Name: Hannah Hallett
School: UMass Amherst
Major(s): Biology and Neuroscience
Class Year: 2019
Which expeditions have you gone on?
I have done three expeditions with YSI: two to Haiti (June 2016 and January 2017) and one to Jonestown, MS (March 2016)
When and how did you get involved with YSI?
My freshman year, I heard about an opportunity from the UMass Pre-Med Society to help run a STEM education camp in Jonestown, MS (a project run by YSI at the time). From the start, I knew I wanted to be a part of this trip, but I was unsure if I was confident enough to sign up for something like this by myself and actually go halfway across the country with a group of people I had never met. Despite my nerves, I signed up at the last minute and learned firsthand that life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. Ultimately, everything worked out better than I could have imagined. I met some truly inspiring people and had the chance to bond with them while working to foster a love for science in kids from a community where STEM education is largely underfunded.
While in Mississippi, I found out a number of the advocates there with me had also been advocates for the expeditions in Haiti.
I was very impressed by the work YSI was doing in Haiti, but, at the time, I couldn’t imagine myself doing something like that. There were so many factors holding me back from participating in those expeditions: it was a trip to another country, I didn’t know the language, and I would be with a group of people I had never met before. The idea of all this was unfathomable to me. However, after spending time with the spring break advocates and hearing how amazing, shocking, and life-changing their experiences were, I decided it was time to push myself beyond what I felt my limitations were. I needed to find out what it was like for myself. The second I returned home from Jonestown, I submitted my application to volunteer in Léogâne.
What are your future plans with us?
After my first expedition, I was so impressed by how much potential we had to provide healthcare for the people in this community and how impactful it really was for them. However, during that time, I had very limited experience in a clinical setting and felt personally powerless in situations where I was unable to help. Instead, I would have to find another advocate that was able to take vitals or better recognize the signs of a condition that warranted handing out an appointment. Before going on the January expedition, I obtained my EMT licence because I was determined to go back to Léogâne with more experience in this field. This expedition became especially meaningful to me as I was able to interact with patients in a setting that was more intimate and relevant to providing the care that they needed. Someday, I hope to return with further training as a physician and have the opportunity to serve this community while guiding people in their pursuit of what they are passionate about as others have done for me this past year.
What is your favorite memory from your trip(s) to Haiti?
My favorite memory from Haiti was when we had the chance to visit one of the schools in Léogâne. When we arrived, the teacher invited us in to distribute information about the YSI clinic. We also checked all of the children for signs of intestinal parasites. As the nurse on our trip pulled each student aside to talk to them, we got to play with the kids. They opened up to us immediately and showered us with hugs and high fives. When it came time for us to leave, one little girl followed me outside, took my hand, touched my face, and said “ou bel”--which means you are beautiful in Creole. Their happiness and loving attitudes are something I will never forget.
What would you say to somebody who is unsure whether or not YSI is right for them? Whether it means donating, traveling with us, or simply reading more about us.
My advice is to not let yourself be the one factor to hold you back and don't sell yourself short or limit what you think you can do. If I had not taken a leap of faith and gone on that first expedition, I wouldn't have had the wonderful opportunity to fall in love with a culture and community that is so full of passion and appreciation. YSI’s approach to foreign aid is integrated in community values and highly-personalized for the people we serve. Always looking to improve, we are constantly finding ways to better the systems already in place. An organization that cares so deeply and pays such attention to the voices of the community is an organization that is sincerely worth being a part of. Even to those who still feel they are not ready to take that leap themselves, the people that work with YSI on campus are some of the kindest people who spread the values they learned to appreciate in Léogâne to the people in their everyday lives. It would be an incredible journey to join our UMASS chapter (or any other campus, for that matter)!
What is your biggest takeaway from the experiences that you have had with YSI?
One of my favorite things to do in Haiti is keeping up with a journal page that I fill with quotes or daily lessons from conversations I have with locals, translators, or even other advocates. Working closely with these people throughout an expedition, I have found so many sources of inspiration and encouragement that I keep with me every day. To share a few:
~”I do not know exactly what my path holds for me because we have all been given such an opportunity in this life to be who we want and always have the ability to change it.” - The medicine man’s son when we asked him if he, too, wanted to become a medicine man.
~”God only knows, but we must continue to push forward in order to find what is in store for us.” - A translator when asked what he wanted to do in the future.
Kindness and love travel far beyond any language barrier and everyone you meet has something to teach you.