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Grace J. Palmisano Center for Campus Ministry

Reflections: Mollie Fitzgerald

“I participated [in the Medishare service trip] because not only would I get to serve others and benefit from learning about another culture, but while doing so, I would be able to implement the knowledge and skills I have learned over the past three years of being an Athletic Training student.

Can you share some of your thoughts on the trip?

For me, culture shock immediately set in as we were landing in Port-au- Prince. From a bird’s eye view, you could see countless tents that were people’ homes and reminders of the earthquake all around you. I battled with feelings of guilt and frustration throughout the week.  I felt guilty for how much I am blessed with at home, and how selfishly I live. I walked side-by-side people who live their lives working and getting around barefoot thinking about all of the times I was concerned with what new type of new shoes I was going to buy.  I thought about all of the times I complained about getting up for an 8 AM chemistry or physics class while many of these children are not fortunate enough to go to school because their families cannot afford school uniforms.

I was so impressed and blown away by how warm and welcoming the Haitian community was. The people walk around with smiles on their faces, and value what is really important in life; family, friends and the beauty of everyday life, things that we tend to lose sight of and take for granted. By the end of the week, I had come to realize that the people of Haiti do not want anyone to feel sorry for them. They pride themselves in their hard work. What’s more important is to be grateful for the opportunities and what we are given and use them as motivation to help others. 

What type of work did you do there?

While we were there, the Athletic Training team was able to educate Haitian healthcare workers on causes of back pain and teach them stretches and rehabilitative exercises to prevent and relieve that pain.  We were also able to evaluate musculoskeletal injuries of many of the healthcare workers as well as some other patients visiting the clinics. We provided braces that we brought for many of the injuries that we saw and instructed patients on how to properly strengthen and rehab those injuries using the resources around them. We also assisted in taking blood pressure at a health clinic. Every minute of the trip was a learning experience.

The first day we were there we took a hike up a mountain with the civil engineering students

so that they could test the water.  Even when doing so, we were able to observe and analyze the stresses that are placed upon the body during their activities of daily living which helped us to better understand the underlying causes of the injuries the people of Haiti were presenting.

What type of preparation did you do before you left?

Throughout the year, we met frequently, both as a whole team of athletic training and civil engineering students, as well as individually to work on our specific skill. When the seven of us had our group meetings, Kevin, Marc and Brian shared their experiences with us from their fact-finding trip the past summer. We also were educated on the culture and history of Haiti. As visitors in their country, we wanted to make sure that we were being respectful and culturally sensitive with everything that we did. Brian, Marc, and Kevin worked to make sure they were doing all they could to prepare us for the culture shock that we may encounter, experiencing a life so different than what we are used to here.

From an athletic training standpoint, we met basically every week. Based on Kevin’s findings on their last trip, as well as our researching and brainstorming, we tried to prioritize what types of injuries and issues we would see the most. We would pick a topic to review, like one week we decided that the following Friday we would focus on the shoulder. Chelsea and I would review the shoulder that week and meet with Kevin the following Friday, ready to go through some injury scenarios. We treated it very similar to how we treat our Clinical Experience labs, but tried to focus more on labor and everyday injuries we may see as opposed to athletic injuries. We would take turns having one person act out an injury while the other two would work together to evaluate the injury. We focused on using simple language and demonstrating exercises correctly knowing that we would be teaming with a translator to work through a language barrier. We would videotape these injury scenarios so that we could go back and see what we did effectively and what we still needed to work on.

Why did you go?

The Merrimack in Haiti Service Trip is something that I had a great interest in for many different reasons.  I have had such positive experiences with service trips in the past. My two Habitat for Humanity trips in high school hold some of the best memories of my high school experience. These trips really changed me as a person and helped me to look at aspects of my life from another prospective. The work was challenging and tiring but the reward of seeing the smiles and appreciation on these peoples’ faces was incomparable to anything I have ever been a part of. Being an athletic training major and a member of the tennis team, I have learned the importance in setting my priorities in order to be successful academically, which unfortunately, has limited the amount of involvement I’ve had in extracurricular activities and volunteering over the past two years. When I heard about this opportunity, I could not think of a better experience. Not only would I get to serve others and benefit from learning about another culture, but while doing so, I would be able to implement the knowledge and skills I have learned over the past three years of being an Athletic Training student.

In the career of athletic training, the job entails helping people recover from physical ailments and injuries and returning to their daily activities. However, our population is physically fit, fortunate to have access to adequate healthcare, and these daily activities are participation in athletics. This service trip to Haiti gave me the opportunity to use my skills to help people who are not as fortunate to have access to clean drinking water let alone a primary care physician. Our service from this past trip and many to come does not help them to return to athletics, but to be able to make a living and provide for their families, or to have a healthy childhood and have the opportunity to grow and live a long life. A lot has been done to help those in Haiti, but there is a lot more to be done. I knew that developing a relationship with Project Medishare would be a learning experience and a life changing experience for not only the people of Haiti, but for the students of Merrimack who are fortunate enough to be presented with the opportunity as well.

What impact did it have on you?

This trip gave me the opportunity to grow both personally and academically. From an academic

prospective, I was able to apply the athletic training clinical skills I have learned the past three years. What people tend to forget is that athletic training is applicable in many areas outside of the realm of athletics and the mission of Project Medishare is a perfect example of this.

This trip certainly increased the confidence I have in my clinical skills and knowledge as an athletic trainer and helped me to see how much I have truly learned.

On a personal level, there is no doubt in my mind that my experiences in Haiti changed me for the better. It helped me to look at things from another prospective and I think we can learn a lot from the people of Haiti and their values. I always said I knew how lucky I was for the education I have but this trip really put meaning behind that. This trip showed me how much you can accomplish when you find something that you are passionate about. I learned a lot about myself and the person I want to be and how to approach challenges that I face from the work ethic that the people of Haiti displayed every day.