Updated: Aug 12, 2022
Over the past 16 years, Mano Cedant, Thony Voltaire, and Mike Shields have formed a deep bond over their shared commitment to Borgne. Visionaries in their specific fields (of grass-roots politics, community medicine, and systems-based technology solutions respectively), these three leaders hold a common belief that anything is possible when one works to fulfill one's true purpose in life. The March ’22 Executive Committee trip to Borgne afforded the three a chance to reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of Alyans Sante Borgne.
Mano and Thony grew up in Borgne in a time when the crumbling hospital was lit by candles and attended by one doctor for a few days a week. The feeble health system earned the commune the lowest score of any in northern Haiti; there was no one to champion the rural community or make demands on the ministry of health (M.S.P.P). The Haitian government was not equipped or inclined to provide services beyond the capital city. Gifted scholars, Mano and Thony both attended a local school and earned scholarships to study beyond Haiti. Called to serve, both returned to their hometown. Mano became one of the most effective and beloved Mayors of Borgne. And Thony was the man on whom Rosemarie Chierici and Mike Shields would pin their hopes as they sought to rebuild the health infrastructure in Borgne.
Rosemarie, the founder of H.O.P.E. and a stalwart advocate for ethical partnership with Haiti, had started a small clinic in the village of Borgne in 1998. Following a 2005 trip, she and Mike partnered to reopen the crumbling government hospital in Borgne. Rosemarie, Mike, and Thony went on to forge a partnership with M.S.P.P and USAID that would change everything for Borgne (find here the story of how they created Alyans Sante Borgne). The public-private partnership Rosemarie and Mike created placed two simple truths at the center: 1). The people of Borgne Haiti deserved a functioning health system and 2). it was possible to provide first-rate medical care for them.
They hired Thony to be the Medical Director. Thony, they saw, was gifted, humble, and tireless, but he was the first doctor in the town who worked for the people. And, the leaders of H.O.P.E were wind at Thony’s back. In the early days, Mike could be seen doing anything from driving to the Dominican Republic for medicines to helping to install solar panels that would provide consistent electricity. He was a systems thinker who had already made a large time commitment to Haiti, And, there was Rosemarie: fiercely protective of indigenous culture and acutely aware of demele, or suffering, in her homeland. Both Mike and Rosemarie grew up in large families (11 and 12 children respectively); they knew how to hustle for a good outcome as well as enjoy raucous laughter along the way. They made an exceptional team.
Mano, serving as the Mayor of Borgne, took notice. He saw in Thony a leader who manifested purpose, humanity, and selflessness. He knew that Rosemarie and Mike were serious about building capacity. Alyans Sante Borgne is now the lead facility among all hospitals and health clinics among all six sectors in the Department of the North--earning scores for performance from Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) of nearly 100%. ASB is, however, the only health system practicing social medicine, which includes treating people regardless of ability to pay and in the context of where they are most comfortable. Often, treatment is accompanied by efforts to address underlying pathologies such as hunger or even unemployment. We have come a long way from the days when the only hospital in this community lacked staff, supplies, spirit, and even light.
As we sat together at Alyans Sante Borgne last week, Mano explained what he thinks makes H.O.P.E’s model so successful: “H.O.P.E. gives much and takes little. So many NGOs take as much from a community as they give to it, but [H.O.P.E.] operates differently, and avoids doing harm.”
Mano has similarly illustrated profound respect for the people of his community; everyone knows Mano and he asks after people by name as he walks through the community. This band of brothers sees the beauty of the mountains and rivers in northern Haiti. They also see, however, the power in the people in Borgne and in those of us who devote our energy to H.O.P.E.--including many women in Borgne and the USA as we are a feminist organization. We are determined to keep the proverbial candle burning in Borgne, insuring the hospital is never again lit only by candlelight.