle did not.

Despite the devastation, her parents still live in Haiti, where Jean-Francois was born, with her mother using her health care expertise to find medicine for ailing residents and prosthetic limbs for others with more lasting injuries.

In terms of helping Haiti heal, Jean-Francois hopes to follow in her mother’s footsteps. That’s why, just five days after the quake, she reluctantly returned to Fairfax, prodded by her parents to continue her studies.

“My parents said I had to go back to school because Haiti would need people like us (educated public health experts),” she says, adding, “But it made me happy that I was there (during the quake), because I could be with my family, and I could help my mother,” who aided countless Haitians moments after the quake struck.

Jean-Francois, who also has a BS in psychology from Mason, will graduate next May. She plans to remain in this area for a couple more years to gain valuable work experience.

After that, she hopes to return to Haiti to help in her homeland’s continued recovery. Something she says that is possible — albeit, not without a great deal of work.

“We can get back to where we were,” says Jean-Francois, who plans to make her summer camp in Haiti an annual activity. “But it will take a lot of sacrifice and effort.”

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