Updated: Aug 12
At the heart of social medicine is a commitment to treat the pathologies that limit good health as well as illnesses themselves. In Veronie Pierre, we see a beautiful reflection of social medicine, personal growth, and extraordinary leadership.
Ms. Pierre started working at the hospital in Borgne 22 years ago, before we created Alyans Sante Borgne (ASB). In the beginning, she was earning roughly $20 a month. When Dr. Thony took over as Medical Director of the new hospital (in 2008), he saw that Veronie was bright, caring, and also struggling through her first pregnancy. Not only did he treat her as a patient, but he offered to send her to a hospitality course that focused on food preparation. She enthusiastically accepted, and with her new skills, she increased her earning potential. She now runs the kitchen for ASB, the largest employer in Borgne, earning over $150/month. Reflecting on the early days, she explained: "I never gave up. I did not quit."
People frequently refer to women in Haiti as "the pillars of society," or poto mitan, as a way to celebrate mothers, female colleagues, and women who sacrifice for the nation. As scholars, including Doris Lapommeray, rightly point out, the expression can be problematic because pillars are fixed, even stuck. At ASB, however, opportunities for women are plentiful and accompanied by a commitment to energetic capacity building. For example, Francelline Horace's mother used to sweep the floors in the original H.O.P.E clinic. Ms. Horace saved her salary and sent her daughter to school. Francelline is now the Director of Human Resources and Finances for Alyans Sante Borgne. So many of the women who work at the hospital--running critical programs such as HIV, vaccinations, and maternal care--share similar stories. What we see when we look at women who have been given even a small opportunity are the fruits of asset-based community development. Women like Veronie and Francelline are confident, capable, and awake to the possibility that they make a real difference in the lives of others, including their own children.
Veronie has put her two oldest children through school to the University level (and hopes to send her youngest). Once her children finish university, she hopes to start a small business. These stories are a joyful rebuke to journalistic pessimism about Haiti. These stories are also reminders that women are at the center of community growth and renewal; rather than standing as pillars, however, women in Borgne are proudly on the move!